James Dobson, Eugenics, Paul Popenoe, and the American Institute of Family Relations

From the editor of this site:

One of the things that has surprised me about setting up this site is the interest in the allegation that James Dobson, and by extension, the ‘evangelical’ community in general, are actually ‘eugenicists.’  The argument, if you can call it that, goes like this:  Paul Popenoe was a eugenicist, he founded his American Institute of Family Relations to further his eugenics aims, James Dobson eventually worked for this organization, James Dobson is an evangelical leader, THEREFORE Dobson is a eugenicist and all the evangelicals are, too; or, if not eugenicists, RACISTS!

I am not entirely sure what the origination is for this accusation, but the discussion about it was taking place on my ‘about’ page, which seems to me to be a less than ideal location for such a discussion.  For this reason, I am creating this page, and I have moved the comments from the ‘about’ page to this page.

Now, I’ve been studying eugenics in earnest since 2007.  I dedicated most of my doctoral study to the researching of eugenics.  As of this writing, that’s almost fifteen years of intensive reading of the eugenicists in their own words and monitoring and documenting their shifting positions and policies.  Popenoe was a lesser light in the eugenics movement if ever there was one (Margaret Sanger shines much brighter, by contrast) which makes Dobson’s putative role puny by comparison, even if legit.  I will later expound on this here, but my point is that as someone interested in carefully cataloging the ACTUAL writings of ACTUAL eugenicists and documenting their ACTUAL activities, the Dobson angle is so trivial it is almost laughable.

[I already had material posted about Popenoe, discoverable here, but notably this]

Nonetheless, the application of this ‘angle’ is not trivial.  It is pure slander of a large segment of the population and may in fact be actual libel when it comes to Dobson.  Treating people who are not racists as racists cannot, and will not, end well.  Especially when the truth is that it is the actual racists accusing people who are not racists of being racists.  We cannot let the matter go unexamined.

As of this writing, I have yet to be presented with ACTUAL evidence that Dobson is an ACTUAL eugenicist.  Nor have I yet to see actual evidence that his affiliation with the American Institute of Family Relations was animated by ACTUAL eugenics motivations.   I have no objection to anyone providing ACTUAL evidence of such a thing, as this site is chock full of showing how people we wouldn’t expect nonetheless were animated by ACTUAL eugenics considerations.  If any such evidence is ever presented, I will endeavor to post it here.

In the meantime, I submit the ‘discussion’ that is in the comments below until such time as I write something more suitable.

I should mention that anyone who wishes to dig into this deeper should at least make sure they understand what eugenics IS.  I have a whole essay dedicated to that, here It seems to me that it would stand to reason that someone should actually espouse actual eugenics principles before they can be termed a eugenicist, but it appears that in our current climate, there is both utter ignorance about what the eugenicists themselves really believed and desire to WEAPONIZE the term against political opponents–the truth or falsity of the accusations being irrelevant.

Sounds like something a fascist would do, and I hate the fascists almost as much as I hate the eugenicists.

Update 1

Immediately above I said, ” It seems to me that it would stand to reason that someone should actually espouse actual eugenics principles before they can be termed a eugenicist.”

I discuss at length ‘the’ definition of eugenics on this page, here:  https://eugenicsarchive.com/definition-of-eugenics/40.htm

Any attempt to try to hang the label of ‘eugenicist’ around someone’s neck without explaining how that person believes or is acting consistent with eugenics principles–as the eugenicists themselves understood them–is playing a dangerous game.  I am going to briefly re-state some of those principles here.  Anyone who has actual evidence of Dobson engaging in eugenic activities is invited to provide it, but it must (obviously) be shown in what sense these are actually ‘eugenic.’  For example:

  1.  Does the person explicitly embrace Darwinism?

It is extremely rare to find a eugenicist who does NOT embrace Darwinism.  The form of eugenics advocated often tracks with whether or not someone believes that ‘hard heredity’ or ‘soft heredity’ are at work, but what they have in common is the ‘heredity’ part, as understood in evolutionary terms.  There was racism before there was eugenics.  In order for there to be EUGENICS there needs to be the notion that the ‘racism’ being applied is ‘scientific’ in nature.  Which leads to…

2.  Does the person believe that SCIENCE! carries with it an ‘ought’? Res ipsa loquitu!

Eugenicists always insisted that they had only the best of intentions and a deep care and concern for their fellow man, but that the incontrovertible nature of SCIENCE! compelled them to act… obviously as humanitarian-ly as possible.  One can see how #1 and #2 fit together like a hand and glove.

3.  Does the person believe that the State is the most obvious entity to act on INCONTROVERTIBLE SCIENCE “for the common good”?

Here there is a historical divide within the eugenics movement, pivoting precisely on the WW2 implementation of various eugenics-laced ideologies.  Prior to WW2, eugenicists were much more explicit in their advocacy for having the State spearhead eugenics policies.  After WW2, they were much more coy about it.  Some wrote off the possibility of the State being active at all and appealed to trying to promote things like “voluntary unconscious selection.”

(Where ‘selection’ refers to Darwinian selection, ‘voluntary’ means exactly what you think it means, and ‘unconscious’ means operating on eugenics principles without knowing that you are doing so.  Eg, for example, ‘freely’ aborting your child, without knowing that the reasons you are doing it are ones that the eugenicists provided.)

Even after the post WW2 pivot, the eugenicists were avowed statists (eg, Julian Huxley, Harrison Brown, etc).

If a person is NOT a statist, they are probably not a eugenicist; this does not mean a person is not promoting eugenic principles (see #1 and #2), because as already pointed out, one of the explicit goals of post-WW2 eugenicists was to implant their rationale in the minds of citizens so that citizens would carry out eugenic aims without knowing they were doing so.  Such citizens are not eugenicists merely for this fact.  The eugenicist is not the one acting unconsciously, but consciously, on eugenic principles.  The former is merely a dupe.

Of special relevance, here, Popenoe himself identified ‘Hitlerism’ as a turning point in the eugenics movement.  [Source]

4.  Does the person believe that ‘sacrifices’ must be made in order to improve the ‘social body’?

On a Darwinian basis, the deaths of certain individuals is not necessarily a bad thing, as the removal of ‘defectives’ will improve the race as a whole in future generations.  (See #1-#2).  If you can’t physically remove them, or segregate them, at least you can get them somehow to stop reproducing.  The key is that a utilitarian ethic tends to permeate the thinking of actual eugenicists, who reason that “for the common good” it is good and appropriate that some people suffer (or even die), leaving the strong and capable to reproduce.  Due to the fact that the State is the most persistent ‘agency under social control’ of all of the agencies, the ‘State’ and the ‘social body’ tend to become equated in their minds.  That is to say, the moral rules that apply to individuals do not necessarily apply to the State (indeed, they usually don’t).

Eugenicists tend to believe they are acting on a ‘higher’ moral plane than the rest of us, applying scientific principles with the cold, unwavering reason–for the good of ‘humanity’ of course… that is, for the sake of the ‘social body,’ which includes not just the assembly of individuals but the continuity of generations.  Think:  just as your individual cells eventually die but the YOU is still YOU, you might do certain things to get rid of ‘defective cells’ (eg, amputate an arm, irradiate a cancer, etc), in order to benefit the YOU, who exists as an entity above and beyond the life and death of the cells within your body.

Update 1 conclusion:

The above description of the beliefs of eugenicists is based on what the eugenicists themselves said about themselves.  There is a big difference between things said ABOUT eugenicists and what the eugenicists said THEMSELVES.  This whole site is dedicated to letting the eugenicists speak for THEMSELVES.  The reason for this is precisely because there are people acting on eugenics principles ‘voluntarily’ but without knowing they are doing so (unconsciously).  And if you hate the eugenicists… I mean, really hate them… then you’d want to know if you had somehow fallen into doing their dirty work, such as in your own life (eg, aborting your child diagnosed in the womb with a birth defect).

But as it applies to the accusation that someone specific, like Dobson, is knowingly pursuing eugenic principles, it must be SHOWN that he has principles related to the principles described above.  Does he believe in Darwinism?  Does he believe that SCIENCE! must be implemented if for no other reason that it is SCIENCE!?  Does he believe such action should be done by the State, preferably?  Does he believe that the State enjoys a different set of moral imperatives that do not apply to individuals, up to and including the idea that it is quite alright if some people die, providing it is the right sort of people?

If you don’t have these 4 components… especially if you don’t have the first. you’re not talking about a eugenicist.

Any evidence presented will be compared to this criteria.

I reserve the right to continue revising this in further updates.

Update #2

So, at this time, we have our first attempt to give definitive evidence that Dobson was actually a eugenicist, linked to by someone in the comments (ACF).  The title of the article is “The Eugenics Roots of Evangelical Family Values.”

I said in the comments below that I didn’t have time to correct progressives and boy, if ever there was an article filled with claims that needed correction, there you go.  However, this post is about Dobson in particular.  That is how it began, years ago, and that’s what I’ll address here.

As I stated above, and alluded to in the comment section, mere similarities between the goals and activities of eugenics is not anywhere close enough to justify the label.  As with all subjects disputed by humans, even adherents of eugenics often quibbled with each other on the details, especially when it came to tactics, but generally speaking, the word had–and has–definite propositional content.  It is not the kind of thing that one can just throw around willy-nilly as though on some days ‘eugenics’ means tall people and decades later it refers to the study of origami.  So, to actually show someone is a eugenicist, one has to actually link them to that propositional content. 

There is an entire essay on this site dedicated to exploring that content. I sketched out some of the main principles driving those propositions, above.  Did ACF offer any evidence that Dobson was motivated by any of those principles?  No.

Let’s take one sample [‘substantiating’ link in the original]:

Dobson, who retired from FoF in 2009 and now hosts the radio program Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, has repeatedly betrayed his personal anxieties about a dark-skinned takeover. After visiting the southern border in 2019 at the Trump administration’s invitation, he claimed to fear “illiterate,” “unhealthy,” “violent criminals” would “bankrupt” and “take down” America, if not controlled.

Let us note that the phrase “dark-skinned takeover” is ACF’s characterization.  The words “illiterate,” “unhealthy,” “bankrupt,” “violent criminals” and “take down” are from a paragraph in a newsletter provided not even by ACF, but in her corroborating link… and is the ONLY primary source material we are given by her source.  We’ll just accept for the sake of argument that these are terrible things to say–even though the paragraph in question uses modifying terms like “some” and “many,” which makes some of the arguments made by Dobson undeniably and objectively true.  Just ask Kamala “Root Causes” Harris.  Where do we hear Dobson try to link these attributes to the intrinsic nature of “dark-skinned” individuals?  Never.  It does not happen.

Indeed, we must conclude that since it was not Dobson that heard the words “illiterate” and “violent” etc and thought it referred to ‘dark-skinned’ people, but rather it was ACF who heard those words and instantly thought of ‘dark-skinned’ people, if anyone is the racist (eugenicist?) here, it is ACF.  Remember kids, only dogs hear dog whistles.

Setting aside the fact that it is the progressives who view everyone in terms of their skin color and genitalia, and not the conservatives, we must come round to the heart of the matter.  ACF pledged to provide information showing not that Dobson was a racist, but that he was a eugenicist. There is no hint of that.  What we are witnessing in both ACF’s characterizations, and the ‘corroboration’ by Brandon Massey, is nothing more than uncharitable mind reading.

Allow me to drive this point further home:  even if someone is a racist, it doesn’t follow that he is a eugenicist.  Reminder, ACF’s title was “”The Eugenics Roots of Evangelical Family Values.”  It was not “The Racist Roots of Evangelical Family Values.”

ACF seems to recognize her own shallow argumentation, prefacing the above quote with this:

In a copublication of Political Research Associates and the Women of Color Resource Center, political scientist Jane Hardistry has noted that by carefully avoiding overt statements of the inferiority of people of color, organizations like FoF managed to spread the idea that African Americans constituted the bulk of welfare recipients (they do not); obscure racial and gender discrimination as causes of poverty; and tout white Christian norms as the solution to any and all social ills.

In other words, Jane Hardistry could not find any statements by Focus on the Family saying that people of color were inferior.  More mind-reading.  It could be that these statements were not made because FoF does not believe them.  Right?

Earlier in this post, before we even had the opportunity to see ACF’s grand demonstration, I said, “There is a big difference between things said ABOUT eugenicists and what the eugenicists said THEMSELVES.”  I said this because it was apparent that ACF has zero clue what actual eugenicists said and believed.  Her sources appear to consist completely of what other people–and all of them seem to be of the sort that perk up when they hear a dog whistle–say.  In short, her argument that Dobson is a eugenicist is that other progressives say that Dobson is a eugenicist.

And therein is an irony; neither Massey nor Hardistry make any mention whatsoever to eugenics!

Hilariously, then, not only are we left to rely on the testimony of ACF’s fellow travelers for bridging the gap between Dobson and eugenics, but ACF’s own witnesses don’t even mention eugenics.   Ideally, we would hear from Dobson himself.  On that score, we get one measly paragraph quoted by someone else, a fair number of statements about or by other people (eg, Jim Daly, Focus on the Family), and so on.

By contrast, if I describe someone as a eugenicist, I don’t quote someone else’s views on a person, I quote the person.  For example, if I want to say that the progressive Helen Keller advocated for the killing of disabled people after submitting them to a jury of ‘experts,’ I am not going to quote a book talking about Helen Keller, I’m going to link directly to Helen Keller.  If I’m going to contend that the progressive Theodore Roosevelt argued that man foolishly allows their inferior samples to breed, I’m not going to quote a book talking about Theodore Roosevelt, I’m going to link directly to Roosevelt.   If I’m going to state that progressives like Margaret Sanger spearheaded the idea of having concentration camps for ‘defectives,’  I’m not going to provide someone talking ABOUT Sanger… and certainly not a a conservative source! lol… I’m going to link directly to Sanger.

[No one should be too hard on Keller, Roosevelt, Sanger, etc.  They merely “believe[d] the experts who’ve stablished” that the human race was degenerating and swift action was necessary and justified.  People like Leonard Cole or Karl Pearson or EA Ross or Horatio Hackett Newman (one of the ‘expert’ witnesses at the Scopes Trial).  Trust the experts, that way if your belief leads to ruinous consequences, you can always say you meant well and expect progressives a hundred year hence to forgive you completely.]

These are certainly compatible with eugenic ideals, but to really make the case, ultimately we need to find them making explicit references identifying themselves as such (this site is chock full of such), or participating in eugenic conferences (eg ) or affixing their names to manifestos, or making plain that when they say one thing, they definitely do mean  another.

There are a number of reasons for operating this way.  First of all, the truth about the eugenicists is so terrible that there is no need to invent anything about them.  Actually, if you try to tell someone about what they really believed, they often won’t believe you, because they can’t bring themselves to imagine ‘good’ people said and did such horrible things.  Letting the eugenicists speak for themselves leaves no doubt.   Never forget–every eugenicist believed they were furthering the ‘common good’ as experts had determined it, backed not by sentiment, but by SCIENCE.  As such, many eugenicists did not even think they were racists!

Second of all, it helps curtail one’s own biases, which is actually what we see so vividly at work in the case of ACF.   If one asked himself, “Do I believe this because I’m a self-righteous person who thinks he is more noble than my political foes, or is this because its actually true?  How would I find out?”  Quite simply, if the person you are reflecting on SAYS he is a eugenicist, then you are probably not just engaging in self-congratulating, bad faith mind-reading.  If you can find no such evidence, another possibility should be considered:  like the eugenicists themselves, you are a bigot who cloaks your political agendas in euphemisms and smear;  you know, because the ends definitely justify the means when Utopia is on the line.

Not to get too far away from Dobson, but ACF engages in the same kind of sloppy smearing in other places in her paper.  For example, she says this about Rushdoony:

“This modernized form of eugenics gelled with racist notions of Christian dominion, which avowed segregationist and eugenicist R.J. Rushdoony would popularize in the 1960s and 70s.”  [Link in the original]

On ACF’s telling, Rushdoony is an ‘avowed segregationist and eugenicist.’  Do we know what the word ‘avowed’ means?  It means, “openly acknowledged or declared.”  So, when I clicked on the link she provided, I expected to hear Rushdoony himself affirming segregationism and eugenicism.  Is that what I got?  Nope.  Once again, we have someone else’s words telling us what Rushdoony believed.    Incidentally, none of the words in the corroborating link were ‘segregationist’ or ‘eugenicist.’

As in the case of Dobson, Rushdoony may be a eugenicist for all I know or care.  But someone isn’t a eugenicist just because a progressive says they are.

At this point, it would seem that the ‘best’ evidence for the contention that Dobson was a eugenicist has been provided.  You may make of it as you wish, but I for one will chalk it up as one more reason why we can’t have nice things where progressives are involved.

I will post another update, leaping off of the ‘guilt by association’ angle which, I think if we’re being objective, is the whole sum of ACF’s argument.  However, rather than waste any more time dealing with non-evidence, I think I might be able to do a service in providing legitimate insight into ACTUAL eugenicists, by explaining in some detail the difference between the tactics and viewpoints of pre-WW2 eugenicists and post-WW2 eugenicists.   For those who think the jury is still out on Dobson vis a vis eugenics, perhaps because of the connection to Popenoe’s clinic, this account might suggest some other interpretations for that affiliation.

I’ll get to it when I get to it.


Skip to comment form

  1. Test comment. If this works, it will be under the new page dedicated to this topic, instead of the ‘about’ page.

    • C on May 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm
    • Reply


    Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is famous for anti-abortion, marriage counseling, parenting, etc…

    Little known is Dobson’s 10-year directorship of American Institute of Family Relations, under the direct guidance of Paul Popenoe (author applied eugenics, architect of the california mass 50k sterilization program, etc…)

    Paul Popenoe wrote the forward/front cover endorsement to the first printing of Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline”, so they were still on favorable terms when Dobson made the transition to non-profit foundation, now famous for the anti-gay/anti-abortion stance.

    My question… How would you rectify this seeming contradiction of interests? Is it a positive/negative eugenics thing? Is this just an aftershock of the culture wars, or could there be something more here?

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.


    • M.G on February 8, 2018 at 8:37 pm
    • Reply

    Like Chris, I’ve also been exploring Dr. James Dobson’s collaboration with Paul Popenoe. David Popenoe, Paul’s son wrote his father’s colleagues (he specifically mentions Dobson) shared his father’s ideology and were his protege. After observing Dobson’s silence regarding the topics of race and immigration over this past year I am inclined to believe his Focus on the Family is very much in keeping with his Eugenicist mentor, Paul Popenoe.

  2. I didn’t really expect that the ‘about’ page was going to be a clearing house on Dobson/Popenoe.

    If I recall correctly, I emailed Chris directly with a response.

    Your characterization, M.G., appears to be pretty loaded. Reading into someone’s ‘silence’ strikes me as a logically fraught exercise which usually suggests more about the one doing the reading rather than the one being read. Why not suppose that Dobson’s silence on Chinese designs for Tibet mark him as a closet Chinese communist? In a more sinister development, Dobson has said nothing about the ham sandwich I had this afternoon; probably because he is a vegetarian activist.

    Surely, ‘silence’ is an opening wide enough to drive nearly anything through.

    The nuance here that needs to be taken into account relates to timing. Just as a quick illustration, the text book “Applied Eugenics” by Popenoe was written in 1920. 1920.. Dobson wasn’t even born until 1936. Unlike many of the other eugenicists, Popenoe appears to have lost interest in eugenics qua eugenics by the 1960s, which is when Dobson became associated with him.

    There seems to be little doubt that Popenoe founded the American Institute of Family Relations with reference to eugenics, but I have yet to see evidence that this organization was still orienting itself towards eugenics in the 1960s. In other words, the case could be made that Dobson sympathized with eugenic principles if he associated with an organization which was transparently eugenic. Pending information showing this, my best conclusion is that Dobson’s association with Popenoe was just as it seemed–centered on family relations. The one with skeletons in his closet remains Popenoe, not Dobson.

    Feel free to submit any documentation or evidence which more directly associates Dobson with eugenics, and I will be happy to amend my present conclusions.

    Thanks for the comment!

      • ACF on March 21, 2021 at 12:08 pm
      • Reply

      Popenoe did not lose interest in eugenics by 1960–or ever. He simply shifted focus from negative eugenics (sterilization) to positive eugenics (encouraging able-bodied, white middle-class people to reproduce). The American Institute of Family Relations was instituted expressly to promote positive eugenics. By encouraging married whites to stay together, and by encouraging white women not to “shirk” their reproductive responsibilities, Popenoe hoped to perpetuate the white race. Dobson’s “family values” grew out of this tradition, as did much of the initial evangelical resistance to Roe. (At the time, middle-class white women dominated the feminist scene, and it was therefore assumed that abortion would reduce their reproductive rates, but not those of the lower classes.) See Wendy Kline’s book “Building a Better Race” for a fuller discussion of these points.

      1. It is interesting how many people want to talk about Popenoe and Dobson. It is starting to look like there are ulterior motives for focusing on the relationship.

        I have just ordered the book.

        I have no particular loyalty to Dobson and certainly none to Popenoe, who I consider a minor figure in the eugenics movement. The latter did far less to advance eugenics in America than many others who remained fixated on eugenic methods (positive and negative), and there was nothing ‘evangelical’ about those people. If Popenoe’s contribution was minor, how much less is Dobson’s?–if we just accept the connection for the sake of argument. But nothing really surprises me about what people have said and written, even people who today have no taint with eugenics, so I’m willing to say the jury is still ‘out’ on Dobson, pending a deeper dive.

        However, the extension beyond “Dobson’s ‘family values'” looks like pure slander to me. “Evangelicals” barely existed as a movement until the 1980’s, and this had everything to do with the horror of abortion. “Evangelicals” then and today noted the fact that abortion seemed to be aimed at blacks, as for their elimination. Some of that targeting is documented on this very site.

        The documentary Maafa21 is a good example of how “Evangelicals” are A., on the front lines of trying to end abortion qua abortion and B,. their recognition that blacks are disproportionately targeted by abortion so that it follows C., if they understand that if blacks are disproportionately targeted by abortion this means less black people yet D., they find this to be a vile thing. But on your presentation, “Evangelicals” would be totally on board with this. They must be pretty dumb, those “Evangelicals,” opposing the very thing which would help them “build a better race.”

        Any way, I have ordered the book. I’ll be watching for primary source material to support the contentions, and I will be back to alert readers if there is anything to them or not.

          • ACF on April 10, 2021 at 2:32 pm
          • Reply

          Popenoe had a major role in the eugenics movement, as you’ll find in Kline’s book. Not only did he promote sterilization laws throughout U.S., he corresponded with Germans, who credited him for providing a blueprint for their Nuremberg Laws.

          Dobson first articulated his “family values” in newspapers as a representative of AIFR. His training was secular, and that’s the point of discussing his ties to eugenics–to show that his views on marriage and the family derive from culture, not an ahistorical reading of scripture.

          Evangelicals organized in the ’80s to oppose integration. Abortion was an afterthought.

          1. Abortion was an afterthought?

            I would direct you to comments like these:

            “As the century wore on, conservative evangelicals realized the best way to convert souls was not to withdraw from politics, as previously thought, but to occupy every crevice of legislative halls. In the late 20th century, they found a partner in the Republican Party willing to take on issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer.”

            That doesn’t sound like an afterthought. In that synthesis, “integration” isn’t even mentioned.

            The person who wrote the above provided a link to a NYT article which further expounded on why evangelicals became involved in politics in the 1980s makes mention of integration but makes it clear, by listing it at the top of the list–twice–that abortion was the prime issue. Again, the person who wrote what I just quoted furthermore quoted this:

            “If you look at the world from the perspective of an evangelical Christian, you have Roe versus Wade. We no longer pray in school. You have desegregation of Christian colleges and academies. All of these things come together and create a great deal of fear about the loss of some kind of Christian nation. “And I believe in freedom of choice also, but I believe you ought to make the choice before you go to bed and commit sin.” Rev. Jerry Falwell would become the most well known of a new movement of conservative preachers, who wanted a strong defense policy abroad and traditional values at home. “We believe when a man marries a woman she is his obligation for life.” It was a movement that harnessed the power of television. “Televangelism really erupted in the 1970s and Jerry Falwell was riding that wave.” “Jerry Falwell turned a small Virginia church of 35 into a Christians communications empire.” “A Virginia television preacher with an audience of millions.” As the 1980 election approached, Falwell stepped directly into politics and formed an alliance with a group of political operatives, including Paul Weyrich. “Weyrich makes a statement saying that there really is a moral majority of voters out at there that need to be tapped, need to be organized. And Falwell says, ‘I think that’s what we should call this new movement. We should call it Moral Majority.’” “It’s a political action committee, registered as such, just like those of labor unions or any other organization.” “A new political machine that’s anti-abortion, anti-ERA, anti-gay rights, and for what he calls a ‘Moral America.’’’

            Afterthought? You discredit yourself.

          2. Now, I understand that you just wrote a book on Hewitt and all so you have some vested interest in promoting Popenoe as being more important than he actually was, and I understand that you have an anti-Christian agenda going on. However, you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. According to the above, even you yourself recognize what I said–evangelicals did not even become a ‘political’ thing until the 1980’s. Abortion was a primary mover, not an ‘after thought.’

            So, to try to paint evangelicals as a whole to the eugenics movement through Dobson’s involvement in an organization twenty years before the evangelicals even existed as a ‘thing’ and almost twenty years after Popenoe himself backed away from explicitly operating as a ‘eugenicist’ is not just disingenuous, its an outright lie. The chronology itself doesn’t work. It would be like trying to say that Hitler was a big fan of Bill Gates. The claim is absurd on its face because Gates wasn’t even alive when Hitler was alive.

            Your claim is equally absurd, but more difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t done the necessary research. Fact: Popenoe’s EXPLICIT eugenics activities occurred prior to the 1940’s; after Hitlerism, he may have still been animated by eugenics but his institute completely cast off any explicit reference to it, certainly by the 1960’s. Dobson was a veritable nobody until the early 1970’s and Popenoe’s institute would die with him when he died in the late 1970’s. And the Evangelicals did not become politically involved AT ALL until the 1980’s.

            The insinuation that Evangelicals advocate for marriage and pro-life principles out of a eugenic motivation, when the Evangelicals did not exist as a political movement until the 1980’s, on the basis of a stint by Dobson with Popenoe’s clinic almost 40 years after Popenoe had buried his eugenics aims is a disgusting misrepresentation. You might be able to get that published on the WAPO, but its not going to fly here.

          3. Some concluding thoughts.

            I did acquire the book. I was under the impression this was going to demonstrate the link between evangelicalism and eugenics through Dobson and Popenoe. To my surprise (not really), Dobson is not mentioned AT ALL. He is not mentioned in the book AT ALL.

            Observes may verify this for themselves, here:


            The closest we ever come in the book to linking Popenoe to the evangelicals is in the EPILOGUE, which makes the link only by reference to advocates of “family values” but in fact is otherwise almost completely devoted to explaining how Popenoe’s son, David, is carrying on his father’s work.

            That means that in all this business about Dobson, we are STILL waiting for some kind of ACTUAL evidence that shows that Dobson was purposefully aligning himself with principles that he himself understood were animated by eugenics thinking. His association with Popenoe’s institute in the 1970’s seems so far to be animated only by concern for marriage and the family, which is hardly territory owned only by eugenicists. Until we have such evidence, this assertion amounts to nothing more than slander.

            The further implication, that Dobson’s prominence within the evangelical movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s indicates that the evangelicals themselves are animated by motivations they explicitly understand to be eugenics in motivation is even worse than slander, it is vile and despicable. It may be acceptable for outfits like CNN and the NYT to consider peanut butter and jelly sandwiches racist, but the re-defining of racism and racist things so broadly that it exactly covers one’s political opponents will not be tolerated here. The attempt to reinterpret every invocation of the word ‘family’ as eugenics in nature so as to paint the least eugenic members of this society as eugenicists will not be tolerated.

          4. I guess I should say a few words about the book.

            I haven’t read the book in full. As far as books eugenics go, Kline’s book does not seem too bad as an introduction to eugenics. I haven’t read it, only scanned it, but its respectable. The focus on Hewitt and Popenoe seems odd, perhaps even a little contrived, reminding me *ahem* of someone who might be interested in self-flattery and propaganda, but the width and breadth of eugenics in America is such that there is much to say and I’m glad there are people saying it.

            I will add it to the other hundreds of books on eugenics that I have on my shelves and read it in full eventually.

            The idea that there are organizations still operating on eugenics principles and motivations even today is not absurd. This is a matter of grave concern to me, and I even have a page devoted to quoting eugenicists discussing how to re-tool after Hitler (https://eugenicsarchive.com/crypto-eugenics-quotes-of-eugenicists-discussing-the-need-for-a-covert-eugenics-program/124.htm). Thus, I have no particular reason to defend Popenoe nor dispute that he founded his institute to promote eugenic principles nor continued to view his activities through that prism. I don’t particularly object to being concerned that people might be involved in such organizations, unaware of their motivations.

            However, the whole point of such a movement was to cloak the eugenics angle, so that they might snare others in their work can just as easily be explained as someone being duped as it is that they are complicit. As far as Dobson goes, for all we know at present, he was a ‘dupe’ and not a partner in Popenoe’s eugenic aims. We await with bated breath the presentation of actual evidence.

            In the meantime, I would come back around to something that I’ve already mentioned. The chief foe of abortion are evangelicals. And what did the eugenicists think about abortion (and birth control in general, for that matter)? The words of one of the crypto-eugenicists in the link I just provided give us insight:

            “Birth control and abortion are turning out to be great eugenic advances of our time. If they had been advanced for eugenic reasons it would have retarded or stopped their acceptance.” — Frederick Osborn, someone who actually WAS influential in explicit eugenics activities post-Hitler.

            I will say it again, if ‘birth control and abortion’ are the greatest ‘eugenic advances of our time’ but evangelicals believe they are acting on eugenics principles by OPPOSING abortion, they are the stupidest people alive. On the other hand, it could be, as I said (eg, “Maafa 21”), that it is precisely the evangelicals who are MOST opposed to eugenics, understanding well how racists have looked to abortion to further their aims.

            Statistically speaking, a greater percentage of blacks than whites get abortions, based on population proportions. If evangelicals intended to act as racists, they would SUPPORT this. As it is, they OPPOSE it.

            And who supports it?

            The so-called liberals and progressives, that’s who.

            Good grief.

            • John on November 28, 2022 at 10:56 pm

            Re “Abortion was an afterthought.”
            Randall Balmer has plenty to say about this in a 35 minute video “True origins of the religious right,” and in a couple of his books. One short book is “Bad Faith.”

    • ACF on April 16, 2021 at 10:37 pm
    • Reply

    Popenoe had a major role in eugenics and is discussed in many books besides Kline’s. He helped expand sterilization in many states, where officials were reluctant to exercise statutes. I’m working on a piece now about his influence on Dobson, which I will happily share when live. (This is how I found your site.) It’s not the simple fact of P’s mentorship that causes concern. It’s Dobson’s shared opposition to inter-racial marriage, his repeated comments about immigrants degrading America, and his fixation with non-white reproduction. He spent much of the ’90s bemoaning inner-city, out-of-wedlock Black births, spreading myth that Af Am women constituted majority of welfare recipients and pretending marriage would alleviate poverty, much of which is actually caused by structural racism.

    I will grant you that I made a mistake in that Wash Post piece, which was taking evangelicals’ own origin stories for granted. Roe was not the catalyst for the Moral Majority– it was the integration of Bob Jones University. This is explained in Robert Jones’ White Too Long, Anthea Butler’s White Evangelical Racism, and this Politico piece: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133/

    I agree with you that poor women and people of color likely face increased pressure to abort, but the “abortion is genocide” argument is infantilizing. It does not acknowledge women’s agency in the matter. If women are making the choice, it’s not eugenics. Also, if progressives want to kill off poor and BIPOC people, why do they support creating more robust safety nets for them? Why are they advocating for universal health care, welfare rights, disability rights, reparations, etc?

    I won’t defend Margaret Sanger, and I’m glad she’s been “cancelled” by the left. Her remarks on various classes of people are repulsive. However, she was never the leader of the eugenics movement and differed from the main figures in important ways. She believed disease/disability stemmed from being unwanted, not from genes. A child conceived of rape or a loveless marriage, for instance, was more likely to be born unfit. Thinking this, she promoted birth control among all races and classes, and the eugenicists despised her for this! They wanted white women to reproduce.

    I’m not anti-Christian, as the very piece you cited indicated. If you recall, it was about how certain Christian communities had championed a range of human and civil rights programs.

    1. Margaret Sanger has been ‘canceled’ by the left? I’m not sure we’re sharing the same reality.


      I’m not going to debate just how prominent Popenoe was or wasn’t. My objection is the apparent elevation of his prominence as a pretext for skewering Dobson.

      One of the points that I am making by referencing the progressive’s support of abortion on demand in the context of THIS topic is accentuated by your remark, “If women are making the choice, it’s not eugenics.” In other words, despite the fact that eugenicists loved abortion on demand (within certain populations), leftists do not feel at all like they are carrying out a eugenic program, because their motivations are ostensibly different. But this latitude is not extended to Dobson; just as progressives ostensibly have different reasons for supporting abortion than for eugenic purposes, it could be the case that Dobson invoked ‘anti-immigration’ and fought out-of-wedlock births for reasons other than eugenic purposes. The sole basis for asserting the eugenic rational is the linkage to Popenoe. If that kind of association is enough to justify hanging the eugenics label around someone’s shoulders, then I have a long list of people–many of whom I am sure you will hail as personal heroes–who were linked to eugenicists.

      Don’t know if Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton are such, but you seem pleased by Sanger being ‘cancelled by the left’ (a dubious proposition if ever I’ve heard one), and both received the Sanger award by Planned Parenthood. Is this enough to warrant calling them eugenicists? On your argumentation so far, it certainly is.

      Just because someone is ‘anti-immigration’ or bemoans “inner-city, out of wedlock births” does not mean that they are proponents of eugenics–one might say it is possible to advocate for abortion on demand without it meaning one is a eugenicist.

      If you want to lay the claim that Dobson is a EUGENICIST then that requires tying him to the RATIONALES of the eugenicists, not merely the perceived overlap in policies. The eugenicists were extraordinarily concerned about marriage and reproduction but marriage and reproduction have been around for thousands of years and are not by any means the exclusive domain of eugenicists. Just because someone runs around being concerned about reproduction and marriage does not make them a eugenicist. There was even racism before there was eugenics!

      You make a number of statements that I think are flat-out wrong but I do not consider it my life’s purpose to correct progressives. This is a site dedicated to providing primary sources related to eugenics, and researchers can decide for themselves if, for example, Sanger’s views on eugenics are consistent with your characterization of Sanger. But what I do insist on, since it is my site, that if someone is going to accuse someone of being a eugenicist, they have got to have a better argument than “This person has a viewpoint that I object to, therefore he is a Nazi.”

      Because, I assure you, if you are REALLY interested in ending systematic racism, etc, etc, etc, lodging false accusations of this magnitude will ensure you never succeed.

      By the way, the piece I cited this one: “The apocalyptic ideas influencing Pence and Pompeo could also power the left.” It sure sounded anti-Christian on my first read. On a third read, I’ll withdraw the accusation, pending more data. Still looks mighty suspicious, but a bridge too far at this point, perhaps.

    2. lol, is this Sanger being cancelled?

      I guess I blinked.


    3. “Also, if progressives want to kill off poor and BIPOC people, why do they support creating more robust safety nets for them? Why are they advocating for universal health care, welfare rights, disability rights, reparations, etc?”

      I know I said that I didn’t want to get into correcting progressives and all… but on the off chance that a progressive stumbles upon some of the many eugenicists quoted on this site and are startled as though looking at their own reflection in a mirror… let me bounce off of this.

      Let’s ask the question: how could a progressive possibly be racist and bigoted when they want to create more robust safety nets for poor and BIPOC people? I mean, after all, these people need those safety nets, whereas white people don’t. Right? White people are perfectly capable, mentally, physically, etc, to manage their own affairs. But black people! These poor souls just wouldn’t be able to manage if it wasn’t for progressives arranging for government ‘safety nets’ for them! Black people aren’t as capable as white people in managing their own affairs and are otherwise incomptent, and that’s why the government is needed.

      Gee, why would anyone think that progressives are the worst racists of them all?

      Now, to be fair, this does not get us to eugenics by itself, for the reasons I just specified. A progressive might believe a person of color is inferior and incompetent without necessarily going to the next step of invoking biology and then the further step of appealing to ‘science’ (though progressives are quick to cover themselves with the cloak of ‘science’) to reduce the numbers (for their own good) of such people. In my experience, progressives treat POC as subhuman for all intents and purposes without going to the next step and asking WHY such people are subhuman. It would be THIS step that would land them in eugenic territory. In fact, in my experience, about the only difference between a white nationalist and a progressive is that the white nationalist does take the step of asking WHY. Otherwise, white nationalists are as quick to use the government for their purposes (even socialistic) as any progressive.

      Are there other reasons why progressives might call for government programs for minorities in addition to believing that minorities are incapable of achieving the American dream without the active help of white liberals?

      Perhaps we have our other answer in the words of Democrat president LBJ, as quoted by Ronald Kessler in his book “Inside the White House,” on page 33. (Pocket Books, 1995.) Perhaps this is the truest answer of them all.

  3. I posted an update to the original post.

    • ACF on May 13, 2021 at 9:50 pm
    • Reply

    Planned Parenthood in NY disavows Margaret Sanger, as reported here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/nyregion/planned-parenthood-margaret-sanger-eugenics.html

    Planned Parenthood President and chief executive does the same in this op-ed:

    If you Google, you can find other examples.

    I don’t believe Black or poor people (of any color, as originally implied) are incompetent. I believe the experts who’ve stablished that the former face rampant discrimination in education, medicine, law, housing, etc, while the latter are suffering from the broadscale dismantling of public goods, brought on by white fears of having to share public resources with African Americans following civil rights. Heather McGhee talks about this here and in her book: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/13/opinion/race-economy-inequality-civil-rights.html

    Anyway, just came back here to post a link to my story on Dobson. Those who come to this site may be interested in seeing how eugenics influenced modern evangelicals: https://religionandpolitics.org/2021/05/12/the-eugenics-roots-of-evangelical-family-values/

    After it went live, Paul Lombardo (whose work I think I’ve seen here) shared an article of his own on the subject, which I look forward to reading: https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/faculty_pub/1222/

    • Jessica on January 3, 2022 at 4:29 am
    • Reply

    I am an evangelical conservative Christian, and I also have an issue with this connection. I can’t provide proof by a quote, and I do appreciate your philosophy to use the person’s own words. But if one of my church’s pastors had once been the protege of Richard Dawkins, it would seem like an unnatural affiliation that would rightfully raise some questions.

    It does seem like Popenoe was a pretty big player in the eugenics movement and contributed significantly to countless sterilizations. It would be hard to understand how Dobson could have been ignorant to this at the time he consented to the partnership.

    I am all for the preservation of a healthy marriage. But it is a curious thing. I would love to see Dobson address this for himself one day.

    • John on November 28, 2022 at 10:58 pm
    • Reply

    Re “Abortion was an afterthought.”
    Randall Balmer has plenty to say about this in a 35 minute video “True origins of the religious right,” and in a couple of his books. One short book is “Bad Faith.”

    1. It is very difficult for some people to understand this… but this site is about eugenics, not racism. You could prove someone was a racist, and this would not prove they were a eugenicist.

      But to a hammer, everything is a nail, I guess.

      Thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.