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Tribe of Ishmael

Tribe of Ishmael

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Published by: bettyKalo on Dec 27, 2013
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Recasting the Tribe of Ishmael
The Role of Indianapolis’s Nineteenth-Century Poor in Twentieth-CenturyEugenics
 And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child,and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because theLordhath heardthy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his handwill be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and heshall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
Genesis 16:11–12
ainy weather and muddy streets kept many of his flock home onSunday morning, January 20, 1878, when Rev. Oscar C. McCullochof Indianapolis’sPlymouth Congregational Church delivered a sermonon the problem of the city’spoor.
Charity was not an unusual topic
__________________________Elsa F. Kramer is an editor and a researcher in Indianapolis. She thanks the library staffs of theIndianapolis–Marion County Public Library, the Indiana State Archives, the Indiana StateLibrary, the Indiana Historical Society, and the M. E. Grenander Department of SpecialCollections and Archives at the State University of New York–Albany for their assistance ingathering the materials cited in this article. She is grateful to William Schneider and JasonLantzer at Indiana University–Indianapolis for their input on early drafts and to Eric Sandweissof the
for his interest in and careful editing of the manuscript.
Oscar McCulloch Diary, January 20, 1878, box 1, Oscar C. McCulloch Papers (Indiana StateLibrary,Indianapolis).INDIANA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY,104 (March 2008)
2008, Trustees of Indiana University.
within his congregation, which practiced the Social Gospel of appliedChristianity—“the alleviation, by physical and spiritual means,” asMcCulloch’s daughter, Ruth, would later explain it, “of poverty, igno-rance, misery, vice and crime.”
This particular lecture, however, reflect-ed a change in his approach to welfare, away from almsgiving andtoward the exclusion of applicants deemed unworthy of relief.It was coincidence that had brought about this key shift in thewell-known minister’s attitude: According to McCulloch, his pastoralvisits to the poor had acquainted him with the members of one familywhose dire poverty so disturbed him that he sought to secure thememergency aid at the Center Township Trustee’s office. There he learned,instead, of the family’s—and their friends’ and relatives’—long history of relief applications. At about the same time, he read a book about “the Jukes,” a New York clan that reminded him of the family he visited inIndianapolis.The book’s author, Richard L. Dugdale, a researcher inter-ested in the causes of poverty and crime, had become curious about thefrequency of family ties among inmates he encountered while inspectingcounty jails for the New York Prison Association. Although Dugdale’sstudy of criminality among the Jukes (the fictitious surname by whichhe identified the clan) conceded that environmental factors were asinfluential as hereditarycauses in “giving cumulative force to a career of debauch,” McCulloch concluded that charitable aid targeted only at alle-viating deficits such as hunger and homelessness encouraged the prolif-eration of degenerate families such as the Indianapolis clan, whom helabeled the Ishmaelites.
He began to argue for compulsory social con-trols designed to prevent the “idle, wandering life” and “the propagationof similarly disposed children,” and helped craft legislation to create theState Boardof Charities and the Center Township Board of Children’sGuardians. The collaboration he created between public and privatecharities infused the former—which gave relief without regard to anapplicant’scharacter—with the latter’s strategy of giving based on moral
Ruth McCulloch, “Plymouth Church—II,”
Indiana Magazine of History
,7(September 1911),91.
Oscar McCulloch Diary, January 20, 1878, box 1, Oscar C. McCulloch Papers; Richard L.Dugdale,
“The Jukes”: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity
(New York, 1910), 26.On Dugdale’swork and its impact on other eugenics studies, see Nicole Hahn Rafter,
WhiteTrash: The Eugenic Family Studies 1877–1919
(Boston, 1988); Christine Rosen,
PreachingEugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement
(New York, 2004).
He reorganized the Indianapolis Benevolent Society as theCharity Organization Society (COS) and combined its efforts with thoseof Center Township relief caseworkers in order to identify citizens per-ceived to be making poverty their profession. Notes from interviewsconducted and other public records gathered by these visitors of thepoor were ultimately collected in McCulloch’s family study, which wasintended to provide evidence of “a constellation of degenerate behav-iors—including alcoholism, pauperism, social dependency, shiftless-ness, nomadism, and ‘lack of moral control’” caused by inherited geneticdefects and exacerbated by current charitable practice.
The solution,McCulloch believed, was to “close up official out-door relief . . . checkprivate and indiscriminate benevolence, or charity, falsely so-called . . .[and] get hold of the children.”
McCulloch’s renowned career as a progressivist minister and char-ity reformer was cut short by his premature death, at age forty-eight, in1891. Although he had succeeded, by at least some estimates, in reduc-ing the number of Indianapolis citizens receiving public and privaterelief, he did not live to see the unanticipated impact of his Ishmaelstudy on eugenics, the emerging science of race improvement throughselective breeding.
His work, intended to reduce dependence on publicwelfare, continued for many years to be cited, with other family studies,as evidence of a need for legislative measuresto compel mandatoryster-ilization of “mental defectives” and criminals.
For McCulloch and
Oscar McCulloch Diary,January20, 1878, box 1, Oscar C. McCulloch Papers; McCulloch,“The Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation,” in Isabel C. Barrows, ed.,
Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction
(Boston, 1888), 154-59; Arthur Estabrook,“The Tribe of Ishmael,” 1922, series 2, box 1, folder 7, Arthur H. Estabrook Papers (UniversityArchives, M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, UniversityLibraries, University at Albany,State University of New York), 25 (hereafter referred to as ERONotes); Jacob Piatt Dunn,
Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, andthe People of a City of Homes
,2vols. (Chicago, 1910), 1:606; Genevieve C. Weeks,
Oscar Carleton McCulloch, 1843–1891: Preacher and Practitioner of Applied Christianity
(Indianapolis,1976), 176.
David Micklos and Elof Carlson, “Engineering American Society: The Lesson of Eugenics,”
Nature Reviews Genetics
,1(November 2000), 155.
McCulloch, “The Tribe of Ishmael,” 8.
ERO Notes, Introduction, 5. The ERO Notes include duplicate drafts of some sections thatrepeat page-numbering schemes; subheadings have been added to some citations for clarifica-tion.
See, in addition to publications by Arthur Estabrook cited elsewherein this paper,Charles B.Davenport, “Report of the Committee on Eugenics,”
 American Breeders Association

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