Adelaide Brown: An Online Exhibit of a Stanford Medicine Pioneer

The Specter of Eugenics

The Specter of Eugenics

There is no evidence that Adelaide Brown was an advocate of eugenics. Nevertheless, many white women who were early birth control activists in the US saw their work as part of a movement to protect what they regarded as a superior—yet endangered—white race.

Margaret Sanger was a nurse who opened the first birth control clinic in the US in 1916 and went on to champion birth control on a national scale—including support for Adelaide Brown’s work in California. Sanger also embraced eugenics. Although she did not make her eugenicist arguments in explicitly racist terms, she nevertheless worked with those who did, including Klansman and Nazi sympathizer Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy.

Before World War II, Stanford University itself had close ties to the eugenics movement, with vocal advocates among faculty members Lewis Terman and Elwood Cubberley as well as Stanford President David Starr Jordan. In the 1930s, the Nazis in Germany relied on California eugenics research and policy to develop their own programs.

Cover art of The Rising Tide of Color

Cover art from an early edition of Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color

Photograph of David Starr Jordan

David Starr Jordan served as the founding President of Stanford University, 1891-1913. He also championed eugenics, including the publication of such works as his 1901 The Blood of the Nation: A Study in the Decay of Races by the Survival of the Unfit.
Image courtesy of the Stanford Special Collections and University Archives