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In 1916, at the age of 64, William Earl Dodge Stokes wrote a book — “The Right to be Well Born: Horse Breeding in its Relation to Eugenics.” He identified himself as president of the Patchen Wilkes Stock Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. The book was printed by C. J. O’Brien of New York City.

As with so many other things in Stokes’ life, his book was accompanied by a lawsuit. Apparently "The Right to be Well Born" was what later would be termed "a vanity publication." That is, Stokes published it himself, with the printing being done by the C. J. O'Brien company, which later sued Stokes, claiming he owed them $3,600 for the job.

Today that book is considered an embarrassment. Its argument in favor of sterilization of “inferior” human beings and the mandated matings of the best and the brightest have led some to consider Stokes a soul mate of Adolf Hitler.

That's a bit harsh, but for sure W. E. D. Stokes believed in eugenics — a science concerned with improving the breed. The breeds that weighed most heavily on Stokes’ mind were horses and humans.

Here are quotes from the book:

 

“I have bred horses for the knowledge it would give me of human heredity, for I knew such knowledge would eventually be forthcoming and could be used for the upbuilding of the human race. This has been the dream of my life.

“My sole object is to lead my countrymen to a vision of the need of breeding better men and better women, each superior mentally and physically, free from hereditary ills and defects, which make life a burden. Let us breed men and women especially fitted by their mental and physical qualities to best fill the stations in life which they are to occupy."

Ah yes, "the stations in life which they are to occupy." Stokes seemed to believe there was a universal acceptance of the notion people were born into a station from which they could not — or should not — rise. However, he was all in favor of improving members of every station, of creating better clerks, better laborers, better servants, etc.

“It means the breeding out of weaklings and defectives, and the breeding in only of the fittest and the best. It means the saving of our country from moral and physical decay.”

Since the book was available to read online, I raced through it, hoping to further my understanding of the man who subjected his second wife, the mother of two of his children, to incredible verbal abuse and humiliation in a marathon divorce case that ranks as one of the ugliest in our history.

What I concluded was that Stokes was a supremely arrogant elitist whose belief in his own superiority never wavered, not even in the face of evidence that he more likely was one of those dreaded “defectives.”

Of course, in several ways, Stokes’ attitude toward immigrants, particularly those who were entering America in the early 1900s (Italians, Poles, people from the Balkans and Asia), was shared by many Americans. However, few were willing to parade their prejudices through page after page of a book, even a book so lightly read as was this one.

What was needed was better marketing. For instance, the publisher could have drummed up more interest if they had retitled the book, “Every Time I Open My Mouth, I Put My Foot in It.” Example:

“In every big stable, you will find horses called ‘Dummies.’ They ... are easily known by their lack of intelligence and physical vitality; and among humans, we have our ‘Sissie’ and our ‘Tomboy.’

“A ‘Sissie’ has a soft voice and prefers to play with girls. As a general thing, neither have any great longevity.

“A ‘Tom-boy’ has a man's voice, and prefers to play with boys. She often has coarse hair, sometimes growing in bunches.

“How many children have you ever known a ‘Sissie’ or ‘Tom-boy’ to have? I confess my information in this particular is very meager, but it is to the effect that neither produce to any great extent.”

Stokes had great respect for people whose ancestors arrived in America aboard the Mayflower. I suspect he considered himself one of them, though his grandfather didn’t emigrate from England until about 1800 — and did it aboard his very own ship. Said Stokes:

“Nature imposed on the pioneers of New England such a selective eliminating process as never before or since has been imposed upon any people. The rigors of the climate and unproductiveness of the soil killed off the weak and diseased of the Plymouth Rock Colony.

“From the rugged ones left, there sprang up the New England families, who have since played such commanding parts in American history. But this virile strain is disappearing. No conscious effort has been or is being made to conserve the good.

“Soon, it will have sunk to the level of the mediocre. Our pure, healthy New England blood can no longer cross with or assimilate the rotten, foreign, diseased blood of ages, which the gates of our immigration laws now swing wide open and allow to flow in upon us.

“For the sake of the future of our American people, will not our Representatives in Congress pass more stringent immigration laws to stop this inflow of diseased blood?

“It is time we Americans who have patriotism in our hearts, and gratitude to our ancestors for the privations and sufferings they underwent to give us this beautiful land, assert ourselves and announce to the world that America must be for Americans, and not for the imported scum of the earth.”

Wow! Had W. E. D. Stokes come along 100 years later he might have become the Tea Party candidate for president ... though the following statement might cost him votes:

“If the truth were known, there are not, today, in the United States, 4,000 men of the right ancestral history, conformation, constitution and of mental and physical force, who could, by themselves, improve the breeding of our human family.

“If this improvement is to become permanent, these 4,000 must be mated and bred to the highest bred females, of the right conformation, constitution, and of mental and physical force, and whose ancestry and blood must be free from physical and mental defects.”

Stokes kept returning to his experience as a horse breeder.

“In breeding horses, we render impotent the unfit. We never try to render fit a sire by education. We have no sanitariums for weak horses, to keep them alive at public expense, and then turn them loose to reproduce their unfitness, to refill more homes for defectives.

“The same rule should apply to humans. Go to Randalls Island with me, and see there 2,000 defectives — some with heads not bigger than your fist, two or three from the same family and others with less intelligence than animals, so low in intelligence that they cannot care for their own simplest wants, all supported by New York City taxpayers, and you will say that it were better for these children and better for the world had they never been born.”

The man who was a spectacular failure in two marriages and the object of ridicule in two affairs that exploded onto the front pages of newspapers, obviously was a believer in "Do as I say, not as I do." His take on marriage?

“Today young people who marry have as much thought about the offspring of their marriages as the mustang on the prairies. Knowledge comes too late; they spend the rest of their lives in tears and regrets.

“Don't forget how often, on a moonless night, a stray Tom-cat from another block meets a young Tabby on your back fence, and awakens the whole block with her painful cat-a-wails, and his joyous cat-a-balls, as they announce to the world that their happy marriage is one of love at first sight.

“The old shoes, tumblers and angry words, which you and your neighbors fling at them, have no effect — they are so madly in love! Is this not a fair example of some of the thoughtless marriages of today?”

Stokes believed in selective breeding for selected occupations:

“Jockeys usually come from 'Jockey families' and parents often stunt the growth of their boys by giving them coffee and other drugs to keep them small; for, as a general thing, an able small jockey makes much more money than a large one. The jockeys need intelligence, strength and activity.

“The severe starving and sweating before a race saps the acuteness of his intelligence, his energy and strength. All this starving, suffering and grilling these boys undergo to keep down their weight can be avoided by breeding for smallness, strength and quick intelligence; and a family of jockeys can be produced who will always be fit and ready to meet any racing requirements.

“It is just as easy to produce the jockey of the right size, weight, and with it all, intelligence, as it is to breed ponies or half-pound chickens and the like. The trouble is that a good ninety pound jockey invariably marries a one hundred fifty or one hundred sixty pound woman, and, when he is sixty years old, his weight is one hundred and thirty pounds and her weight two hundred pounds.

“You see in their families one hundred sixty pound daughters and one hundred thirty pound sons, and you can better understand their bitter disappointment; how the extra twenty or thirty pounds their sons possess is their ruin. Their vocation is lost. Intelligent mating would have saved all this.

“A Jockey Registry will come some day on this same principle. Then will come The Locomotive Engineers' Registry, where men will be bred with hereditary physical and mental qualities that will best fit them for their special duties.

“When all this will have been accomplished, the working girl will be able to look over the ancestral Labor Registry or Jockey Registry and the health certificate of her prospective husband and see in what class he belongs. She can go to the Public Record Hall of the town where he was born and there check up and verify this. She would know at a glance what she was getting for a husband, if he would be able, when mated with her, to produce healthy, strong children that will mature early, and whether her prospective husband will be able to support her and their children properly.”

I can see it now, the W. E. D. Stokes Online Mating Service, though I'm not sure what its rules would be in regard to recent immigrants. Consider what Stokes wrote about this encounter with a group of immigrants in New York City:

“I was going down Center Street; there I passed a line of the most curious specimens of humanity I ever saw collected ... They were blind, halt, lame and deformed; many of them with unusually large heads; some had small heads; many had long beards; many had running sores at the ear and at the neck; some had goiters; some had sore eyes; many had short legs and long bodies; and there were men of all shades of color.

“They were a mass of physical monstrosities. God knows from whence they could have been collected ... I went into Part No. 2 of Supreme Court of Special Term. I forced my way in and I saw this great crowd marching in and around, two and two, and marching out, never stopping a minute.

“A man stood up, and in a loud voice, as rapid as a Gatling gun, read a long list of names, all foreign. Two Republicans and two Democrats who, I was told, were political leaders, each certified that they had known these men for a long period of time. The line never stopped; it was moving all the time. My heart sank within me at the sight, as I realized that these ‘What-is-Its’— had become American citizens, their votes as good as yours and mine.”

Another Stokes recollection:

“I was once walking through a park in a foreign city, where I heard my name called. I turned and met a lady of rare grace and refinement, once one of the handsomest well-bred girls in America. We had not seen each other for years.

“She had married an ill-bred foreigner of immense wealth of an old established family. I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ She replied, ‘Playing with my children,’ and there were five, all around her, and such curious specimens of humanity I never saw; more like monkeys — such curious little heads, such wiry little bodies, skinny legs and little black eyes, not one had a feature of their beautiful mother.

"That girl, if properly advised by an expert, would never have placed herself in such a position."

Which goes to show how much Stokes knew about human nature and our willingness to let other people decide who we should or should not marry.

He also was a fine one to talk on the subject. His own record: two marriages, two divorces.

The behavior of W. E. D. Stokes and his brother, Thomas, particularly in their later years, raised questions about their own breeding, because both certainly were themselves very curious specimens.

 
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