Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unnatural Selection 1910 Style

Isle of Lewis Scot Immigrants. My husband's ancestors or at least relations.

Hmm. As if finding a husband wasn't hard enough for Marion, Flo and Edith Nicholson of my Flo in the City story, based on the letters of

They had to find a good Presbyterian who would not mind that they came to the marriage with only the (homemade) dress on their back.

And let's face it, they were over-educated for their social standing (financially speaking) and as they couldn't marry down.. well...prospects were dim.

And now there was the promoters of the eugenics movement to futher muddy the marital waters, suggesting that it was up to women to maintain and increase the purity of the race, to prevent 'race suicide', as it was called.

They must make sure their future husbands had good genes, too. No criminal genes, no 'feeble-minded' genes, no inferior race genes.

"Women rather than men have always been the conserver of race purity," says Dr. H. E. Jordon. "In eugenics she will find an intelligent guide to the selection of the father of her children, to the reduction of 3/4ths of all diseases, to the elimination of 1/2 of the morbidity of children."

(I must admit, I'm fascinated by the eugenics movement. Such nonsense being promoted by such prominent folk. No wonder this chapter of history has been effectively censored. (Hitler didn't help, either.) According to one source, the movement originated in England in 1867, but didn't become "powerful"until 1900.

Here are some quotes from a 1912 lecture in Montreal that botanist and social activist Carrie Derick attended. "The incident of 'genius' among royalty is 100,000 times higher than that among industrial classes." "The Upper classes and country folk are fairer and taller than the industrial classes of the city" -and from these people derive all the literary and artistic talent" "Racial elements of southern origin have been the least productive of men. " Hmm. Take that Pablo Picasso, who in 1912 had just moved to his new digs in Montmartre.

The New York Times has more on the movement than the Gazette, which suggests that it was more popular in the US.

Mendelian science was sometimes invoked by the proponants of eugenics. All screwed up of course. And still Carrie Derick, botanist, bought into the BS.(But who understands Mendel and all that pea-pod business.)

They sort of had it backwards, from what I see, at least with respect to physical health. (The morality aspects of the movement were plain racism and class warfare, disguised as science.) They believed you in-bred people to keep bad genes out, so that European Royalty had it right, as opposed to the opposite, that you mixed the genes to breed strong genes in.

Even the Church got into it. No one could be married in the Church without a blood test.

"In a sermon preached at the Episcopal Cathedral, March 23, 1912, no persons would be married by the clergy of the Cathedral, except upon presentation of a reputable physician, showing that the contracting parties are physically and mentally normal, and that neither has an incurable or communicable disease."

All very ironic. Of course, the Nicholsons were a case for inbreeding. The Isle of Lewis Scots were a hardy lot, and from what I have read, in the early 1800's their genes were almost the same as the genes of the Norseman who landed there many centuries before - and that because the population were so isolated.

Natural selection had killed off the weaker ones (I'm guessing) so many of these people lived to a ripe old age, many women into their nineties, on a diet of oatmeal and dire deprivation. Apparently, this group had few health problems, that is until they emigrated to other parts of the world. But that decline likely had more to do with the change of lifestyle.

Norman was a Nicholson, from Isle of Lewis, but by way of Skye, and Margaret was a McLeod from Isle of Lewis. All these immigrants inbred after coming to Canada for a generation or two.

My husband's family is a good example of how it went. Norman married Margaret, both from Isle of Lewis stock. Marion Nicholson, their daughter, married Hugh Blair, product of lowland? Scotland with a French Canadian mother and Cree grandmother. Marion's kids married English speaking Montrealers, Marion Hope, her second daughter, married Thomas Gavine Wells, Anglican, sort of, product of Welsh-Canadian and Irish American and I'm guessing African American (Virginia) (cousin of General Douglas MacArthur) and their kids married English and French Canadians (Roman Catholic but not too serious about it) who married, well, people from all over the world, including East Indian (Hindu, sort of) and Franco-Gypsy.