Stirpiculture, or, The ascent of man

Dr. Alexander Reid was superintendent of the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth from 1878 to 1892, and as such was one of the first to put the ideas of eugenics into practice in Nova Scotia. The following are some highlights from a speech he gave before the Nova Scotia Institute of Natural Science in 1890, and there’s recognizable bits of policy from today (extolling the virtues of the “dignity” of labor, for example, by those from a class insulated from such labor) embedded throughout.

Most interesting to me is the connection made by Dr. Reid as to those “simply honest in expressing their opinions (that) did not coincide with those prevailing in the community” to the “paupers and criminal” class. A refining of the techniques used to silence Wilkie, Howe and other political dissidents, not through seditious libel trials, but instead by labeling them with a mental illness or other categorization. Were Institutions of public health used in order to segregate them and their ideas from spreading among the broader population, in much the same way that their “genetic heritage” was prevented from being “spread”?

Rules extolled from the “Imperial Palace at Berlin” reminiscent of “Arbeit macht frei” further illustrate a picture of Dr. Reid and these ideas, and where they led, forty years later.

“…any favoured trait can be developed by the proper study of heredity.”

“The human family is composed of four classes :

  1. The Good, Those who are actuated by high resolves, no matter what their position or associations may be.
  2. The Bad, Who are quite intractable
  3. The irresponsibles, Insane and idiotic
  4. The great bulk of humanity that is moulded by and are the creatures of association and training.

The first does not need our attention. The second are ulcerous and diseased outgrowths on society that will pass away and our efforts must be directed to prevent future recurrence. The third, a gradually increasing class, the result of natural causes, and if not to be eliminated in toto could be greatly reduced in numbers. The fourth class is the one that all efforts of society should be directed towards perfecting, for from it the preceding classes spring, and but few laws need to be studied or acted upon. They are:

  1. Hereditary transmission
  2. Indissolubility of the marriage tie with its home associations
  3. A correct appreciation of the dignity of labour, and that all individuals be trained to make their own living by the hand as well as the head.
  4. Moral training with fixed or positive religious ideas.
  5. A general and practical education
  6. Definite instruction in sanitary laws.”

“We have about 1,500 to 2,000 insane in our province … a very large percentage of whom are immured in asylums, many for a great part and more for the whole of their active lives, at a very large and increasing cost to the communities. These people are nearly all dependent on state aid, but the impoverished condition of them and their dependents is due to their affliction. In looking over the histories of the 2400 admissions to our own asylum, I could not find one who had not been self-supporting before his or her affliction.

…there is no vivid consciousness that men and women of every grade of society, except the paupers and criminals, are immured in what to them is a prison, and all civil rights and personal freedom denied them, and as far as they can see, for no just cause. They never did any injury (except now and then in self-defense from their point of view) and have not even the melancholy pleasure enjoyed by the criminals of at least knowing how long their liberties are to be restrained and the cause for their incarceration. They were simply honest in expressing their opinions and these did not coincide with those prevailing in the community.”

“From one tainted emigrant to this province there has been a thousand crippled intellects”

“A rule that was once general and still obtains at the Imperial Palace, at Berlin, that every young man should be proficient in some handicraft and every woman in the practical details of household work, has, unfortunately, been falling into abeyance; more so in America than in Europe.”

“…it stands to reason that if Jack were as good as his master he would occupy that position.”

“…the subject of Stirpiculture, the perfection of our race, is a grand one and deserves more care and study than it has thus received”

Reid, A. P. “Stirpiculture, or, The ascent of man”, N.S. Institute of Natural Science, 1890.