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.