Power and Race in STEM: The American Eugenics Movement

This four-part, public programming series from Bowdoin College faculty focuses on the topic of eugenics and society.

This four-part series offered by Bowdoin faculty and guests focuses on the American eugenics movement of the twentieth century and its contemporary societal relevance. The brutal murder of George Floyd crystalized the need for deeper reflection and action on the role STEM disciplines have played, and continue to play, in the reinforcement of existing power structures. With these gatherings, we hope to draw attention to tragic and prejudiced historical misuse of scientific knowledge and legitimacy, and to reflect on the meaning of responsible scientific conduct in today’s genomic era, recognizing that we currently possess greatly expanded abilities to examine and manipulate the genetics of organisms, including human beings.

Schedule of Events

The next two events in this series will be scheduled for Fall 2021. Please check back for details.

Previous Events

Barry Logan and Dana Waring
Left: Barry Logan; Right: Dana Waring

Friday, October 2 | 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Session #1: What is the American Eugenics Movement? Race, Class, and Power in the US in the Early Twentieth Century

This session is a historical overview of the American eugenics movement, which was a social movement that argued it was possible to improve the human race and society by encouraging reproduction by people or populations with “desirable” traits and discouraging reproduction by people with “undesirable” qualities. In the early twentieth century, as geneticists began to widely recognize the basic principles of inheritance (discovered by Gregor Mendel decades before), the science of modern genetics played a significant role in advancing the arguments in favor of racist government policies in the United States prohibiting interracial marriage, restricting immigration, and sterilizing individuals against their will or without their knowledge. Reverberations from the eugenics movement, which persisted for decades, are still being felt today.


Genetics, History, and the American Eugenics Movement, PBS

America's Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement, Scitable

A Brutal Chapter In North Carolina's Eugenics Past, NPR


  • Barry Logan, Professor of Biology
  • Dana Waring, Education Director and Cofounder of Personal Genetics Education Project

Hadley Horch and Scott McEachern
Left: Hadley Horch; Right: Scott MacEachern

Friday, November 13 | 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Session #2: Eugenics and the IQ Test: Development, Misuse, and Future Questions

Resources (Bowdoin Log-in Required)

Micklos, D., Carlson, E. Engineering American society: the lesson of eugenics. Nat Rev Genet 1, 153–158 (2000).

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini, Chapter 3: Scientific Priestcraft