The school de-named Mead Chapel because of a single speech by the namesake, ignoring that Middlebury was a hotbed of eugenics support for decades. Shouldn’t the entire school be renamed by that logic?
If a college professor were to teach a class on eugenics today, he would be canceled tomorrow—or worse. In our times, that topic, irreversibly tied to Adolf Hitler and Josef Mengele, is taboo.
But in the early 1900s, eugenics was mainstream. Well-known figures including Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, Margaret Sanger, and W.E.B. Du Bois supported it. It was a legitimate subject of public discourse and academic study.
So it’s not surprising that Vermont’s Middlebury College, like many other schools at that time, promoted eugenics ideology.
What is surprising, though, given its recent righteous indignation over the subject, is that Middlebury College was a eugenics hotbed: For years, its course catalogs offered and even required its study; one professor was a member of the second International Congress of Eugenics; another lectured on eugenic marriages. And Middlebury’s 20-year president, Paul Dwight Moody, chaired the state committee that studied and reported on Vermont’s racial stock.
It’s rich, because in September of 2021, the college expiated those sins by pushing someone else off the cliff: former Vermont Governor John Abner Mead, Middlebury’s renowned benefactor—all because of a speech he once gave about eugenics. For that crime, Middlebury ripped Mead’s family name off the iconic chapel he endowed.
The Mead estate, led by former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, is suing Middlebury over the de-naming.
Background on the lawsuit, which we’ve covered from the beginning is here:
- Middlebury College Sued for Removing Name of Former VT Governor From Chapel
- Exclusive Video Interview: Former VT Governor On His Challenge To Middlebury College’s De-Naming Iconic Mead Chapel
Middlebury blames Mead for sparking the eugenics movement in Vermont. But the school dances around how, exactly, one section of his departing speech as governor led to Vermont’s eugenics law enacted in 1931, 19 years after he delivered it and more than ten years after he died. That information, the school told Douglas, was confidential under its records retention policy and would remain sealed—for 75 years.
While Mead’s role in the eugenics movement remains a secret for the school to know and Mead’s family to find out, records showing Middlebury’s ties to it are in the public domain, assembled at the meadmemorialchapel.com website.
And those ties, unlike Mead’s, run deep, casting doubt on the school’s true motive for de-naming the chapel.
“Eugenicists and Eugenics Sympathizers Were Trained at Middlebury”
Well before Mead’s 1912 Farewell Address and long after he died, Middlebury was offering courses in eugenics.
From a Middlebury Campus op-ed by Associate Professor Daniel Silva:
One only needs to browse the college’s course catalogs of the first decades of the 20th century to see the emergence of eugenics in the curriculum and across departments such as Pedagogy (later renamed Education and Psychology), Biology and Sociology. Looking at the 1931 course catalog alone, eugenics and ideas of social progress and pathology based on heredity and environment can be found in the descriptions of courses such as “Genetics and Embryology,” “Social Psychology” and “Educational Psychology,” in addition to nearly the entire course offering of the Sociology department. In this regard, Middlebury’s curriculum followed national and international trends of Europe and North America.
In fact, Middlebury began offering eugenics as far back as 1908 in a sociology course for seniors, “a study of race characteristics , heredity” … and “defectives and degenerates.” [P.46] The 1925 school bulletin includes eugenics in a required course for freshmen. [Pp. 6, 16] And as late as 1945, eugenics was taught as part of a genetics and population course. [Pp. 52, 83] It is “not a stretch” as Silva said, to conclude “that eugenicists and eugenics sympathizers were … trained at Middlebury.”
Middlebury Biology Professor: “We must blot out the unfit in our race”
Eugenicists sought to remove “defective” genes from the population by promoting eugenic marriages—i.e., “favorable matings” conducive to biological “fitness.”
In October of 1933, Middlebury College’s Biology Professor A.E. Lambert, a “strong advocate of eugenic marriages,” made the case for them in his lecture on “The Science of Modern Welfare.”
From the address:
We are living in an age of reason, an age when men are coming to the front in all branches; when science predominates. We must blot out the unfit in our race and to do this we must prevent marriages which are not eugenic. The defective strain always is in the ascendency, and it is a well established fact that when one normal person marries a feebleminded one the offspring takes to the weaker side and is sure to have some defective qualities.
If Lambert gave that speech at Middlebury today, he’d need a police escort to leave the room alive. That’s what happened in 2017 to conservative scholar Charles Murray, for his work on race and intelligence, when a bunch of Middlebury brats turned their backs on him, waving “No Eugenics” and “F*** Eugenics” posters as they shut down his speech in violent protest.
Recommended Reading: The “Best Books on Eugenics”
Another Middlebury figure in the Vermont eugenics movement was Paul Dwight Moody. Moody was the president of Middlebury during the critical period when eugenics policy took hold in Vermont, from 1921 to 1942.
During that time, he was also chairman of the committee to study the racial stock of Vermont.
The committee recommendations, from the Burlington Daily News:
That Vermonters be encouraged to keep and study their own family records with the aim of arousing their pride in the achievements and high qualities of the ancestral stock, so that the pride in turn may stimulate their better efforts and guide them in their choice of mates.
That the doctrine be spread that it is the patriotic duty of every normal couple to have children sufficient in number to keep up to par the “good old Vermont stock.”
That public opinion be strengthened in regard to the importance of heeding the laws of nature which affect human inheritance. That this be done through educating public opinion. Some of the means by which this may be accomplished are reading the best library books on eugenics population, heredity and through debates, public discussions, lectures, study classes, etc.
Moody also once infamously remarked on the “fitness” of the student body at Middlebury, when asked whether any of his French Canadian students had “made a name for themselves”: “The whole of the French-Canadian population could be wiped out of Middlebury,” he replied, “and no one would miss it.”
Considering remarks like those by its president together with the school’s long history of promoting eugenics (all of which the school was aware), Middlebury should have de-named … Middlebury. If it were really concerned about erasing the legacy of eugenics, Middlebury would have looked in the mirror.
And that’s why it’s hard to see Middlebury’s de-naming as anything other than what it was: scapegoating.
For those woke virtue-signaling points, one fraction of one speech will do.
Meanwhile, as the litigation grinds on through the summer, one thing is clear: Middlebury College taught more about eugenics than Mead would ever know.DONATE
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