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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.”

 

 

 



David Roediger’s award-winning research and writing has already transformed how historians view the growth of social freedoms in America though the intersection of race, class, ethnicity, and labor. Now Roediger, as KU’s first Foundation Distinguished Professor of History (http://bit.ly/1AbAqYw), will continue to break new ground in those fields as he works with KU’s departments of American Studies and History. Roediger likes to study historical flash points — where one particular change brings a cascade of wider cultural changes. His latest book, “Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All,” makes the point that as slaves began freeing themselves across the South during the Civil War, their emancipation inspired and ignited other cultural movements for freedom — such as the women’s movement for suffrage and the labor movement for better working conditions and an eight-hour day. Understanding the individual stories of average people who wanted to make their lives better, including slaves or factory workers, are important to understanding the wider political movements and elections, Roediger said. “It's tempting to think that all the important political questions have been decided,” he said, “but actually people are constantly thinking about what freedom would mean for them.” Tags: #KUcommunities #CivilRights #History American Studies at KU
Turning rural America healthy: Christie Befort uses $10 million award. http://t.co/rrFjFtHbYT #KUcommunities http://t.co/Bsuek4k9QC
Lauded race and class historian becomes KU Foundation Professor David Roediger’s award-winning research and writing has already transformed how historians view the growth of social freedoms in America though the intersection of race, class, ethnicity, and labor. Now Roediger, as KU’s first Foundation Distinguished Professor of History (http://bit.ly/1AbAqYw), will continue to break new ground in those fields as he leads KU’s departments of American Studies and History. Roediger likes to study historical flash points — where one particular change brings a cascade of wider cultural changes. His latest book, “Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All,” makes the point that as slaves began freeing themselves across the South during the Civil War, their emancipation inspired and ignited other cultural movements for freedom — such as the women’s movement for suffrage and the labor movement for better working conditions and an eight-hour day. Understanding the individual stories of average people who wanted to make their lives better, including slaves or factory workers, is important to understanding the wider political movements and elections, Roediger said. “It's tempting to think that all the important political questions have been decided,” he said, “but actually people are constantly thinking about what freedom would mean for them.”


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