Return of the Jukes: Eugenic Mythologies and Internet Evangelism

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Journal of Legal Medicine

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Francis Galton coined the term eugenics in 1883, launching a movement that would eventually advocate widespread state legislation for restriction of marriage and sterilization of those considered “defective.” That movement occurred at the same time two “family studies” became popular tools for teaching eugenics. The first involved the Jukes family, a clan of social outcasts from New York State. The second was the model Christian family of Jonathan Edwards, famous leader of the evangelical Great Awakening of the 18th Century. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the characteristics of the Jukes and the Edwards were used both by evangelical preachers and the leaders of the eugenics movement to exemplify how bad traits become a family curse and good traits yield familial bounty, passed down from generation to generation. In the religious context, the stories were coupled with biblical verses prescribing how the “sins of the fathers” constitute an inescapable, divinely ordained legacy. Though the accuracy of both the Jukes and the Edwards family stories were seriously discredited decades ago, several recent books written from the evangelical perspective have revived their popularity. Dozens of web sites similarly invoke the Jukes and Edwards mythologies as grist for sermons, religious counseling or self-help messages. The argument of these latter day evangelists often includes a tone of contempt for the poor and dependent that echoes the rhetoric of the most common strain of eugenic reasoning from the early 20th century.

Recommended Citation

Paul A. Lombardo, Return of the Jukes: Eugenic Mythologies and Internet Evangelism, 33 J. Legal Med. 207 (2012).







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