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The Kallikak Family

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The "disability as menace" theme reached its peak in our country in the early 20th century as Dr. Henry Goddard, Director of Research at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys in Vineland, New Yersey, explored the role of the environment versus the role of heredity on the lives of persons with developmental disabilities. Dr. Goddard and his research assistant decided to explore the family history of a woman they called Deborah Kallikak ("Kallikak" being a fictitious name taken from the Greek words for "good" and "bad"), who lived in their institution. One of the things they claimed to have discovered was that Deborah's great grandfather was a revolutionary war soldier named Martin Kallikak. Apparently, Martin had relations with a "feeble-minded" bar maid. Later, Martin returned to Philadelphia, where he married a woman of the upper class and raised a wholesome family. The bar maid, meanwhile, gave birth to Martin's child and not-so-feeble-mindedly named him Martin Kallikak Jr. Using this history, Dr. Goddard traced the lineage of Martin Kallikak's family with his wife, finding only successful, upstanding individuals of normal or better intelligence. Of Kallikak's lineage through his offspring with the bar maid, Goddard found criminals, prostitutes, vagabonds: people of below normal intelligence. Dr. Goddard's conclusion, which he published in a widely-read book entitled The Kallikak Family, was that mental retardation is the root cause of many of our social problems, and that it is hereditary.

Goddard's story was widely read because it said what people wanted to believe: that we had in our midst a group of people who, if allowed, will ruin the genetic strain. Goddard added: "There are Kallikak families all about us. They are multiplying at twice the rate of the general population, and not until we recognize this fact, and work on this basis, will we begin to solve [our] social problems."

Many authorities of the day praised Goddard's work. Similar research was published by other professionals, including Hill Folk by Davenport and Danielson, The Dack Family, by Finlayson, and Mongolian Virginians, the Win Tribe, by Estabrook and McDougle. These studies” supported similar conclusions to Goddard's research. More than 20 years earlier, Richard Dougdale's study of The Jukes concluded that "idiocy" and "insanity" were not the result of heredity but rather caused by environmental factors. Unfortunately, most of his contemporaries misinterpreted his results. Not until years later was Goddard's research rejected as invalid.

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