Department or Program



Eugenics, the deplorable crusade to “strengthen” family and “save civilized America” from “race suicide” through the regulation of motherhood, emerged in the United States as a cohesive movement in the early twentieth century. The eugenics movement and the coinciding development of eugenic feminism have largely been studied. Where analysis is lacking, however, is the influential role of women who were unattached to the official, organized groups in early twentieth-century America. How did these women participate in the establishment of eugenic ideas as a popular social and cultural norm in the period from 1900 to 1930? This thesis examines of how white middle-class women’s engagement and navigation of eugenic discourses in their daily lives helps us to understand their influential role in the American eugenics movement. These women gained power as citizens by acting ‘morally’ and reproducing ‘intelligently’ according to eugenic standards of race betterment. Analyzing eugenic engagement in five popular women’s journals, two major newspapers and at state fairs helps us imagine the role middle-class white women played in establishing a national engagement with the ideas and conversations of eugenics in America—bringing the discourses of eugenics into the vernacular of the everyday. The work of women who ascribed to gender roles constructed by eugenic biopower reinforced the notion that the female’s worth as a citizen in the United States was predicated by her performance as a eugenic producer and a guardian to America’s future generations. Many different types of white middle-class women from different levels of the movement made connections with each other to expand eugenic circuits of knowledge. Through these informal channels of communication, the biopolitcs of eugenics became both normalized and popularized throughout the nation. The importance of white middle-class women’s biopower can be framed within the Foucauldian concept of the dispersed constellations of contested power. As the primary actors within Better Babies and Fitter Families contests, women helped to obscure the perceived division between what was public and what was private in American society as they exhibited their families and themselves to the world in order to establish their important, intimate value to the state as moral, fit and reproducing fertile bodies.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Plastas, Melinda

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.