"The American Breed": Nazi Eugenics and the Origin of the Pioneer Fund

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Albany Law Review

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The goal of this article is to fill the existing gap in the history of eugenics by presenting a detailed analysis of the origins of the Pioneer Fund. Pioneer is a foundation chartered in 1937 to support and publicize study on "heredity and eugenics" and "the problems of race betterment." The paper focuses on the role of Harry Laughlin, one of he most successful publicists of the "racial radical" branch of the American eugenics movement, and Wickliffe Draper, a wealthy New Yorker who endowed the Pioneer Fund. The paper explores several archival collections, tracing contacts among Laughlin, Draper and the Nazi scientists whose work informed Hitler's "racial hygiene" movement.

Harry Laughlin received an honorary degree from the Nazi-controlled University of Heidelberg as "a pioneer in the science of race cleansing," only three months before the Pioneer Fund was incorporated. Wickliffe Draper recognized Laughlin's successes in the eugenics movement by then naming him as the first President of Pioneer. Laughlin's captivation with "Nordic" survival and attempts to develop a "white's only" legal definition of "the American Race" are reflected in Pioneer's corporate charter.

Draper's vision for eugenics matched Laughlin's. Draper traveled to Berlin to view a Nazi "Population Conference" in 1935 in the company of an American eugenicist who publicly saluted Hitler. Draper's funding supported immigration restriction, eugenical essay contests, and distribution of books advocating the repatriation of Blacks to Africa. The notoriously racist U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo [1877-1947] of Mississippi provided public advocacy for Draper's secretly financed repatriation effort.

The early program of Pioneer "research" and publicity is described through minutes of Pioneer Board meetings in 1937-'38. The Fund's first project was an incentive plan to encourage Army aviators, a group of "eugenically superior" white men, to have additional children. Though his personal sympathy concerning the Pioneer agenda is unclear, future Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan was a founding Director and sat on the Pioneer Board for seventeen years. Pioneer support and publicity for racially charged research continues today and is reflected in books like The Bell Curve, as well as more recent publications such as The Science of Human Diversity: A History of the Pioneer Fund, and Eugenics: A Reassessment, both by Richard Lynn. The records described in this paper belie the attempts of Pioneer apologists to portray their founders as scientifically disinterested in issues of race. Men with Nazi sympathies began the Pioneer Fund; their patently eugenic aspirations continue to guide Pioneer today.


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Recommended Citation

Paul A. Lombardo, "The American Breed": Nazi Eugenics and the Origin of the Pioneer Fund, 65 Alb. L. Rev. 743 (2002).





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