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Ruth Clifford Engs
Department of Applied Health Science

Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2005

Eugenics from Assisted Reproduction to the Unfit

Indiana University health historian writes first eugenics encyclopedia

JULY 25, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A common thread runs through many of the health-reform campaigns in U.S. history -- eugenics, the theory that future generations of humans can be improved through selective breeding.

Widely accepted during its heyday in the early 20th century, the theory underlies some of today's most controversial scientific developments and debates, including genetic engineering and the potential for human cloning, according to Indiana University professor Ruth Clifford Engs, a prolific writer about health history.

With these current controversies have come hundreds of books, often with a political agenda. Because of this, Engs, a professor in IU's Department of Applied Health Science, decided to write the first encyclopedia on the topic. Covering almost 200 years of history involving eugenics in the United States, the encyclopedia's more than 250 entries include current issues as well as developments in Britain and Germany.

"Biology, politics, sociology, public health, all of these areas were involved in the eugenics movement in the early 1920s, just as they are today," Engs said. "It's just not called eugenics anymore."

Whether writing about laws enabling forced sterilization, which got its start in Indiana with physician Harry Sharp, or the Better Baby Movement, which resulted in contests at state and county fairs that rated babies for their health and strength, rather than beauty, Engs kept the entries as free of politics and bias as possible.

The Eugenics Movement: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2005) was published in late June and is intended for libraries, where it can be a resource for scholars, students and anyone interested in this theory and its practice. Engs' recent books include The Progressive Era's Health Reform Movement: A Historical Dictionary (Praeger, 2003) and Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform (Praeger, 2000).

Engs can be contacted at 812-855-9581 and More information about her work can be found at