The Jukes and Kallikaks

Have you ever heard of the Jukes and the Kallikaks?  I jokingly used the phrase recently, but the listener had no idea what I was talking about.  As I remember, we were taught about them in high school, Miss Straley’s social studies class, to be exact.

Both “Jukes” and “Kallikaks” are pseudonyms for families whose genetics were studied at the end of the 19th century. The Jukes illustrated the inheritance of criminality and the Kallikaks of feeble-mindedness (“feeble-minded” was the catch-all phrase used in those days for various forms of mental retardation and learning disabilities).

The study of the Kallikaks, a family from the nearby Vineland, NJ, area (not surprising if you know Vineland), was the most famous and was published in 1912.  The fictitious name “Kallikak” was derived by combining the Greek words for good and bad.  A Revolutionary War officer on his way home to Boston had a dalliance with a feeble-minded South Jersey barmaid and then continued home where he married a society woman and began his official family that eventually produced many illustrious doctors, ministers, and civic leaders. The dalliance with the barmaid, however, produced a child whose descendents contained a long list of mental defectives that had to be institutionalized.  The studies were well known enough that the phrase “Jukes and Kallikaks” was used to refer to inbred rural families, such as those depicted in the creepy movie “Deliverance” that starred Burt Reynolds as the leader of a group of city friends on a hunting trip in Appalachia.

Of course the phrase and even the studies are now way, way, politically incorrect, but if no one remembers the reference, no one is offended.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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6 Responses to The Jukes and Kallikaks

  1. Telling It Like It Is 2007 says:

    Some of us out here still remember what Jukes and Kallikaks refers to and the earlier studies done. Ironically the original studies on the “Jukes” came to the conclusion that the criminality and poverty weren’t really genetic in origin but were more sociological in nature and that was really the cause of the intergenerational poverty and criminality and lack of education. But the eugenicists of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s took what they wanted out of these studies. Modern day researchers have managed to track down the actual people who were involved in the original “Jukes” study. The original male ancestor was actually a man of Dutch descent who was a tavern-keeper in upstate New York in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and who by description of his contemporaries was not really a bad fellow but not a paragon of virtue either, and who in his younger days liked to “sow his wild oats” if you know what I mean. The progeny of that according to the study turned out to be the group of people who were supposedly of lesser intelligence and prone to criminality and scamming to get by.

    • domoreee says:

      Unfortunately, Hitler and the Nazi Party used studies such as this one as a basis for their various sterilization and extermination programs. It’s true – look it up.

      • Telling It Like It Is 2007 says:

        American advocates of eugenics such as Margaret Sanger used these studies also. Sanger, an icon of the modern Women’s Movement, and a founder of Planned Parenthood, in the 1920’s advocated forced sterilization of “the feeble minded” and groups of people that were deemed to be “social misfits”. Hitler actually borrowed many of Sangers ideas and conclusions and adopted them.

  2. Telling It Like It Is 2007 says:

    Here’s a link on the Jukes study done by Dugsdale in the 1800’s along with details such as the actual family name etc

  3. Truth Seeker says:

    Just because Adolf Hitler twisted and misrepresented an idea doesn’t mean it’s entirely false. That is logically fallacious. There actually IS some amount of truth to this. When people rant so hard to “discredit” something, I automatically become suspicious. Sort of like “nothing here to look at folks, lets move along now”. Ignorant hillbilly-ish white people who don’t really contribute anything to society and live in willful and deliberate ignorance, pumping out illegitimate babies right and left, doing “hillbilly heroin” (meth), and spreading this mindset to their whelped offspring are out there in great numbers in America today. The descendants of the Jukes and Kallikaks are alive and well in America today. This is not abstract thinking. My ex-wife was the illiegitimate offspring of her birth mother and a mysterious guy from West Virginia named John Cales. I won’t go into details, but trust me, like I said, the Jukes and Kallikaks descendants (a proper term for them, as opposed to ascendant) are still with us today.

  4. Red Flashlight says:

    The Jukesband the Kallikaks are now firmly known to be fictional.

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