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Karen Henry
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Professor’s book refutes basis of classic psychology text

Thu, 04/11/2013

LAWRENCE — In 1912 eugenicist and psychologist Henry Herbert Goddard published his highly influential book, "The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness." While the book is now seen as pseudoscience, Goddard’s chronicle of a family with two hereditary lines, one presented as a cavalcade of outstanding citizens and the other rife with criminals and the “feeble-minded,” still resonates in culture, policy and science. In fact, the immutability of the inheritance of intelligence was an article of faith for much of the 20th century.

Michael WehmeyerNow, 100 years later, KU professor of special education Michael Wehmeyer and co-author J. David Smith have brought together evidence that disputes the very basis of Goddard’s book, that a degenerate line descended from the progenitor Revolutionary War soldier’s dalliance with a barmaid in "Good Blood, Bad Blood: Science, Nature, and the Myth of the Kallikaks."

Wehmeyer, director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities and associate director of Beach Center on Disability, will discuss his book at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Jayhawk Ink in the Kansas Memorial Union.

The pseudonymous Kallikak family so named by Goddard from the Greek Kallos (beauty) and Kakos (bad) was actually the Wolverton family, a fact discovered by a genealogist in the 1980s. With this genealogy, institutional records and interviews with Wolverton descendants, as well as other sources, the authors concluded that there was no “bad blood” at all.

“These were just poor people who lived in rural areas of New Jersey who were then cast into the quagmire of industrializing America at the turn of the 20th century,” said Wehmeyer.

Emma Wolverton, an inmate at VIneland State Training School.Goddard used the case of a young woman he called Deborah Kallikak (Emma Wolverton), who was an inmate at his Vineland State Training School, to justify his argument for the segregation and even sterilization of people deemed intellectually inferior.

Whether Emma even had an intellectual disability is up for debate, said Wehmeyer. She could read and write and became the nanny for the institution superintendent’s children. She died at age 89, incarcerated for 81 of those years.

“It was time to tell this woman’s story to reclaim some of her dignity as a person,” said Wehmeyer.  “The point of this book is that society makes decisions, it isn’t just scientists. How society responds to, takes in, and what it does with that information matters. We need to be careful who gets to make the final decision.”

 

 

 



Matt Menzenski, a graduate student in Slavic languages & literatures, took this photo during President Obama’s speech at KU Thursday. Menzenski says he was struck by how relaxed the president was in his delivery. He missed a chance to hear former President Bill Clinton speak in his hometown in 2004, but finally got to see a sitting president this week at KU. “The opportunity to hear the president speak is just one of many great opportunities I've had at KU. So many interesting talks and events happen here all the time. I try to attend at least one a week-- it's never hard to find something interesting to go to.” Tags: University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures KU Dept of Slavic Languages - Friends & Alumni Barack Obama The White House #exploreKU #POTUSatKU

Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See http://bit.ly/1xjjwJj). For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See http://bit.ly/1BoL9jv) The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (http://bit.ly/14fiBPl), associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.


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