Henry Goddard and the Idiots

Early Life

On August 14th, 1866, Henry Herbert Goddard was born in East Vassalboro, Maine, to his parents Henry and Sarah Goddard. He was born the fifth of six children, though two of his sister’s had died in infancy– because the 1800s were best described as “pretty not cool” for infant mortality.


His father was gored by a bull when Henry was a small boy, and the injuries festered until the boy was nine. His father, much like 44% of babies in 1866, died. This was also not a great time for “Henry’s dad” mortality rates.


Now aged nine, Henry was eventually without a place to stay. You might be asking “why didn’t his mom want him,” but this poor woman had at least three kids to take care of, and we all know it’s easier to kick your youngest to the street than to, I don’t know, help him cope with losing a dad.


He moved to his sister’s home– one of the older ones who was now happily married. It was about two years before she said “yeah, I don’t want you either,” and sent him to Oak Grove Seminary, a boarding school just out of town.



By 21, he had received his Bachelor’s from Haverford College, Pennsylvania (1887). By age 23, he had his Master’s in Mathematics (1889). By age 33, he had his Ph.D. in Psychology, now from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts (1899).


Ah, whoops! I did another one about a doctor, didn’t I? If you’ve heard some crazy story that’s not related doctors, I encourage you to get in touch with me. I’d love to hear ideas for new episodes.


Goddard had hopped around a handful of instructing gigs before he finished his doctorate. He taught latin, coached football, and he even became the principal of his old boarding school from 1891 to 1896. Isn’t that fun?


“Just like you, children, my parents didn’t want me either.”


When I say he “coached football,” that’s actually a bit of an understatement. Goddard was the first head coach of the Trojans, South Carolina’s best college football team. He was also, by the way, their only undefeated coach. That’s a super cool achievement if you ignore that he was only coach for one season.


While he was studying for his PhD in psychology, Goddard found a fascination with intelligence. In 1906, when he finished his professorship at the State Normal School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Goddard went to New Jersey’s Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls. There, Goddard transformed the school into something it had never quite been before– a research facility.


Goddard became the director of research, a new position at this school that he had made up, and he began to push his career into the limelight by translating a revolutionary new concept in psychology: he made the French Binet-Simon intelligence test accessible to english speakers.


Binet of Binet and Simon refers to Alfred Binet, a French psychologist who, in 1883, was using magnets and hypnosis to cure women of hysteria. Sound familiar? Check out last week’s article if you haven’t already!


After translating it, Goddard began spreading the test like wildfire. He circulated over 22,000 copies between the years 1908 and 1918, and his passion only grew stronger. Goddard became obsessed with not only knowing who was smart and who was not, but he was also keen on coming up with new and creative ways to test human intelligence. When it came to sussing out whether or not you were a smart cookie, Goddard thought he was hot shit.


“To be fair, you have to have a high IQ to understand Rick and Morty…”

– The Penultimate Douchebag


The Binet-Simon IQ Test

Like I’ve said, Goddard was obsessed with intelligence testing. By this point, though, he had very little idea how to actually do it– at least, no ideas of his own. He’s translated the Binet-Simon intelligence test, an early edition of the modern IQ test, but other than that, he had just started inventing labels for people with lower scores. If you’ve used the term “moron” recently, be sure to forward Mr. Goddard’s estate his royalties check. Binet coined the term “retarded,” though, so make sure to get the right address on that one.


So Goddard set to work distributing the deified Binet-Simon test, freshly translated to the pristine American tongue, and while spreading its use began testing methods of his own. Being at the forefront of the science in America, Goddard’s presence was actually requested at Ellis Island.


Before we get to that though, I was hoping I could just take a moment to talk about IQ tests. Not because any particular slimeball has been bragging about his, or anything– just trying to be strictly educational.


The intelligence testing scale introduced by Binet-Simon in 1905 would be better known as a predecessor to today’s IQ test. IQ stands for intelligence quotient, which refers to your capacity to learn, rather than how smart or knowledgeable you actually are. You can have a remarkable capacity to learn, and simultaneously have jack-all motivation to work, study, or contribute anything valuable to society, you giant war mongering man ba– Hm? What? Too specific?


Anway, Binet and Simon’s test. The 1905 scale would measure how well you performed a task based on age. So for example, if you solved a math problem with the efficiency of a 12 year old while being 10 years old, then that means you’d score a ratio of 1.2, which when multiplied by 100 gives you an IQ score of 120. Examples of tasks performed in the 1905 scale depended on your age. If you were 2, you’d be asked to unwrap and eat a piece of candy. A 5 year old might be asked the difference between a fly and a butterfly. An 11 year old would be asked to reverse the hands of an analogue clock reading 6:20.


One of my favorite things that I found on an old paper copy of the Binet test were these instructions:


  1. Compare the numbers three and 59 — then six & 159.
  2. Copy this square.
  3. Repeat: ‘His name is John; he is a very good boy.’
  4. Count 4 pennies.
  5. “Patience.” It literally just says patience, in quotes.


Those doozies were used to test the intelligence of a five year old. Can you spot the question that makes zero, absolutely ZERO sense to ask a five year old? “Draw a square!” Fine. “Count these pennies!” Alright, yeah, you’ve got ten fingers, we can make this happen. “Compare these four numbers, child who has no concept of multiplication, and probably not even addition or subtraction!” What the hell kind of answer are you looking for?


Also, if we were grading people’s intelligence scores based on how patient they were at five years old, then consider it a miracle that we survived as a nation for this long. Enough about IQ tests, though, because with Goddard, sometimes they just weren’t necessary.


Ellis Island

The Ellis Island Immigration Station opened for the first time on January 1, 1892. Positioned north of Liberty Island in the Upper New York Bay, the island was opened by the federal government to inspect incoming immigrants. Prior to that, New York state had its own center for immigration management: The Castle Garden Immigration Depot.


Within its first year, it processed over 450,000 immigrants– which is roughly a shit-ton of people, give or take. People would either be accepted into the new world, turned away from it, or sometimes thrown in disease wards for treatment or, more accurately, quarantine. In its 60 years of operation, Ellis Island’s Immigration Station (I just like saying that) saw millions and millions of immigrants pass through to the U-S-of-A. According to one report, it’s estimated that nearly 40% of all US citizens owe their heritage to an ancestor that passed through Ellis Island.


40%. Meanwhile, I’d guarantee that some, if not all of those people, still have the energy to moan about Mexicans and Muslims.


But, obviously, the Island couldn’t take just anybody. By 1910, the eugenics movement had started to pick up some steam– which it would continue doing until a little stinker over in Germany decided to ruin it all by, you know, practicing it. One such side effect of this movement was a need to make sure stupid people weren’t breeding, much less living in America. So, naturally, they invited everyone’s favorite idiot detector: Henry Goddard.


He worked on the Island for nearly two years, determining which immigrants were too stupid to come aboard our nation– which was strangely called “the land of the free,” because “land of the free unless you’re black, chinese, irish, or stupid” was too long. This testing process wasn’t all by the book though, because after enough time, Goddard began to realize that he didn’t need pen and paper, or rules for that matter, to determine someone’s intelligence.


In some instances, a few questions were all that was necessary to pick out an idiot, moron, or otherwise feeble-minded person. One of his favorite methods of determining whether or not you were feeble-minded was to ask which team had won the World Series that year. If they didn’t know (which was shockingly lots and lots of people) they were put right back on the boat home. That was sort of the Ellis Island experience from 1910 to 1912– you got off a boat, Henry Goddard asked you about sports, called you a retard, and sent you back across the ocean.


1912 was a terrible year to not know who the Red Sox were.


With Goddard on staff at Ellis Island, deportation rates were increased five-fold. On top of that, in line with the era’s horrible culture, 80% of Jews, Hungarians, Russians, and Italians were found to be feeble-minded, and summarily shoved back on the boat to Europe.


In the interest of being completely honest, at least he was responsible for the first American law to mandate special education. Oh, wait, I’m sorry– I thought I was done with all the horrible things he did.


The Kallikaks


Goddard was one of many would-be eugenicists who had a fascination with one particular case: The Kallikak family. It began with a woman named Emma Wolverton, an older woman at Goddard’s own Vineland institution for the mentally disabled. Emma was a feeble-minded girl, and when investigating her genealogy, Goddard found “something incredible, and a surprising moral tale.” He set to work on a book, telling us the story of the Kallikaks.


Goddard’s book takes us back to the revolutionary war, to a soldier named Martin Kallikak. Martin was a devout quaker with a beautiful, faithful quaker wife. Martin the quaker had many wonderful quaker children with his dutiful quaker wife. Those children and their children’s children became some of the healthiest, most dutiful children to bless this green earth. But, if you could believe it, there’s more to this moral tale. See, Martin also had an affair with a nameless, feeble-minded woman. That woman gave birth to a terrible boy named “Old Horror,” and from his loins came hundreds of society’s worst, feeble-minded citizens.


Taken from a 1950’s psychology textbook. My research

has specifically told me that none of this diagram is accurate.


Goddard deduced that many local families shared a common ancestry with this “Martin Kallikak” (a pseudonym, made up from two greek words for good and bad) and those who were born from the feeble-minded girl were all riddled with disease, malformation, and mental deficiencies, while those from the Quakeress were healthy. This was, of course, not as simple as Goddard wanted to believe it was– and in some cases he knew that. In his book, Goddard would include pictures of these feeble-minded Kallikaks that still littered his fine city, as pictured below.


I swear to Christ they called these kids “mongoloids” in the book.


Now, if you look at those photos, do you notice something a little weird about some of them? The detail on their eyes and mouths, especially? Yes? Well, you’re in good company with paleontologist Stephen Gould, who asserted that Goddard (or someone working for him) had doctored the photos of these children to make them appear “more wild.” Photo manipulation in 1912 wasn’t exactly a huge thing, so to somebody that doesn’t look at photoshopped images every single day, this crap was believable. On top of this obvious fact-twisting, there’s also the fact that he’s asserting that stupidity is genetic. In actuality, these people on the “feeble-minded” side of the Kallikak family probably suffered from undiagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome, something you kind of get when you’re born into poor families in an age without doctors screaming “PUT THE SAUCE DOWN, IT’S KILLING YOUR BABY.”


Goddard came to realize later in life that his book may have been a huge misjudgement, and attempted to convince the public that it wasn’t a good explanation of how mental deficiency or genetics worked.


The damage was done, though. This book sold about as well as a translated Simon-Binet Intelligence Test, and Goddard’s contributions to eugenics were made on a huge scale. At first, Goddard intended for the popularity of his book to raise public funding for institutions like his, where the mentally challenged could be treated. Instead, the public was way more fond of the easier, less cool method of just sterilizing anyone that scored poorly on an IQ test, which as we’ve learned is a shitty way to gauge your value to society.


Goddard died on June 18, 1957, in Santa Barbara, California. He was 90 years old, but I thank the fact that he lived long enough to see the eugenics revolution shamefully put itself down in America, you know, after we saw it actually murder millions and millions of innocent people. Despite his assertion that his book may have been inaccurate, Goddard was still said to be confused when people said that his works were harmful, even when it directly said that immigrants were an immoral and unhealthy addition to our country.




I’d like to thank my sources for this week’s post, which you’ll find below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll check back weekly for new articles and news about our upcoming podcast! We’re storing episodes right now until we find a consistent recording and uploading schedule.


http://www.intelltheory.com/goddard.shtml Education, influences, studies







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