Hot Best Seller

The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children's Intelligence

Availability: Ready to download

“Doomed from birth” was how psychologist Harold Skeels described two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934. Their IQ scores, added together, totaled just 81. Following prevailing eugenic beliefs of the times, Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak assumed that the girls had inherited their parents’ low intelligence and were therefore “Doomed from birth” was how psychologist Harold Skeels described two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934. Their IQ scores, added together, totaled just 81. Following prevailing eugenic beliefs of the times, Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak assumed that the girls had inherited their parents’ low intelligence and were therefore unfit for adoption. The girls were sent to an institution for the “feebleminded” to be cared for by “moron” women. To Skeels and Skodak’s astonishment, under the women’s care, the children’s IQ scores became normal. Now considered one of the most important scientific findings of the twentieth century, the discovery that environment shapes children’s intelligence was also one of the most fiercely contested—and its origin story has never been told. In The Orphans of Davenport, psychologist and esteemed historian Marilyn Brookwood chronicles how a band of young psychologists in 1930s Iowa shattered the nature-versus-nurture debate and overthrew long-accepted racist and classist views of childhood development. Transporting readers to a rural Iowa devastated by dust storms and economic collapse, Brookwood reveals just how profoundly unlikely it was for this breakthrough to come from the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. Funded by the University of Iowa and the Rockefeller Foundation, and modeled on America’s experimental agricultural stations, the Iowa Station was virtually unknown, a backwater compared to the renowned psychology faculties of Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton. Despite the challenges they faced, the Iowa psychologists replicated increased intelligence in thirteen more “retarded” children. When Skeels published their incredible work, America’s leading psychologists—eugenicists all—attacked and condemned his conclusions. The loudest critic was Lewis M. Terman, who advocated for forced sterilization of low-intelligence women and whose own widely accepted IQ test was threatened by the Iowa research. Terman and his opponents insisted that intelligence was hereditary, and their prestige ensured that the research would be ignored for decades. Remarkably, it was not until the 1960s that a new generation of psychologists accepted environment’s role in intelligence and helped launch the modern field of developmental neuroscience.. Drawing on prodigious archival research, Brookwood reclaims the Iowa researchers as intrepid heroes and movingly recounts the stories of the orphans themselves, many of whom later credited the psychologists with giving them the opportunity to forge successful lives. A radiant story of the power and promise of science to better the lives of us all, The Orphans of Davenport unearths an essential history at a moment when race science is dangerously resurgent.


Compare

“Doomed from birth” was how psychologist Harold Skeels described two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934. Their IQ scores, added together, totaled just 81. Following prevailing eugenic beliefs of the times, Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak assumed that the girls had inherited their parents’ low intelligence and were therefore “Doomed from birth” was how psychologist Harold Skeels described two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934. Their IQ scores, added together, totaled just 81. Following prevailing eugenic beliefs of the times, Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak assumed that the girls had inherited their parents’ low intelligence and were therefore unfit for adoption. The girls were sent to an institution for the “feebleminded” to be cared for by “moron” women. To Skeels and Skodak’s astonishment, under the women’s care, the children’s IQ scores became normal. Now considered one of the most important scientific findings of the twentieth century, the discovery that environment shapes children’s intelligence was also one of the most fiercely contested—and its origin story has never been told. In The Orphans of Davenport, psychologist and esteemed historian Marilyn Brookwood chronicles how a band of young psychologists in 1930s Iowa shattered the nature-versus-nurture debate and overthrew long-accepted racist and classist views of childhood development. Transporting readers to a rural Iowa devastated by dust storms and economic collapse, Brookwood reveals just how profoundly unlikely it was for this breakthrough to come from the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. Funded by the University of Iowa and the Rockefeller Foundation, and modeled on America’s experimental agricultural stations, the Iowa Station was virtually unknown, a backwater compared to the renowned psychology faculties of Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton. Despite the challenges they faced, the Iowa psychologists replicated increased intelligence in thirteen more “retarded” children. When Skeels published their incredible work, America’s leading psychologists—eugenicists all—attacked and condemned his conclusions. The loudest critic was Lewis M. Terman, who advocated for forced sterilization of low-intelligence women and whose own widely accepted IQ test was threatened by the Iowa research. Terman and his opponents insisted that intelligence was hereditary, and their prestige ensured that the research would be ignored for decades. Remarkably, it was not until the 1960s that a new generation of psychologists accepted environment’s role in intelligence and helped launch the modern field of developmental neuroscience.. Drawing on prodigious archival research, Brookwood reclaims the Iowa researchers as intrepid heroes and movingly recounts the stories of the orphans themselves, many of whom later credited the psychologists with giving them the opportunity to forge successful lives. A radiant story of the power and promise of science to better the lives of us all, The Orphans of Davenport unearths an essential history at a moment when race science is dangerously resurgent.

30 review for The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children's Intelligence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children's Intelligence by Marilyn Brookwood is a very highly recommended meticulously researched and thoughtfully presented examination of the early psychologists in Iowa during the Great Depression who studied and challenged the prevailing thoughts concerning early childhood development and the question whether intelligence is inherited or influenced by environment. Brookwood does an excellent job setting the historical The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children's Intelligence by Marilyn Brookwood is a very highly recommended meticulously researched and thoughtfully presented examination of the early psychologists in Iowa during the Great Depression who studied and challenged the prevailing thoughts concerning early childhood development and the question whether intelligence is inherited or influenced by environment. Brookwood does an excellent job setting the historical period of time, the context, and explaining how the research and actions of these young psychologists directly countered the predominate view and stance of the established academics of the time. Their research in the 1930s at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station resulted in a direct challenge to the universally accepted notion that children inherited low intelligence from their parents and the environment children were raised in was immaterial. It was the nature-versus-nurture debate that resulted in eventually eradicating the accepted racist and classic views of childhood development. The action that began this major breakthrough is amazing. Psychologist Harold Skeels and his colleague Marie Skodak had two toddler girls at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, in 1934 who both had their IQ's tested. Their IQ scores were so low they were found to be unfit for adoption. The radical choice they made to send the two girls to in institution for the "feeble minded" where the women there cared for the little girls. Much to their astonishment, the girls' IQ scores rose to normal levels, making them open for adoption. This breakthrough was repeated with thirteen other children. The individual attention and stimulating environment provided by their caregivers at the institution made the difference. When Skeels and Skodak published their findings they were viciously attacked by America’s leading psychologists, who were also all eugenicists. Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University was the most vocal critic and he not only denounced their findings but also suppressed them. It wasn't until the 1960s that a new generation of psychologists accepted the original findings that environment influences intelligence. This helped start the field of developmental neuroscience and confirmed the benefits of early childhood education. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Liveright Publishing. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2021/0...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Russell

    Eye-opening story of a Depression-era understaffed, underfunded Iowa orphanage's discovery of the effects of simply providing stimulating environments where "low-IQ" children could interact with loving adults. In almost all cases, the children moved into such environments avoided lifetimes of near-certain institutional care, going on to be happy, productive adults. The second part of the story documents the hostile reaction the Iowa publications received from current authorities in psychology, i Eye-opening story of a Depression-era understaffed, underfunded Iowa orphanage's discovery of the effects of simply providing stimulating environments where "low-IQ" children could interact with loving adults. In almost all cases, the children moved into such environments avoided lifetimes of near-certain institutional care, going on to be happy, productive adults. The second part of the story documents the hostile reaction the Iowa publications received from current authorities in psychology, in many cases attacks both personal and distorted. While some of the case studies were overly long and detailed, causing me to skip through them quickly after the first few, overall the book is an interesting and careful addition to the literature of how science develops. When we look at scientific history from the long perspective, we often see a continuous, reasoned flow towards consensus, but the real-time details are far more messy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    This book is stellar and for anybody who cares about children--and the people they grow up to become--it is required reading. I had never heard about the ground breaking research that these two young psychologists did in Iowa and the battle to get their findings a hearing. Its an amazing and fascinating story, but more than that, the book explains why the U.S. as a country has always been behind in terms of providing the universal early childhood education that almost all other developed countri This book is stellar and for anybody who cares about children--and the people they grow up to become--it is required reading. I had never heard about the ground breaking research that these two young psychologists did in Iowa and the battle to get their findings a hearing. Its an amazing and fascinating story, but more than that, the book explains why the U.S. as a country has always been behind in terms of providing the universal early childhood education that almost all other developed countries have been doing for decades. The misuse of the Stanford-Binet I.Q. test (and how it came to be developed in the first place), the fact that the psychological establishment was captured by the eugenicists, and the incredible influence they had on the public's belief that I.Q. was fixed and "nurture" didn't really matter -- meant that the establishment did everything they could to shoot down this research that showed children from impoverished backgrounds could thrive with love and attention. Because it took so long for the tide to turn, the U.S. never got on the early childhood bandwagon--and you have to wonder if that is why we have such a high population of damaged citizens today. Brookwood's research is amazing, the writing is lively and she even manages to interview one of the Iowa children as an adult who tells us his story and its happy ending.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jean Marie Wilson

    A Who's Who of Psychology' Famous and Infamous I have always been interested in adoption. I also have a PhD in psychology. I just recently read Before We Were Yours. This book is a history of the Nature vs. Nurture argument. When I first studied psychology as an undergrad that discussion was just beginning to be more explored. In grad school for my MA, the discussion had moved to nature and nurture. My PhD program included the neuroscience. Wow the benefits of getting degrees at 20 year intervals A Who's Who of Psychology' Famous and Infamous I have always been interested in adoption. I also have a PhD in psychology. I just recently read Before We Were Yours. This book is a history of the Nature vs. Nurture argument. When I first studied psychology as an undergrad that discussion was just beginning to be more explored. In grad school for my MA, the discussion had moved to nature and nurture. My PhD program included the neuroscience. Wow the benefits of getting degrees at 20 year intervals. Anyhow I was recognizing names all through this book. Binet Terman McNemar Robert Frost the Kennedy's Lewin Eysenck (FYI every time I tried to put commas between the names, the autocorrect kicked in and was changing the names). Most of the famous psychologists come out looking pretty bad...hence infamous in the title of this review. This book is a great history of where we were on IQ and where we are now and how far we still have to go. And after reading it, you will be able to tell students why they have to learn statistics!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Vile and shameful time in not only our history, but the world's. Lobotomies were being performed at about the same time and, of course, there's the rise of Hitler (who was actually inspired by the US's treatment of Native Americans and later eugenicists to exterminate people.) In more recent times, there were the poor, neglected Romanian orphans. Nothing good comes of warehousing babies and young children. It was interesting reading more about Alfred Binet's work and how it influenced intelligen Vile and shameful time in not only our history, but the world's. Lobotomies were being performed at about the same time and, of course, there's the rise of Hitler (who was actually inspired by the US's treatment of Native Americans and later eugenicists to exterminate people.) In more recent times, there were the poor, neglected Romanian orphans. Nothing good comes of warehousing babies and young children. It was interesting reading more about Alfred Binet's work and how it influenced intelligence testing. The nature vs. nurture aspect was fascinating.. Home life related to parents income has also been shown to be a factor in how much children know at a young age. More wealth, more experiences, better vocabulary, etc... Poorer children have very limited experience, so less vocabulary. Doesn't make them less intelligent, but less educated. I have a limited back ground in the psychology discussed in the book, but I work with children of a variety of backgrounds and have found much in the book to still be true. Kid's benefit from preschool; it exposes them to ideas and knowledge they may not get at home. Breaks my heart to read books like this. Too often children were removed from lower income or or ill or single parents to give to better off people who wanted babies. That in it self caused some horrors... Much can be said about today's love/hate of babies and children. But that's another subject. So much sadness. At least it shows how we all got beyond those days (tho' these new ones aren't looking to good of late) There's still a lot of work to be done. What the future holds is anyone's guess... Good, well researched and readable book. I received a Kindle arc from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    This account of intelligence testing and the desire for creating smarter people, as it took place with the children abandoned by parents or otherwise without families and living in state institutions in Iowa is a very mixed bag. While author Brookwood frequently emphasizes her position on the abhorrence of eugenics, she also fails to interrogate the development of IQ tests and the other assessment tools used by researchers. Too often the slightly more humane eugenicists are celebrated over their This account of intelligence testing and the desire for creating smarter people, as it took place with the children abandoned by parents or otherwise without families and living in state institutions in Iowa is a very mixed bag. While author Brookwood frequently emphasizes her position on the abhorrence of eugenics, she also fails to interrogate the development of IQ tests and the other assessment tools used by researchers. Too often the slightly more humane eugenicists are celebrated over their worse colleagues, and this makes for a rather contradictory narrative.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Miste

    Interesting History Interesting but a little dry. Fascinating to see how the field evolved and continues to evolve. Glad Skeels and Skodek got the recognition they deserved in the end.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    Reading about the research and researchers at Iowa was fascinating. Wading through chapters on the disagreements and infighting among psychologists from the era was much less engaging.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ellen

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carol Dimitriou

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  12. 4 out of 5

    Niccara Campbell

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daisy

  15. 4 out of 5

    MayorEmma

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ecirum

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Eicher

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jovany Agathe

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Buck

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beth Lynch

  24. 4 out of 5

    B.L. & C.S. Dunford-Jackson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex Long

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Rodriguez

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nichole

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mellissa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Linda Lytle

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...