Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Eugenics Man and the Kennel Club

The human show at the Kansas State Fair. This family won the "Governor's Trophy" for being "the fittest family."

Ever hear of Leon F. Whitney?

He was a veterinarian, and prolific dog writer who wrote books like The Complete Book of Dog Care (still in print), How to Breed Dogs, Dog Psychology: The Basis of Dog Training, Groom Your Dog, The Coon Hunter's Handbook, Animal Doctor: The History and Practice of Veterinary Medicine and This is the Cocker Spaniel, among others.

Leon was a dog man's dog man, going so far as to collect early breed types and have them taxidermied for the ages.

His skinned-and-stuffed dog collection is still housed at Yale University.

In fact, Leon Whitney was such a big and famous dog man that when the American Kennel Club published Our Dogs: A Century of Images and Words from the AKC Gazette in 2003, they specifically included an essay by Leon F. Whitney despite the fact that this 151-page book was already crowded with more than 100 color photos.

If the AKC Gazette was going to monumentalize itself, it had to have an essay by Leon F. Whitney!

One of the things a lot of dog folks don't know about Leon Whitney is that he was also a radical eugenicist, and secretary of the American Eugenics Society.

How radical?

Consider this: In 1934, Leon F. Whitney called for the sterilization of ten million defective Americans at a time when the U.S. population was just 126 million.

Ten million people!

So what does this have to do with dogs? Where am I going with this?

Simple: against all reason, the leadership of the British Kennel Club has expressed dismay and outrage that the producers of Pedigree Dogs Exposed have referenced the eugenics movement origins of the Kennel Club.

Outrageous! But surely they know it is true?

In fact, the very idea of eugenics is British. It was a term first coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin (his face is on the 10 pound note) to memorialize an idea that Galton had been developing since the 1860s, and which grew out of Darwin's work which, in turn, drew from the works of Erasmus Darwin, Robert Bakewell and Thomas Malthus.

The braiding together of dog breeding, evolution, genetics, and human social status was common at the turn of the Century. Darwin did it, and so did Alfred Russel Wallace and Francis Galton.

Right from the beginning possible links between dog breeding, human genetics, and individual social status were deduced, in part because Darwin's Origin of Species happened to be published in 1859, the very year the first dog show was held in the U.K.

Of course dogs and human social status had been mixed up long before then!

In fact, in the very first treatise Of English Dogges, published in 1570 (in Latin) by John Caius, six main types of dogs are noted: Greyhounds or sight hounds, scent hounds, bird dogs, terriers, mastiffs, and shepherd dogs – and Caius emphasizes that each breed had its own designated social role to play.

Ten years later (1580) Sir Philip Sidney noted that there were three broad types of dogs "Greyhounds, Spaniels and Hounds; whereof the first might seem the Lords, the second the Gentlemen, and the last the Yeoman of dogs".

By William Shakespeare's day (approximately 1604) the relationship between human social status and dog breeding was sufficiently understood that Shakespeare could make a ready parallel between the social stratification of men and the growing divisions then occurring among dogs.

First Murderer: We are men, my liege.

Macbeth: Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men,
As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves are clept
All by the name of dogs.

Galton first sketched out his theory of controlled breeding for humans in an 1865 article entitled "Hereditary Talent and Character," in which dogs were mentioned as an example of successful breeding for improved function, and Galton elaborated on his proposal for humans in 1869 in his book Hereditary Genius.

And so, it was no mistake that when the English Kennel Club was founded in 1873 it was shaped by the twin forces of ancient canine class consciousness and the new population, genetic and selection theories of men like Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Francis Galton.

Darwin and Wallace argued that if you were intent on creating a new breed of animal, it was vital that you controlled the mixing of genes, for if you did not there was a very good chance that the animal in question would devolve back to the wild ancestral type.

In fact, in in their first lecture on evolution in 1858, they stressed this point, noting that:

Our quickly fattening pigs, short-legged sheep, pouter pigeons, and poodle dogs could never have come into existence in a state of nature, because the very first step towards such inferior forms would have led to the rapid extinction of the race; still less could they now exist in competition with their wild allies. The great speed but slight endurance of the race horse, the unwieldy strength of the ploughman's team, would both be useless in a state of nature. If turned wild on the pampas, such animals would probably soon become extinct, or under favourable circumstances might each lose those extreme qualities which would never be called into action, and in a few generations would revert to a common type, which must be that in which the various powers and faculties are so proportioned to each other as to be best adapted to procure food and secure safety,—that in which by the full exercise of every part of his organization the animal can alone continue to live. Domestic varieties, when turned wild, must return to something near the type of the original wild stock, or become altogether extinct.

This simple idea of segregation to preserve breed type was embraced with enthusiasm by early Kennel Club breeders who latched on to it as if it were a religion.

1890 Dog Show

Dogs types that had been cross-bred and yet preserved for hundreds of years were now deemed to be "pure breeds" whose "improvement" required the breeding of the animals within a closed registry in order to exclude even one drop of "foreign" or "mongrel" blood.

Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin (and the inventor of the dog whistle) carried the idea of a closed registry further, arguing that the best outcome for farm stock, dog or man could be achieved through a system he called eugenics -- the "cleansing" of populations of any defects or sub-par individuals, and the planned (and even forced) mating of "the best to the best."

If farm stock could be rapidly improved by the hand of man, Galton postulated, then why not man himself?

Galton formed the British Eugenics Society in 1908 and made himself President.

In 1911 he turned over the role to Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin's son who, in 1913, spoke of the bright social promise he saw for a
national system of eugenics based on sterilization of the "unfit":

"The effects of eugenic reform, if successful, would be to lower taxation, to raise real wages, to facilitate commercial competition, and to increase the security of the country in time of war. In things wholly immaterial, great benefits would moreover be felt; for a diminution in the number of the insane, the feebleminded, the criminal, and the wastrels annually brought into the world would mean the removal of a terrible burden of unmerited misery; whilst an increase in the output of men and women of character and ability would not only add to the reputation of our country, but would also add to its happiness in many ways. These are the benefits we hold to be in the power of this generation to bestow on our country in the future by now resolutely grappling with the problem of human heredity."

Close readers who exam the source text cited above will note that the quote comes from the Journal of Heredity published by the American Genetic Association (aka the American Breeders Association) in 1914, and that on page 226 of this same tome there is a translated article on The Effect of Inbreeding first published in Germany in 1880 (just seven years after the start of the UK Kennel Club). On page page 244 of the same publication, we have a treatise on Coat Color in Pointer Dogs, and on page 368 we have an article on the relative merit of inbreeding terriers to improve chances in the show ring.

Clearly the world of dog breeding and human eugenics were bound together; what worked for one (dogs or human) was surely good for the other!

Into this thought-scape entered the Kennel Club with their demand for racial purity and a rigid non-performance "breed standard" which, truth be told, is little more than a "master race" blue print for each type of dog.

As luck would have it, one of the earliest and most prolific writers about the genetics of pedigree dogs and the new "science" of human eugenics was Leon F. Whitney.

Whitney would write about the genetics of canine coat color one day, and the need to sterilize millions of people the next.

For example, in 1928 we find Whitney writing in the Journal of Heredity on The Inheritance of a Ticking Factor in Hounds while at the same time carrying on a fast and furious correspondence with the leaders of the American and British eugenics movements.

Leon Whitney was more than a cheerleader for eugenics; he was also one of the chief architects of "human dog shows" in which families would compete at state fairs to win a prize as "the fittest family."

"Not unlike dog shows today, Fitter Family contests pitted American citizens against one another in a battle to determine whose facial characteristics, posture, health, and habits judges deemed the most fit."

It would be hard to overstate the intellectual, political and financial support the eugenics movement received between 1870s and 1930. As one observer noted:

Adolescent popular culture was ... filled with eugenic messages. On a given Saturday evening in the 1920s, for example, school students could go to the movies to see the pro-euthanasia film The Black Stork. The following morning, while attending church services, they might listen to a eugenically oriented sermon recommending marriages of “best” with “best.” On Monday, the newspaper might warn of a “rising tide of feeblemindedness” and recommend restricting immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. On Tuesday, the press could report on the attractive winners of “better babies contests.” Sitting in class on Wednesday, these same students might open their biology textbooks to a chapter on eugenics. Finally, on Thursday and Friday, while visiting a state fair with their hygiene class, they could participate in a Fitter Families competition. If they were judged as having superior heredity, they might return home bearing a medal with a biblical inscription (Psalms 16.6), “Yea, I have a goodly heritage”.

Eugenics was not considered a crack pot theory in the first two or three decades of the Twentieth Century.

In fact, it was considered a potentially powerful force for social good and such American luminaries as Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emma Goldman, and Margaret Sanger embraced it, along with such British luminaries as Havelock Ellis, H. G. Wells, William Beveridge, John Maynard Keynes, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill.

In short, eugenics was not a thesis put out by bad people trying to do evil, but by misguided people trying to do good.

That said, it should also be noted that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And so, we find in this case in which forced sterilization laws were quickly embraced as a kind of "cleansing" of the gene pool.

Indiana was the first state to mandate forced sterilization of citizens it considered a problem, followed by Washington, Connecticut, Virginia, and California. Sometimes sterilization surgery was performed without the victims' knowledge, and it was not uncommon for poor women to be admitted for one illnesses only to wake up with their tubes tied without so much as a consultation.

In 1934, having already served as head of the American Eugenic Association for a decade, Leon F. Whitney authored "The Case for Sterilization" which was written as a popular "platform piece" for encouraging the passage of more state-based sterilization laws.

The book noted, with some approval, that Hitler had already sterilized 1 percent of the population of his nation, and so it was not too surprising that one of Hitler's staff wrote to Leon Whitney and asked him for a copy of Whitney's book so the Fuhrer could read it for himself.

Whitney, of course, complied immediately, and shortly thereafter he received back a personal letter of thanks from Adolf Hitler who, records show, was fascinate by the American and British eugenics movements and modeled some of his own lebenborn and forced sterilization campaigns on their work.

Leon Fradley Whitney, born in 1894, died in 1973 never apologizing for anything he did as part of the American eugenics movement and never renouncing either the actions of Nazi Germany or Adolph Hitler.

I recount this history not as an indictment against the Kennel Club (either American or British), but simply to set the record straight.

The breeding of pure bred dogs within a closed registry to narrow and contrived non-performance standards is a direct descendant of both the British and American eugenics movements, sharing not only the same intellectual roots and methods, but also key and influential personnel.

The fact that the Kennel Club is not comfortable talking about their intellectual history, their current closed-registry breeding regimes, their contrived breed standards, or the rising level of serious genetic defect now occurring in breed after breed does not change the facts, nor is it a recipie for reform.

What is needed now is for the Kennel Clubs to think anew.

Their old business model is crashing on the rocks, and only one thing is certain: If the Kennel Clubs keeps on doing what they have always done (too little, too late) then they will only get more of what they have right now: broken dogs and a public that is sick and tired of having defective, diseased and deformed dogs that break the heart and the wallet with equal vigor.

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YesBiscuit! said...

I bought one of Whitney's books when I was starting out in dogs. I couldn't stomach his habit of killing the dogs in his care for curiousity's sake or to make space in his kennel or whatever other reason beyond "medically hopeless and suffering".

Anonymous said...

Good show, Patrick! Although the public has forgotten its embrace of the eugenics movement, vestiges remain--and nowhere more conspicuously than in the dog show ring. How else to explain the importance of “pedigrees”? How else to explain the continued emphasis on titles—even those gained in nonconformation competition. I just don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that the notion of the “purebred” dog was born in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, when a certain segment of the new British middle class, newly possessed of excess time and money and—perhaps unwittingly—excited by “scientific” notions of eugenics that saturated their environment, turned its attention to aping the aristocracy. While these folks might not be heirs to titles, they could gain titles for themselves through selective breeding of their dogs. Dogs judged the purest representatives of their breeds were rewarded with Ch. and so on, and their breeders could take pride in something that was not just an artistic or scientific creation, but a creature that was a surrogate self—in effect, a child. The glory was reflected glory, to be sure, but by keeping firm control of his line, a given breeder could stake a claim to having founded canine royalty, to be a progenitor of kings. We all enjoy recognition, but I think the impulse that keeps these dogs trotting around the show ring is of another order.

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis. I think we ought to call what the dog breeders are doing "malgenics," because it is resulting in nothing good at all. True eugenics would be selecting for the healthiest and most intelligent and tractable dogs, but that's not what they are doing.

It is a giant leap from a scientific inquiry into natural selection by the mechanism of survival of the fittest to selecting for novel forms in a domestic population. But these people who came up with the fancy were into conspicuous consumption and commodity fetishism (I hate to use KM's term but it describes how a "fad dog" that is entirely useless can be worth thousands of dollars). A rare and useless dog with some novel appearence could be something to show off to all of their friends.

It is the reverse of the logical process Darwin used. Darwin had observed how people selected various forms of domestic pigeons for the show, and during his trip on the Beagle, he came up with theory that all the diverse forms of life on earth were similarly selected, not by the man but by the natural world itself.

The dog show world is becoming a survival of the unfittest malgenics experiment.

Megan said...

Fabulous! A couple years ago, I spent two summers at Yale doing a little student research project. I got to take a little time off the second summer to go through, organize, and enumerate the Whitney dog skins. There was a pretty well-known Collie in there, as I recall.

Most unsettling, though, were the specimen tags that noted that the dog had arrived quite alive, by train, to the Peabody offices, before being dispatched and skinned. The owners couldn't wait until the poor pooch achieved natural death?

Saddest of all, of course, is that these specimens really aren't of much use to anyone. They're in cold storage, like all the other vertebrate specimens, but they simply don't represent anything that is of academic interest. (You can't learn much about Collies "the way they were" from a stretched and tanned hide.)

Anonymous said...

When most people hear the word "eugenics" they think "Nazi". HSUS and PETA are busily linking "dog breeder" to (Nazi) eugenics in the mind of the American public, and groups in Europe are similarly working there. Although I completely agree with you about the general downward spiral of breeding for show and the inability/unwillingness of the kennel clubs to provide leadership for their breed clubs, I am aware that this current "stuff" about Crufts and Pekinese and all is being used by groups whose goals include the eradication of all dog breeding and the eventual elimination of dogs living with people. The same people who successfully eliminating much of hunting in the UK. Their goal is stopping all dog breeders, not just the easy-to-attack show breeders. Someone who breeds terriers for a maximum of a 14 inch chest span is, to them, just as much a eugenicist as someone breeding a wheezing Pekinese. Or a nice healthy Pekinese, for that matter.

The eugenics ideas of the late 1800s (1883 is cited by a PBS science show as the first use), and when Mendel's genetics were rediscovered in 1900 were added to Fancis Galton's work, which started in 1865, about how human attributes were inherited. This led in the early 1900s to all sorts of weird stuff about more and less fit people, apparently based on the English idea that the English are the best of the human species. I think it is likely that the idea of selectively breeding animals for better meat and milk predated the mid to late 1800s. I know that people were breeding particular kinds of pet dogs and hunting dogs hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the 1800s.

I really think that setting up a situation where "everybody knows" that eugenics (and Naziism) are identical to dog breeding may lead to popular demand for the outlawing of dog breeding.

PBurns said...

The animal rights lunatics will say what the animal right lunatics have always said; there is no stopping them and they have little sway.

The folks who DO have sway are the people who love dogs and who will stand up, and show up, and speak up on their behalf. Are you one of them?

It sounds like you are not; you are certainly timid. Let me suggest that perhaps you have not thought it out enough. Let me put it to you simple: Is it OK for dogs to be crippled, and in pain, and to say nothing about it because some nameless, faceless lunatic somewhere might try to push a more extreme agenda that will be univeraslly rejected by everyone with a brain?

That sounds like what you are saying, and I reject it. And I will bet that if you think about it a little longer, you will too!

For the record, the idea of eugenics predates all of us quite a long time. Plato, as I have noted before, said that "The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior." The ancient Greeks routinely left weak or sick human babies out in the weather to be killed by exposure.

As to the notion that the goal of Pedigree Dogs Exposed is to get rid of all dogs, the assertion is laughable on its face. The producer of the piece is a long time Flat-coated Retriever owner who also runs a breed rescue, and ALL of the people interviewed in the show actually own and love dogs. In fact, Pedigree Dogs Exposed is loudly and proudly supported by people like Beverely Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today, and Ryan O'Meara, editor-in-chief of K9 Magazine as well as folks like me who have had dogs for nearly as long as we have been alive.

As for the Breed clubs, some of them are beginnig to stand up and DEMAND that the Kennel Club take action, as Dog World notes in today's issue (see http://www.dogworld.co.uk/News/50-mandatory-measures) where the "dog on the docket" is the German Shepherd.

As for the history of the Kennel Club, is is exactly as I stated it. I have not overstated or shaded a thing; I have simply responded to the nonsense statements of the Kennel Club that their intellectual roots and current breeding methods have nothing in common with eugenics. That is clearly a lie!


Anonymous said...

Despite Leon Whitney's less than savory experimental practices with dogs, he WAS bluntly practical--what works in animal breeding certainly will work with humans! People just don't like being reminded that they are animals, too. And Leon Whitney was also an early critic of typical AKC breeding practices--breeding for conformation shows but not practical function, temperment and health. I recommend everyone get a copy of his old book(IF you can find one! I think AKC show people burn them whenever they discover a copy!) "The Truth About Dogs"--some of the subjects and rants he goes into would fit right in the purebred dog discussions on this sight very well!....L.B.

Vote The Bums Out said...

I grew up as a boy not far from Dr.Whitney's home in Connecticut.We both raised racing pigeons,and if you think he was tough on dogs,he was doubly tough on pigeons.His goal was to perfect three particular strains of pigeons,and he would eliminate any bird with the littlest defect.
As a ten year old boy,eugenics wasn't even in my vocabulary,but now,reading about Dr.Whitney's experience with the subject doesn't surprise me.
Dr.Whitney was one of the most respected people in the history of the homing pigeon sport.He always offered advice and helped me personally with the medical side of pigeons.
I'm sorry to read(and I've read it before in other sources)that the good doctor had an evil side.Having worked side by side with him for some time in the pigeon sport now makes me wonder what people would have thought about him if they knew how tough he was on perfecting the perfect homing pigeon.