The Kallikak Family
Originally prepared by: Kwame Dakwa (fall 2001)
Revised: Amber Esping and Jonathan Plucker (fall 2002)
The American psychologist Henry H. Goddard (1866-1957) is best known for his work on the area of the inheritability of intelligence. He was influenced by Mendelian genetics, and believed that "feeble-mindedness" was the result of a single recessive gene. He is considered by many to be one of the pioneers of the American eugenicist movement.
"Morons" were Goddard's primary interest. He originated this term, deriving it from the Greek word for "foolish." Goddard defined morons as "high grade defectives" who possess low intelligence, but appear normal to casual observers (1912, p. 104). In addition to their learning difficulties, Goddard characterized morons as lacking self-control, thus making them susceptible to sexual immorality and vulnerable to other individuals who might exploit them for use in criminal activity (1912, pp. 54-56).
In 1906, Goddard was hired by the Vineland Training School to conduct research on the genetic causes of feeble-mindedness. His research was two-tiered: In addition to translating and administering the Binet-Simon Measuring Scale, he sent research assistants into the homes of feeble-minded children to learn what they could through "careful and wise questioning" (1912, p. vii). In the ensuing years, Goddard's research methods, the accuracy of his data, and the qualifications of his research assistants have been questioned (Gould, 1981; Smith, 1985; Zenderland, 1998).
Goddard's research resulted in the publication of several
journal articles and books. The most well known books are The
Kallikak Family: A Study In The Heredity Of Feeble-Mindedness
(1912) and Feeble-Mindedness: Its Causes And Consequences (1914).
The Kallikak Family
Although Goddard and his assistants studied more than 300 families, the Kallikak family remains the most famous. The name "Kallikak" is actually a pseudonym created by Goddard from the Greek words Kallos (beauty) and Kakos (bad). The name is fitting; the Kallikak family was divided into two strains-one "good" and one "bad"-both of which originated from a common progenitor, Martin Kallikak, Sr.
When Martin Kallikak, Sr. was a young soldier, he had a liaison with an "unnamed, feeble-minded tavern girl." This tryst resulted in the birth of an illegitimate son, Martin Kallikak, Jr. The Kakos (bad) strain of the Kallikak family descended from this line. Later in his life, Martin Kallikak, Sr., married a Quaker woman from a good family. The Kallos (beauty) line descended from this marriage.
Goddard's genealogical research revealed that the union with the feeble-minded tavern girl resulted in generations of "mental defectives" who were plagued by illegitimacy, prostitution, alcoholism, epilepsy, and lechery. His investigation of the other Kallikak branch revealed precisely the opposite: The marriage of Martin Kallikak, Sr., to the respectable Quakeress yielded generations of society's finest citizens. Goddard believed that the striking schism separating the two branches of the family was due entirely to the different genetic input from the women (1912, pp. 105-106).
This chart is representative of the 24 family trees Goddard included in the second section of Chapter Two ("The Charts"). This is Chart II on p. 37 of the 1935 edition. In this chart, circles represent females and squares represent males. Goddard included the following caption: "N = Normal. F = Feeble-minded. Sx = Sexually immoral. A = Alcoholic.... d. inf. = died in infancy.... For further explanation see pp. 33-35." In Chart I and subsequent graphics, Goddard creates similar family trees from Martin, Sr., to Deborah (Chart I), and represents the histories of various branches of the "good" and "bad" families.
Regardless of the accuracy of the data, Goddard's presentation (especially the numerous charts) have a powerful effect, making it easy to understand the book's popularity in the first third of the 20th Century. Eminent professors from around the world were impressed by the magnitude of Goddard's work, and The Kallikak Family became a best seller. Critical reaction in the lay press was generally quite positive, but the reaction was mixed within the scientific community (Zederland, 1998). For example, James McKeen Cattell praised the contribution and conclusions but criticized the research design. There was even mention of turning the book into a Broadway play. Not surprisingly, the Kallikak study was a landmark event for the eugenicist movement. The Kallikak study was a powerful ally to the eugenicist movement and contributed to the environment in which compulsory sterilization laws were passed in 30 states (with many retaining the force of law for decades).
Goddard met Deborah Kallikak when she was a resident of the Vineland Training School. The genetic cause of her feeble-mindedness is the foundation of Goddard's theories of mental deficiency. Goddard begins Chapter One with "The Story of Deborah":
"One bright October day, fourteen years ago, there came to the Training School at Vineland, a little eight-year-old girl. She had been born in an almshouse. Her mother had afterwards married, not the father of this child, but the prospective father of another child, and later had divoced him and married another man, who was also the father of some of her children.... One the plea that the child did not get along well at school and might possibly be feeble-minded, she gained admission to the Training School, there to begin a career which has been interesting and valuable to the Institution, and which has led to an investigation that cannot fail to prove of great social import. (pp. 1-2)"
In the remainder of the chapter, Goddard provides a detailed account of Deborah's experiences at Vineland, with comments from staff notes, anecdotes, and photos of Deborah and samples of her work. Goddard also describes the events that led to the study. In brief, Vineland field workers, in the course of regular visits to relatives of Vineland residents, had difficulty tracing the family history. After considerable effort, Martin Kallikak's personal history came to light, as did the history of the two branches of his family.
A more recent look at Deborah's school records reveals that her profile was inconsistent with that of a mentally retarded person; it is probable that she was actually learning disabled (Smith, 1985, pp. 23-26). Evidence for this is found in reports that although Deborah showed pronounced delays in reading and writing, she was a skilled woodworker and seamstress, and functioned so well socially that visitors to the school frequently mistook her for a member of the staff! This picture of Deborah was included as the Frontispiece in the 1912 and subsequent editions. Goddard also included four other pictures of Deborah in text, but these were not all reprinted in subsequent editions. An on-line version at Classics in the History of Psychology includes all of the original photographs.
Early in his career, Goddard believed that feeble-mindedness was dangerous to society. He affirmed that feeble-minded people were "multiplying at twice the rate of the general population," (1912, p. 71) thus producing "more feeble-minded children with which to clog the wheels of human progress" (1912, p. 78). Moreover, since feeble-minded people were not able to control themselves, they were the principal cause of many social problems, including crime and illegitimacy. Goddard was hesitant to support compulsory sterilization, suggesting instead that the best cure for society's ills would be to build "colonies" where the feeble-minded could be segregated. He noted that the cost of these facilities could be offset:
Such colonies would save an annual loss in property and life, due to the action of these irresponsible people, sufficient to nearly, or quite, offset the expense of the new plant (1912, pp. 105-106)
He reversed this opinion in the late 1920s.
Consequences of the Kallikak Family Study
The height of Goddard's success came at a time when America was experiencing a large influx of immigrants from Europe. The Immigration Restriction Act, passed in 1924 (which remained in effect until 1965) was influenced by American eugenics' efforts. In 1913 Goddard was invited to Ellis Island to help detect morons in the immigrant population. In his Intelligence Classification of Immigrants of Different Nationalities (1917) he asserted that most of the Ellis Island immigrants were mentally deficient. For example, he indicated that 83% of all Jews tested were feeble-minded, as were 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians, and 87% of the Russians. The result was that many immigrants were turned away and sent back to Europe.
The Controversial Photos
A photographic expert from the Smithsonian Institution suggested that some of the Kallikak family photographs in Goddard's books were retouched to give them a more disturbing appearance, an observation that has been used as evidence for Goddard's zealous efforts in favor of the hereditarian nature of intelligence (Gould, 1981, pp.171; Smith, 1985, pp. 79-80). As can be seen in the photos below (taken from the 1935 edition at p. 88), close scrutiny reveals dark lines and shading added around their eyes. However, the assertion of fraud has only become more controversial over time. Photos in many books were retouched as part of the publishing process (Fancher, 1987), and little evidence exists that Goddard personally doctored the photographs to make the "bad" Kallikaks look more sinister than the "good" branch of the family. As Zederland (1998) observes, a main thrust of Goddard's work was to show that feeble-minded people looked normal and were often quite attractive; he was attempting to make a case for careful mental testing, not superficial visual inspection, to determine feeble-mindedness.
By the late 1920s, Goddard had reversed many of his early opinions, declaring in multiple public forums that he had been gravely mistaken in many of his most famous conclusions (Zenderland, 1998, pp. 324-326). He had begun to question the validity of the tests that were used to detect morons, and he stated emphatically that his former belief that morons could not be educated satisfactorily was wrong. In addition, he frequently voiced his new opinion that feeble-minded people should be allowed to have children, if they choose to do so. He asserted in a 1927 article for Scientific Monthly that the concept of segregation colonies had been a bad idea (Zenderland, 1998, pp. 324-326).
However, Die Familie Kallikak was printed in Germany in 1914 and reprinted in 1933 shortly after the Nazis came to power. Goddard never intended for his book to be connected with Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust. In 1938 and 1939, he tried unsuccessfully to use his influence to help the daughter of a Jewish colleague escape from Austria (Zenderland, 1998, pp. 333-335). Subsequently, a psychology text by Columbia University psychologist Henry Garrett (1961) provided a brief, and rather embellished, overview of the Kallikak study to bolster his eugenicist arguments. Although these interpretations stood at odds with Goddard's opinions later in his life, these and related events have helped to paint the rather negative picture many people still hold of Goddard and his work.
Fancher, R. E. (1987). Henry Goddard and the Kallikak Family photographs: "Conscious skullduggery" or "Whig history"? American Psychologist, 42, 585-590.
Garrett, H.E., & Bonner, H. (1961). General psychology (2nd rev. ed.). New York: American Book Company.
Goddard, H. H. (1912). The Kallikak Family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness. New York: Macmillan.
Goddard, H. H. (1914). Feeble-mindedness: Its causes and consequences. New York: Macmillan
Goddard, H. H. (1917). Mental tests and the immigrant. Journal of Delinquency, 2, 243-277.
Goddard, H. H. (1927). Who is a moron? Scientific Monthly, 24, 41-46.
Goddard, H. H. (1942). In defense of the Kallikak study. Science, 95, 574-576.
Gould, S.J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Smith, J.D. (1985). Minds made feeble: The myth and legacy of the Kallikaks. Rockville, MD: Aspen.
Zenderland, L. (1998). Measuring minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the origins of American intelligence testing. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Written by Amber Esping, Kwame Dakwa, and Jonathan Plucker. This is a revised version of this Hot Topic.
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Last Modified: 29 April 2018