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Eugenics and public health in Britain, 1900–40: scenes from provincial life

  • John Welshman (a1)
Abstract

Historians have attempted to assess the impact of eugenics on public health provision in a number of fields including mental health, birth control, voluntary sterilization and housing. However, most of this work has concentrated on debates at the national level, and we know much less about the ways in which eugenics may have helped shape health services in provincial cities. It has been suggested that Leicester was a city in which eugenicists were particularly prominent, and this article examines the impact of eugenics on three aspects of public health between 1900 and 1940; mental health, birth control and housing. It concludes that while eugenics did have a practical outcome in mental health and birth control, its influence on housing policy was more elusive, and 1935 marked a turning-point after which eugenics was less significant in health policy and intellectual life.

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1 Mackenzie, D., ‘Eugenics in Britain’, Social Studies of Science, 6 (1976), 499532; Freeden, M., ‘Eugenics and progressive thought’, Historical Journal, XXII (1979), 645–71; Searle, G.R., ‘Eugenics and politics in Britain in the 1930s’, Annals of Science, 36 (1979), 159–69; idem, ‘Eugenics and class’, in Webster, C. (ed.), Biology, Medicine and Society, 1840–1940 (Cambridge, 1981), 217–42; Jones, G., ‘Eugenics and social policy between the wars’, Historical Journal, XXV (1982), 717–28; idem, Social Hygiene in Twentieth Century Britain (London, 1986); Macnicol, J., ‘Eugenics and the campaign for voluntary sterilisation in Britain between the wars’, Social History of Medicine, 2, 2 (1989), 147–70; Soloway, R.A., Democracy and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth Century Britain (Chapel Hill, 1990); Jones, G., ‘Eugenics in Ireland: the Belfast Eugenics Society, 1911–15’, Irish Historical Studies, XXVIII (1992), 8195.

2 Clinical Sciences Library, University of Leicester, Leicester Medical Society minutes, 6/12/05 and 7/10/08.

3 Jones, , Social Hygiene, 55; Nash, D. and Reeder, D. (eds), Leicester in the Twentieth Century (Stroud, 1993), 126. See also Buchanan, E.E., ‘Aspects of the life and times of Dr Charles Killick Millard, Medical Officer of Health for Leicester, 1901–1934’ (unpublished University of Leicester MA thesis, 1995).

4 Leicestershire Record Office (hereafter LRO): DE 3107/140, After-Care subcommittee minutes, 2/4/03.

5 Ibid., 10/3/04; PP 1908, XXVI (Cd. 4216), Minutes of. Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded, 423–30, questions 18442–18504.

6 LRO DE 3107/168: After-Care Committee, Annual Report for 1908 (Leicester, 1909), 211.

7 LRO DE 3107/140: After-Care subcommittee minutes, 14/12/11, 26/11/12, 5/3/15. See also Woodhouse, J., ‘Eugenics and the feeble-minded: the Parliamentary debates of 1912–14’, History of Education, 11, 2 (1982), 127–37; Macnicol, J., ‘Eugenics, medicine and mental deficiency: ari introduction’, Oxford Review of Education, 9, 3 (1983), 177–80; Potts, P., ‘Medicine, morals, and mental deficiency: the contribution of doctors to the development of special education in England’, Ibid., 181–96; and Barker, D., ‘How to curb the fertility of the unfit: the feeble-minded in Edwardian Britain’, Ibid., 197–211.

8 Leicester Education Committee, Annual Report of the SMO, 1924 (Leicester, 1925), 67.

9 Leicester Education Committee, Annual Report of the SMO, 3927 (Leicester, 1928), 52–5.

10 Leicester Education Committee, Annual Report of the SMO, 1932 (Leicester, 1933), 10.

11 Board of Education and Board of Control, Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee (London, 1929), part I, iii–iv, part lu, 96–102.

12 Ibid., part II, 83.

13 Ibid., part III, 79–82.

14 Leicester Corporation, Annual Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee, 1929–30 (Leicester, 1930), 1920.

15 Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, The Wellcome Institute, London (hereafter CMAC), SA/EUG, C32, II, C.J. Bond, ‘Are our children to-day as good as their grandfathers?’, 20/9/33,2.

16 CMAC SA/EUG, N42, cutting from the Journal of State Medicine, 1/31; Society of Medical Officers of Health Association Archive, The Wellcome Unit, Oxford (hereafter SMOH), B2/1: minutes of meeting 9/3/33.

17 Cattell, R.B., The Fight for Our National Intelligence (London, 1937), vii–xvii, 108, 164.

18 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1902 (Leicester, 1903), 58; LRO, MS Millard, DE 3139/18, C.K. Millard, ‘The role of the “anti”: an apology and an appeal’, 9/10/02,10.

19 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1904 (Leicester, 1905), 84.

20 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1909 (Leicester, 1910), 24–5.

21 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1911 (Leicester, 1912), 15.

22 Eugenics Review, V (19131914), 342. See also Walker, J.B., ‘Charles John Bond of Leicester (1856–1939)’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 77 (1984), 316–24.

23 LRO, Leicester Sanitary Committee minutes, 23/2/17; Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1917 (Leicester, 1918), 1221; Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1918 (Leicester, 1919), iv.

24 Millard, C.K., Population and Birth Control (Leicester, 1917), 5, 7, 24, 37, 44–5; Eugenics Review, X (19181920), 52. See also Fryer, P., The Birth Controllers (London, 1965), 247; Leathard, A., The Fight for Family Planning: The Development of Family Planning Services in Britain 1921–74 (London, 1980), 3; Soloway, R.A., Birth Control and the Population Question in England, 1877–1930 (Chapel Hill, 1982), 130–2.

25 Millard, C.K., ‘The problem of birth control with special reference to the public health aspect’, Journal of State Medicine, XXVI (1918), 321–8, 337.

26 MS Millard, DE 3139/11/2, C.K. Mfflard to the archbishops and bishops of the Anglican communion, 5/4/20; Ibid., DE 3139/11/1, C.K. Millard, ‘Responsible parenthood and birth control’, 4/20,1,4,8; MS Slopes, The British Library, London, Add. MSS 58564, C.K. Millard to M. Slopes, 3/5/20; Soloway, , Birth Control and the Population Question, 233–7.

27 MS Slopes, C.K. MiUard to M. Stopes, 3/1/19, 29/0/19,12/11/19; Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 1112.

28 MS Slopes, C.K. Millard to M. Slopes, 13/7/20; Eugenics Review, XII (19201922), 291–5; Soloway, , Democracy and Degeneration, 176–7.

29 MS Slopes, C.K. Millard to M. Stopes, 15/3/21; Ibid., M. Stopes lo C.K. Millard, 21/4/21, 10/5/21; Ibid., C.K. Millard lo M. Slopes, 13/5/21,305/21.

30 MS Stopes, C.K. Millard to M. Stopes, 26/7/21, 15/12/22; Hall, R., Marie Stapes: A Biography (London, 1977), 211.

31 Ledbetter, R., A History of the Malthusian League 1877–1927 (Columbus, 1976), 220–1, 224–6; Leathard, , Fight for family Planning, 31–2; Soloway, , Democracy and Degeneration, 177–84.

32 CMAC, SA/EUG, C232, box 19, C.K. Millard to C.B.S. Hodson, 1/4/27.

33 Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 38, 40–3.

34 MS Stopes, C.K. Millard to M. Stopes, 17/6/30; Soloway, , Birth Control and the Population Question, 256–60.

35 SMOH, B2/1, minutes of meeting 6/11/30; CMAC, SA/EUG, N42, cutting from the Journal of State Medicine, 1/31, 4654.

36 Ministry of Health, On the State of the Public Health, 1929 (London, 1930), 31–2; Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 4850.

37 LRO, CM 21/4, Health Committee minutes, 20/6/30, Leicester Mercury, 23/6/30, 15; LRO, CM, 1/62, Council minutes, 29/7/30.

38 Leicester Health Committee, Annual Report of the MOH, 1929 (Leicester, 1930), 50–1.

39 LRO, CM 1/62, Council minutes, 30/9/30; CMAC, SA/FPA, All/24, box 311, cutting from the Birmingham Post, 1/10/30.

40 LRO, CM 21/4, Maternity and Child Welfare subcommittee minutes, 3/12/30; CMAC, SA/FPA, All/24, C.K. Millard to M.A. Pyke, 28/3/31; Ibid., J. Turnbull to C.K. Millard, 12/5/31; Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 4850, 54–5.

41 LRO CM 1/63, Council minutes, 2/6/31 and 28/7/31; Leicester Evening Mail, 29/7/31, 10.

42 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1930 (Leicester, 1931), 39; CMAC, SA/FPA, All/24, cutting from the Leicester Evening Mail, 20/7/31; CMAC, SA/EUG, N42, cutting from the Medical Officer, 29/8/31.

43 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1932 (Leicester, 1933), 39, 105–8; Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1933 (Leicester, 1934), 123–6–; Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 55.

44 CMAC, SA/FPA, All/24, C.K. Millard, ‘Memo on Ministry of Health's Circular 1408’; Ministry of Health, On the State of the Public Health, 1933 (London, 1934), 94–5; Leathard, , Fight for Family Planning, 55.

45 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1907 (Leicester, 1908), 52–3.

46 Leicester Sanitary Committee, Report of the MOH, 1916 (Leicester, 1917), 26. See also Garside, P.L., ‘“Unhealthy areas”: town planning, eugenics and the slums, 1890–1945’, Planning Perspectives, 3 (1988), 2446.

47 LRO, CM 21/2, Health Committee minutes 5/3/26 and 19/11/26, C.K. Millard, ‘Van dwellers at Aylestone’, 11/26,4–6.

48 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1927 (Leicester, 1928), 63–4.

49 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1928 (Leicester, 1929), 41–4.

50 LRO, CM 21/3, Health Committee minutes, 13/12/29, 7/3/30, 28/3/30,11/4/30; LRO CM 1/62, Council minutes, 27/5/30; Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH,1929 (Leicester, 1930), 44–5.

51 Burnett, J., A Social History of Housing 1815–1970, 2nd ed. (Newton Abbot, 1980; 1st pub. 1978), 234–8.

52 LRO, CM 21/4, Health Committee minutes, 19/12/30; Nash and Reeder, Leicester in the Twentieth Century, 136–7; Newitt, N., ‘From slums to semis: housing the people of Leicester 1900–39’ (unpublished University of Leicester M.Phil, thesis, 1993), 111–12.

53 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1930 (Leicester, 1931), 2734.

54 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1932 (Leicester, 1933), 5.

55 Millard, C.K., ‘Healthy housing for the poor: the present impasse and a way out’, Medical Officer, 49 (1933), 105–7; idem, ‘“Verminous” houses’, Medical Officer, 50 (1933), 151–2.

56 Leicester Evening Mail, 19/9/33, 1.

57 LRO, CM 21/5, Town Clerk to the Health Committee, ‘Slum clearance’, 14/9/33; Newitt, , ‘From slums to semis’, 115–16.

58 LRO, CM 1/65, Council minutes, 26/9/33; Newitt, ‘From slums to semis’, 117.

59 LRO, CM 21/5, Health Committee minutes, 13/10/33, MOH, ‘City of Leicester. Slum clearance: five years' programme’, 11/10/33,1–7; Leicester Evening Mail, 14/10/33, 9.

60 LRO, CM 21/6, Slum Clearance and Property Inspection subcommittee minutes, 15/12/33, 12/1/34; Ibid., Health Committee minutes, 22/12/33; Ibid., Housing subcommittee minutes, 17/11/33.

61 Ibid., Health Committee minutes, 1/6/34.

62 Leicester Evening Mail, 6/6/34, 1, 10.

63 LRO, CM 21/6, Health Committee minutes, 15/6/34; Ibid., Slum Clearance and Property Inspection subcommittee minutes, 13/7/34.

64 LRO, CM 21/7, Health Committee minutes, 18/1/35, MOH, ‘Slum clearance: five years' programme: suggested second instalment’, 4/1/35.

65 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1933 (Leicester, 1934), 36.

66 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1934 (Leicester, 1935), 31–5.

67 CMAC, SA/EUG, C31, C.P. Blacker to C.J. Bond, 21/5/30.

68 Ibid., C.J. Bond to C.P. Blacker, 5/7/31.

69 SMOH, B2/1, minutes of meeting 24/11/32, 39; Leicester Medical Society minutes, 13/11/34.

70 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1933 (Leicester, 1934), 28–9; CMAC, SA/EUG, C232, box 19, C.K. Millard to C.P. Blacker, 21 and 24/5/35.

71 CMAC, SA/EUG, C32, II, C.J. Bond to C.P. Blacker, 2/7/36; Ibid., C.J. Bond, ‘The present position of the birth control movement’, 16/11/37; Soloway, , Democracy and Degeneration, 225.

72 Eugenics Review, XXXI (19391941), 215–16.

73 CMAC, SA/EUG, C32, II, E.K. Macdonald to C.P. Blacker, 9/3/36; Ibid., C.P. Blacker to C.J. Bond, 13/3/36. See also Freeden, , ‘Eugenics and progressive thought’, 670–1; Searle, , ‘Eugenics and politics in Britain in the 1930s’, 162–9; idem, ‘Eugenics and class’, 235–7; Jones, , ‘Eugenics and social policy’, 728.

74 Ministry of Health, Housing Act, 1935: Report on the Overcrowding Survey in England and Wales (London, 1936), xviii, table IX.

75 Leicester Health Committee, Report of the MOH, 1936 (Leicester, 1937), 60.

* The research for this article was supported by the Wellcome Trust (project grant 038059/Z/93) and, while they bear no responsibility for its remaining faults, I would like to thank Patricia Garside and David Reeder for their helpful comments.

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