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The Menace of the Feebleminded: At Century’s End: Human Weal or Human Woe? 

The Menace of the Feebleminded: At Century’s End: Human Weal or Human Woe?
Chapter:
The Menace of the Feebleminded: At Century’s End: Human Weal or Human Woe?
Author(s):

James W. Trent

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199396184.003.0005
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date: 30 May 2020

Around 1910 the meaning of intellectual disability shifted from feeblemindedness as a burden to a menace. Thus, the simple idiot of the 1850s and burdensome feebleminded of the late 19th century became the menacing moron of the 1910s, 1920s, and beyond. Two matters affected this change: eugenics and the intelligence test. As such, heredity and intelligence embodied in the “pedigree studies” of the period linked with all kinds of social problems. The petty criminal was a wrongdoer, the prostitute prostituted, and the hobo wandered because they were feebleminded. And they were feebleminded because of their low intelligence and fecundity that they were passing along generation after generation. The principal offenders were “morons,” a new category of feeble minds. These morons looked normal, but they were polluted and propagating. Two methods evolved to “treat” the problem of the menace: institutional segregation and sterilization. Both facilitated eugenics.

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