Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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The Kallikak Family:
A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness

Henry Herbert Goddard (1913)

Director of the Research Laboratory of the Training School
at Vineland, New Jersey, for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys



The foregoing charts and text tell a story as instructive as it is amazing. We have here a family of good English blood of the middle class, settling upon the original land purchased from the proprietors of the state in Colonial times, and throughout four generations maintaining a reputation for honor and respectability of which they are justly proud. Then a scion of this family, in an unguarded moment, steps aside from the paths of rectitude and with the help of a feeble-minded girl, starts a line of mental defectives that is truly appalling. After this mistake, he returns to the traditions of his family, marries a woman of his own quality, and through her carries on a line of respectability equal .to that of his ancestors.

We thus have two series from two different mothers but the same father. These extend for six generations. Both lines live out their lives in practically the same region and in the same environment, except in so far as they themselves, because of their different characters, changed that environment. Indeed, so close are they [p. 51] that in one case, a defective man on the bad side of the family was found in the employ of a family on the normal side and, although they are of the same name, neither suspects any relationship. We thus have a natural experiment of remarkable value to the sociologist and the student of heredity. That we are dealing with a problem of true heredity, no one can doubt, for, although of the descendants of Martin Kallikak Jr. many married into feeble-minded families and thus brought in more bad blood, yet Martin Jr. himself married a normal woman, thus demonstrating that the defect is transmitted through the father, at least in this generation. Moreover, the Kallikak family traits appear continually even down to the present generation, and there are many qualities that are like in both the good and the bad families, thus showing the strength and persistence of the ancestral stock.

The reader will recall the famous story of the Jukes family published by Richard L. Dugdale in 1877, a startling array of criminals, paupers, and diseased persons, more or less related to each other and extending over seven generations.

Dr. Winship has undertaken to compare this family with the descendants of Jonathan Edwards, and from [p. 52] this comparison to draw certain conclusions. It is a striking comparison, but unfortunately not as conclusive as we need in these days. The two families were utterly independent, of different ancestral stock, reared in different communities, even in different States, and under utterly different environment.

The one, starting from a strong, religious, and highly educated ancestor, has maintained those traits and traditions down to the present day and with remarkable results; the other, starting without any of these advantages, and under an entirely different environment, has resulted in the opposite kind of descendants.

It is not possible to convince the euthenist (who holds that environment is the sole factor) that, had the children of Jonathan Edwards and the children of "Old Max" changed places, the results would not have been such as to show that it was a question of environment and not of heredity. And he cites to us the fact that many children of highly developed parents degenerate and become paupers and criminals, while on the other hand, some children born of lowly and even criminal parents take the opposite course and become respectable and useful citizens.

In as far as the children of "Old Max" were of normal mentality, it is not possible to say what might [p. 53] not have become of them, had they had good training and environment.

Fortunately for the cause of science, the Kallikak family, in the persons of Martin Kallikak Jr. and his descendants, are not open to this argument. They were feeble-minded, and no amount of education or good environment can change a feeble-minded individual into a normal one, any more than it can change a red-haired stock into a black-haired stock. The striking fact of the enormous proportion of feeble-minded individuals in the descendants of Martin Kallikak Jr. and the total absence of such in the descendants of his half brothers and sisters is conclusive on this point. Clearly it was not environment that has made that good family. They made their environment; and their own good blood, with the good blood in the families into which they married, told.

So far as the Jukes family is concerned, there is nothing that proves the hereditary character of any of the crime, pauperism, or prostitution that was found. The most that one can say is that if such a family is allowed to go on and develop in its own way unmolested, it is pretty certain not to improve, but rather to propagate its own kind and fill the world with degenerates. of one form or another. The formerly much discussed [p. 54] question of the hereditary character of crime received no solution from the Jukes family, but in the light of present-day knowledge of the sciences of criminology and biology, there is every reason to conclude that criminals are made and not born. The best material out of which to make criminals, and perhaps the material from which they are most frequently made, is feeble-mindedness.

The reader must remember that the type of feeble-mindedness of which we are speaking is the one to which Deborah belongs, that is, to the high grade, or moron. All the facts go to show that this type of people makes up a large percentage of our criminals. We may argue a priori that such would be the case. Here we have a group who, when children in school, cannot learn the things that are given them to learn, because through their mental defect, they are incapable of mastering abstractions. They never learn to read sufficiently well to make reading pleasurable or of practical use to them. The same is true of number work. Under our compulsory school system and our present courses of study, we compel these children to go to school, and attempt to teach them the three R's, and even higher subjects. Thus they worry along through a few grades until they are fourteen years old and then leave school, [p. 55] not having learned anything of value or that can help them to make even a meager living in the world. They are then turned out inevitably dependent upon others. A few have relatives who take care of them, see that they learn to do something which perhaps will help in their support, and then these relatives supplement this with enough to insure them a living.

A great majority, however, having no such interested or capable relatives, become at once a direct burden upon society. These divide according to temperament into two groups. Those who are phlegmatic, sluggish, indolent, simply lie down and would starve to death, if some one did not help them. When they come to the attention of our charitable organizations, they are picked up and sent to the almshouse, if they cannot be made to work. The other type is of the nervous, excitable, irritable kind who try to make a living, and not being able to do it by a fair day's work and honest wages, attempt to succeed through dishonest methods.

"Fraud is the force of weak natures." These become the criminal type. The kind of criminality into which they fall seems to depend largely upon their environment. If they are associated with vicious but intelligent people, they become the dupes for carrying out any of the hazardous schemes that their more intelli-[p. 56]gent associates plan for them. Because of their stupidity, they are very apt to be caught quickly and sent to the reformatory or prison. If they are girls, one of the easiest things for them to fall into is a life of prostitution, because they have natural instincts with no power of control and no intelligence to understand the wiles and schemes of the white slaver, the cadet, or the individual seducer. All this, we say, is what is to be expected. These are the people of good outward appearance, but of low intelligence, who pass through school without acquiring any efficiency, then go out into the world and must inevitably fall into some such life as we have pictured.

Let us now turn to our public institutions. These have not yet been sufficiently investigated, nor have we adequate statistics to show what percentage of their inmates is actually feeble-minded. But even casual observation of our almshouse population shows the majority to be of decidedly low mentality, while careful tests would undoubtedly increase this percentage very materially.

In our insane hospitals may also be found a group of people whom the physicians will tell you are only partially demented. The fact is they properly belong in an institution for feeble-minded, rather than in one [p. 57] for the insane, and have gotten into the latter because an unenlightened public does not recognize the difference between a person who has lost' his mind and one who never had one.

In regard to criminality, we now have enough studies to make us certain that at least 25 per cent of this class is feeble-minded. One hundred admissions to the Rahway Reformatory, taken in order of admission, show at least 26 per cent of them distinctly feeble-minded, with the certainty that the percentage would be much higher if we included the border-line cases.

An investigation of one hundred of the Juvenile Court children in the Detention Home of the City of Newark showed that 67 per cent of them were distinctly feeble-minded. From this estimate are excluded children who are yet too young for us to know definitely whether the case is one of arrested development. This point once determined would unquestionably swell the percentage of defect.

An examination of fifty-six girls from a Massachusetts reformatory, but out on probation, showed that fifty-two of them were distinctly feeble-minded. This was partially a selected group, the basis being their troublesomeness; they were girls who could not be made to stay in the homes that were found for them, nor to do [p. 58] reasonable and sensible things in those homes, which fact, of itself, pointed toward feeble-mindedness. The foregoing are figures based on actual test examinations as to mental capacity. If we accept the estimates of the mental condition of the inmates made by the superintendents of reformatories and penal institutions, we get sometimes a vastly higher percentage; e.g. the Superintendent of the Elmira Reformatory estimates that at least 40 per cent of his inmates are mental defectives.

Indeed, it would not be surprising if careful examination of the inmates of these institutions should show that even 50 per cent of them are distinctly feeble-minded.

In regard to prostitutes; we have no reliable figures. The groups of delinquent girls to which we have already referred included among the numbers several that were already known as prostitutes. A simple observation of persons who are leading this sort of life will satisfy any one who is familiar with feeble-mindedness that a large percentage of them actually are defective mentally. So we have, as is claimed, partly from statistical studies and partly from careful observation, abundant evidence of the truth of our claim that criminality is often made out of feeble-mindedness. [p. 59]

Mr. Winship in his comparison of the Jukes and Edwards families has strengthened our claim in this respect. In all environments and under all conditions, he shows the latter family blossoming out into distinguished citizens, not primarily through anything from without but through the imperious force within. Since we may conclude that none of the Edwards family, who are described by Dr. Winship, were feeble-minded, therefore none of them became criminals or prostitutes. But here again his argument is inconclusive because he does not tell us of all the descendants.

With equal safety it may be surmised that many of the Jukes family (perhaps the original stock, indeed) were feeble-minded and therefore easily lapsed into the kind of lives that they are said to have lived.

In the good branch of the Kallikak family there were no criminals. There were not many in the other side, but there were some, and, had their environment been different, no one who is familiar with feeble-minded persons, their characteristics and tendencies, would doubt that a large percentage of them might have become criminal. Lombroso's famous criminal types, in so far as they were types, may have been types of feeble-mindedness on which criminality was grafted by the circumstances of their environment. [p. 60]

Such facts as those revealed by the Kallikak family drive us almost irresistibly to the conclusion that before we can settle our problems of criminality and pauperism and all the rest of the social problems that are taxing our time and money, the first and fundamental step should be to decide upon the mental capacity of the persons who make up these groups. We must separate, as sharply as possible, those persons who are weak-minded, and therefore irresponsible, from intelligent criminals. Both our method of treatment and our attitude towards crime will be changed when we discover what part of this delinquency is due to irresponsibility.

If the Jukes family were of normal intelligence, a change of environment would have worked wonders and would have saved society from the horrible blot. But if they were feeble-minded, then no amount of good environment could have made them anything else than feeble-minded. Schools and colleges were not for them, rather a segregation which would have prevented them from falling into evil and from procreating their kind, so avoiding the transmitting of their defects and delinquencies to succeeding generations.

Thus where the Jukes-Edwards comparison is weak and the argument inconclusive, the twofold Kallikak family is strong and the argument convincing. [p. 61]

Environment does indeed receive some support from three cases in our chart. On Chart II, two children of Martin Jr. and Rhoda were normal, while all the rest were feeble-minded. It is true that here one parent was normal, and we have the right to expect some normal children. At the same time, these were the two children that were adopted into good families and brought up under good surroundings. They proved to be normal and their descendants normal. Again, on Chart IX-a, we have one child of two feeble-minded parents who proves to be normal -- the only one among the children. This child was also taken into a good family and brought up carefully. Another sister (Chart IX-b) was also taken into a good family and, while not determined, yet "showed none of the traits that are usually indicative of feeble-mindedness." It may be claimed that environment is responsible for this good result. It is certainly significant that the only children in these families that were normal, or at least better than the rest, were brought up in good families.

However, it would seem to be rather dangerous to base any very positive hope on environment in the light of these charts, taken as a whole. There are too many other possible explanations of the anomaly, e.g. [p. 62] these cases may have been high-grade morons, who, to the untrained person, would seem so nearly normal, that at this late day it would be impossible to find any one who would remember their traits well enough to enable us to classify them as morons.

We must not forget that, on Chart IX-e, we also have the daughter of Justin taken into a good family and carefully brought up, but in spite of all that, she proved to be feeble-minded. The same is probably true of Deborah's half brother.

We have claimed that criminality resulting from feeble-mindedness is mainly a matter of environment, yet it must be acknowledged that there are wide differences in temperament and that, while this one branch of the Kallikak family was mentally defective, there was no strong tendency in it towards that which our laws recognize as criminality. In other families there is, without doubt, a much greater tendency to crime, so that the lack of criminals in this particular case, far from detracting from our argument, really strengthens it. It must be recognized that there is much more liability of criminals resulting from mental defectiveness in certain families than in others, probably because of difference in the strength of some instincts.

This difference in temperament is perhaps nowhere [p. 63] better brought out than in the grandparents of Deborah. The grandfather belonging to the Kallikak family had the temperament and characteristics of that family, which, while they did not lead him into positive criminality of high degree, nevertheless did make him a bad man of a positive type, a drunkard, a sex pervert, and all that goes to make up a bad character.

On the other hand, his wife and her family were simply stupid, with none of the pronounced tendencies to evil that were shown in the Kallikak family. They were not vicious, nor given over to bad practices of any sort. But they were inefficient, without power to get on in the world, and they transmitted these qualities to their descendants.

Thus, of the children of this pair, the grandparents of Deborah, the sons have been active and positive in their lives, the one being a horse thief, the other a sexual pervert, having the alcoholic tendency of his father, while the daughters are quieter and more passive. Their dullness, however, does not amount to imbecility. Deborah's mother herself was of a high type of moron, with a certain quality which carried with it an element of refinement. Her sister was the passive victim of her father's incestuous practice and later married a normal man. Another sister was twice married, the first time [p. 64] through the agency of the good woman who attended to the legalizing of Deborah's mother's alliances, the last time, the man, being normal, attended to this himself. He was old and only wanted a housekeeper, and this woman, having been strictly raised in an excellent family, was famous as a cook, so this arrangement seemed to him best. None of these sisters ever objected to the marriage ceremony when the matter was attended to for them, but they never seem to have thought of it as necessary when living with any man.

The stupid helplessness of Deborah's mother in regard to her own impulses is shown by the facts of her life. Her first child had for its father a farm hand; the father of the second and third (twins) was a common laborer on the railroad. Deborah's father was a young fellow, normal indeed, but loose in his morals, who, along with others, kept company with the mother while she was out at service. After Deborah's birth in the almshouse, the mother had been taken with her child into a good family. Even in this guarded position, she was sought out by a feeble-minded man of low habits. Every possible means was employed to separate the pair, but without effect. Her mistress then insisted that they marry, and herself attended to all the details. After Deborah's mother had borne this man [p. 65] two children, the pair went to live on the farm of an unmarried man possessing some property, but little intelligence. The husband was an imbecile who had never provided for his wife. She was still pretty, almost girlish -- the farmer was good-looking, and soon the two were openly living together and the husband had left. As the facts became known, there was considerable protest in the neighborhood, but no active steps were taken until two or three children had been born. Finally, a number of leading citizens, headed by the good woman before alluded to, took the matter up in earnest. They found the husband and persuaded him to allow them to get him a divorce. Then they compelled the farmer to marry the woman. He agreed, on condition that the children which were not his should be sent away. It was at this juncture that Deborah was brought to the Training School.

In visiting the mother in her present home and in talking with her over different phases of her past life, several things are evident; there has been no malice in her life nor voluntary reaction against social order, but simply a blind following of impulse which never rose to objective consciousness. Her life has utterly lacked coordination -- there has been no reasoning from cause to effect, no learning of any lesson. She [p. 66] has never known shame; in a word, she has never struggled and never suffered. Her husband is a selfish, sullen, penurious person who gives his wife but little money, so that she often resorts to selling soap and other things among her neighbors to have something to spend. At times she works hard in the field as a farm hand, so that it cannot be wondered at that her house is neglected and her children unkempt. Her philosophy of life is the philosophy of the animal. There is no complaining, no irritation at the inequalities of fate. Sickness, pain, childbirth, death -- she accepts them all with the same equanimity as she accepts the opportunity of putting a new dress and a gay ribbon on herself and children and going to a Sunday School picnic. There is no rising to the comprehension of the possibilities which life offers or of directing circumstances to a definite, higher end. She has a certain fondness for her children, but is incapable of real solicitude for them. She speaks of those who were placed in homes and is glad to see their pictures, and has a sense of their belonging to her, but it is faint, remote, and in no way bound up with her life. She is utterly helpless to protect her older daughters, now on the verge of womanhood, from the dangers that beset them, or to inculcate in them any ideas which would lead to self-[p. 67]control or to the directing of their lives in an orderly manner.

The same lack is strikingly shown, if we turn our attention to the question of alcoholism in this family. We learn from a responsible member of the good branch of the family that the appetite for alcoholic stimulants has been strong in the past in this family and that several members in recent generations have been more or less addicted to its use. Only two have actually allowed it to get the better of them to the extent that they became incapacitated. Both were physicians. In the other branch, however, with the weakened mentality, we find twenty-four victims of this habit so pronounced that they were public nuisances. We have taken no account of the much larger number who were also addicted to its use, but who did not become so bad as to be considered alcoholic in our category.

Thus we see that the normal mentality of the good branch of the family was able to cope successfully with this intense thirst, while the weakened mentality on the other side was unable to escape, and many fell victims to this appalling habit.

It is such facts as these, taken as we find them, not only in this family but in many of the other families whose records we are soon to publish, that lead us to [p. 68] the conclusion that drunkenness is, to a certain extent at least, the result of feeble-mindedness and that one way to reduce drunkenness is first to determine the mentally defective people, and save them from the environment which would lead them into this abuse.

Again, eight of the descendants of the degenerate Kallikak branch were keepers of houses of ill fame, and that in spite of the fact that they mostly lived in a rural community where such places do not flourish as they do in large cities.

In short, whereas in the Jukes-Edwards comparison we have no sound basis for argument, because the families were utterly different and separate, in the Kallikak family the conclusion seems thoroughly logical. We have, as it were, a natural experiment with a normal branch with which to compare our defective side. We have the one ancestor giving us a line of normal people that shows thoroughly good all the way down the generations, with the exception of the one man who was sexually loose and the two who gave way to the appetite for strong drink.

This is our norm, our standard, our demonstration of what the Kallikak blood is when kept pure, or mingled with blood as good as its own. Over against this we have the bad side, the blood of [p. 69] the same ancestor contaminated by that of the nameless feeble-minded girl.

From this comparison the conclusion is inevitable that all this degeneracy has come as the result of the defective mentality and bad blood having been brought into the normal family of good blood, first from the nameless feeble-minded girl and- later by additional contaminations from other sources.

The biologist could hardly plan and carry out a more rigid experiment or one from which the conclusions would follow more inevitably.