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The guarded gate : bigotry, eugenics, and the law that kept two generations of Jews, Italians, and other European immigrants out of America

by Okrent, Daniel, 1948-

Format: Print Book 2019.
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By the widely celebrated New York Times bestselling author of Last Call --the powerful, definitive, and timely account of how the rise of eugenics helped America close the immigration door to "inferiors" in the 1920s.

A forgotten, dark chapter of American history with implications for the current day, The Guarded Gate tells the story of the scientists who argued that certain nationalities were inherently inferior, providing the intellectual justification for the harshest immigration law in American history. Brandished by the upper class Bostonians and New Yorkers--many of them progressives--who led the anti-immigration movement, the eugenic arguments helped keep hundreds of thousands of Jews, Italians, and other unwanted groups out of the US for more than 40 years.

Over five years in the writing, The Guarded Gate tells the complete story from its beginning in 1895, when Henry Cabot Lodge and other Boston Brahmins launched their anti-immigrant campaign. In 1921, Vice President Calvin Coolidge declared that "biological laws" had proven the inferiority of southern and eastern Europeans; the restrictive law was enacted three years later. In his characteristic style, both lively and authoritative, Okrent brings to life the rich cast of characters from this time, including Lodge's closest friend, Theodore Roosevelt; Charles Darwin's first cousin, Francis Galton, the idiosyncratic polymath who gave life to eugenics; the fabulously wealthy and profoundly bigoted Madison Grant, founder of the Bronx Zoo, and his best friend, H. Fairfield Osborn, director of the American Museum of Natural History; Margaret Sanger, who saw eugenics as a sensible adjunct to her birth control campaign; and Maxwell Perkins, the celebrated editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. A work of history relevant for today, The Guarded Gate is an important, insightful tale that painstakingly connects the American eugenicists to the rise of Nazism, and shows how their beliefs found fertile soil in the minds of citizens and leaders both here and abroad.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Most political shifts reflect established social currents, and such was certainly the case for the Immigration Act of 1924. This book explores two movements, immigration restriction and eugenics, that gained momentum around the turn of the twentieth century and eventually inspired the law's passage. Okrent (Last Call, 2010), an editor and historian, describes how each practice developed conceptually and how they were brought together in the early 1910s to promote scientific racism as a political creed. He focuses on their mostly WASP leaders and the philanthropists and publishers who enabled their shaping of American public discourse, including just enough broader commentary to explain how the country shifted from its pre-WWI open-door policy to the exclusionary doctrine of the 1920s. In a brief discussion of the act's aftermath, Okrent makes clear that its restrictions of European Jews and other refugees from fascism during the 1930s was not the only evil wrought by these thinkers. The Nazi ideology that caused them to flee was heavily influenced by American scientific racism. A sobering, valuable contribution to discussions about immigration.--Sara Jorgensen Copyright 2019 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "As journalist and popular historian Okrent (Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center) shows in this engrossing book, the American eugenics movement demonized not only people of non-European descent but also the inhabitants of southern and eastern Europe. Influenced by the Victorian English social scientist Francis Galton and his concept of the "inheritability of talent" within both families and cultures, many of the leading intellectuals of the late 19th- and early 20th-century U.S. considered Italian immigrants to be "gross little aliens" and Eastern European Jews "furtive, reeking, snarling Yacoob[s] and Ysaac[s]" who, unlike previous generations of immigrants from northern and western Europe, were, not just "beaten men" but members of "beaten races." Thus, eugenics supporters concluded, their descendants would not be worthy to live in the U.S., and their presence could only undermine the nation's culture and even its security. At the height of eugenics' appeal in the isolationist 1920s, its supporters convinced Congress to place strict limits on immigration that "kept 18 million Europeans from American shores," including many who would die in the course of WWII. Although Okrent ends on a positive note, with Lyndon Johnson signing into law a nationality-blind immigration measure, this fascinating study vividly illuminates the many injustices that the pseudoscience of eugenics inflicted on so many would-be Americans. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Eugenics -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
Sterilization (Birth control) -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
Discrimination in medical care -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
Human reproduction -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
Emigration and immigration law -- United States -- History.
Publisher New York :2019.
Edition First Scribner hardcover edition.
Language English
Description xvi, 478 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 433-451) and index.
ISBN 9781476798035
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