The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America

by Daniel Okrent

Book, 2019

Barcode

123461832

Call number

662 OKR

Publication

New York, NY Scribner, 2019

Description

NAMED ONE OF THE "100 NOTABLE BOOKS OF THE YEAR" BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW "An extraordinary book, I can't recommend it highly enough." -Whoopi Goldberg, The View By the widely celebrated New York Times bestselling author of Last Call--the powerful, definitive, and timely account of how the rise of eugenics helped America close the immigration door to "inferiors" in the 1920s. A forgotten, dark chapter of American history with implications for the current day, The Guarded Gate tells the story of the scientists who argued that certain nationalities were inherently inferior, providing the intellectual justification for the harshest immigration law in American history. Brandished by the upper class Bostonians and New Yorkers--many of them progressives--who led the anti-immigration movement, the eugenic arguments helped keep hundreds of thousands of Jews, Italians, and other unwanted groups out of the US for more than 40 years. Over five years in the writing, The Guarded Gate tells the complete story from its beginning in 1895, when Henry Cabot Lodge and other Boston Brahmins launched their anti-immigrant campaign. In 1921, Vice President Calvin Coolidge declared that "biological laws" had proven the inferiority of southern and eastern Europeans; the restrictive law was enacted three years later. In his characteristic style, both lively and authoritative, Okrent brings to life the rich cast of characters from this time, including Lodge's closest friend, Theodore Roosevelt; Charles Darwin's first cousin, Francis Galton, the idiosyncratic polymath who gave life to eugenics; the fabulously wealthy and profoundly bigoted Madison Grant, founder of the Bronx Zoo, and his best friend, H. Fairfield Osborn, director of the American Museum of Natural History; Margaret Sanger, who saw eugenics as a sensible adjunct to her birth control campaign; and Maxwell Perkins, the celebrated editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. A work of history relevant for today, The Guarded Gate is an important, insightful tale that painstakingly connects the American eugenicists to the rise of Nazism, and shows how their beliefs found fertile soil in the minds of citizens and leaders both here and abroad.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
Intellectual history of exclusionist racism and the rise of eugenic justifications that ultimately led to the incredibly racist restrictive immigration policies of the early twentieth century, the ones that weren’t removed until the 1960s. But it was always cultural anxiety and racism, not
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science; the restrictionists happily borrowed from science when they could but never were bound by that.
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LibraryThing member write-review
Timely History of American Prejudice

Daniel Okrent’s subtitle refers to the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 (officially known as the Immigration Restriction Act). How the United States arrived at the point where Congress passed this, the most restrictive immigration law in U.S. history, is the subject of
Show More
the book, covering ground from the 1890s through the passage of the 1924 law and up to 1965. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed the quotas and restrictions imposed by the 1924 act (which itself was modified along the way by the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1952). All in all, readers will find the history of restricting immigration in the U.S. a very troubling affair, as it sanctioned racism, did harm by denying the U.S. productive citizens while also condemning many to early death, particularly during the rise of Nazism, and accomplished this by commingling racism with a pseudo science, eugenics, foisting the whole mess on the American people to such a rank and visible degree that Hitler and Nazi Germany picked up the scent and incorporated it into their volkish quest for Aryan racial purity and anti-Semitic mass murder.

We heard this during the last campaign for president, bringing into government only the best people. And so it was back in the late 19th century in Boston, when the best people, frightened about losing their hold on America, their personal power, and their wealth, aggressively moved to stem European immigration, particularly from what they regarded as inferior countries, among them Italy, Serbian states, and always Jews. Many of these best people of that age have either been forgotten by present day Americans, or never known to them, given the state of historical knowledge in the country. But these where the biggest of the big of their time, the grandees of the American enterprise: Henry Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Joe Lee, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (and later Jr.,the famed jurist, who wrote the Buck v. Bell [1927] decision that permitted compulsory sterilization of those deemed unfit; wrote Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”). As Okrent shows in fine detail, these men and others of their class banded together and worked assiduously for nearly 40 years to dam immigration, to the point where finally only a trickle of people entered the country.

Serendipitously for them and their restriction campaign, Charles Davenport launched his eugenics research projects and lab at Cold Harbor, Long Island. He and successors, among them the notorious Harry Laughlin, propagated eugenics as the scientific way to strengthen American breeding stock. (Laughlin, as readers will learn, held a special interest in sterilization. He, though not knowing Carrie Buck, testified that she should be serialized in Buck v. Bell, referenced above. His views served as a model for Nazi Germany’s Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. In 1936, the University of Heidelberg awarded him an honorary degree for his work in the “science of racial cleansing.”) And thus over a short time eugenics and immigration restriction functioned hand in hand to choke immigration until 1965.

The cast of characters in this sad saga of American history is much too long to enumerate here. Even those well read will sometimes find themselves taken aback by supporters of what’s come to be known as scientific racism, among them Margaret Sanger, Max Perkins, and Louis Brandeis. One of the most prolific and especially odious propagandists does deserve a mention, though. Lothrop Stoddard was a full blown white supremacist and influential author (Fitzgerald created a stand-in for him in The Great Gatsby). Among his books, The Rising Tide of Color proved especially popular, and is still available today (check Amazon for some very disturbing comments of praise).

A book all Americans should read, especially those who are of immigrant stock once restricted, and there are millions of us. Where would you be if your ancestors had not passed through Ellis Island before the restrictions? And what do you think we as a nation are sacrificing with our efforts at restriction?
Show Less
LibraryThing member write-review
Timely History of American Prejudice

Daniel Okrent’s subtitle refers to the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 (officially known as the Immigration Restriction Act). How the United States arrived at the point where Congress passed this, the most restrictive immigration law in U.S. history, is the subject of
Show More
the book, covering ground from the 1890s through the passage of the 1924 law and up to 1965. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed the quotas and restrictions imposed by the 1924 act (which itself was modified along the way by the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1952). All in all, readers will find the history of restricting immigration in the U.S. a very troubling affair, as it sanctioned racism, did harm by denying the U.S. productive citizens while also condemning many to early death, particularly during the rise of Nazism, and accomplished this by commingling racism with a pseudo science, eugenics, foisting the whole mess on the American people to such a rank and visible degree that Hitler and Nazi Germany picked up the scent and incorporated it into their volkish quest for Aryan racial purity and anti-Semitic mass murder.

We heard this during the last campaign for president, bringing into government only the best people. And so it was back in the late 19th century in Boston, when the best people, frightened about losing their hold on America, their personal power, and their wealth, aggressively moved to stem European immigration, particularly from what they regarded as inferior countries, among them Italy, Serbian states, and always Jews. Many of these best people of that age have either been forgotten by present day Americans, or never known to them, given the state of historical knowledge in the country. But these where the biggest of the big of their time, the grandees of the American enterprise: Henry Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Joe Lee, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (and later Jr.,the famed jurist, who wrote the Buck v. Bell [1927] decision that permitted compulsory sterilization of those deemed unfit; wrote Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”). As Okrent shows in fine detail, these men and others of their class banded together and worked assiduously for nearly 40 years to dam immigration, to the point where finally only a trickle of people entered the country.

Serendipitously for them and their restriction campaign, Charles Davenport launched his eugenics research projects and lab at Cold Harbor, Long Island. He and successors, among them the notorious Harry Laughlin, propagated eugenics as the scientific way to strengthen American breeding stock. (Laughlin, as readers will learn, held a special interest in sterilization. He, though not knowing Carrie Buck, testified that she should be serialized in Buck v. Bell, referenced above. His views served as a model for Nazi Germany’s Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. In 1936, the University of Heidelberg awarded him an honorary degree for his work in the “science of racial cleansing.”) And thus over a short time eugenics and immigration restriction functioned hand in hand to choke immigration until 1965.

The cast of characters in this sad saga of American history is much too long to enumerate here. Even those well read will sometimes find themselves taken aback by supporters of what’s come to be known as scientific racism, among them Margaret Sanger, Max Perkins, and Louis Brandeis. One of the most prolific and especially odious propagandists does deserve a mention, though. Lothrop Stoddard was a full blown white supremacist and influential author (Fitzgerald created a stand-in for him in The Great Gatsby). Among his books, The Rising Tide of Color proved especially popular, and is still available today (check Amazon for some very disturbing comments of praise).

A book all Americans should read, especially those who are of immigrant stock once restricted, and there are millions of us. Where would you be if your ancestors had not passed through Ellis Island before the restrictions? And what do you think we as a nation are sacrificing with our efforts at restriction?
Show Less
LibraryThing member nmele
Okrent traces the history of eugenics, first as an outgrowth of Darwin's theory of evolution and then its gradual development into a caricature of science as it is overwhelmed by opportunists, nativists and xenophobes. His focus is on how the eugenics movement became intertwined with and the weapon
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of the anti-immigration movement in the early Twentieth Century. Some of the language sounds familiar today, unfortunately. This is not the history of enforced sterilization but it is a cautionary tale of how scientific trappings can be used to push through unjust laws like the restrictive immigration laws passed by the US Congress in the early 1920s.
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Original publication date

2019-05

ISBN

1476798036 / 9781476798035
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