Many civil rights leaders alleged that, even after the revelation of genocide in World War II, eugenic influences remained strong in the United States because of Osborn and others of the Population Society (including John D. Rockefeller, Lewis Strauss, Karl Compton, and Detlev Bronk). He also encouraged and endorsed programs in Nazi Germany that sterilized Jews, Poles, and others deemed "unsuitable" to breed.[5] Although Hitler's genocidal tactics and acts caused revulsion in the United States, he continued to promote eugenic ideals.[6]

In 1940, Osborn was selected by Franklin Roosevelt to chair the Civilian Advisory Committee on Selective Service. Five months later, he took over as Chair of the Army Committee on Welfare and Recreation, responsible for information and education services for military personnel. In September 1941, he was commissioned as Brigadier General and appointed Chief of the Morale Branch of the War Department (later called the Information and Education Division of Special Services). By the war's end, he had earned promotion to Major General and had been awarded a bronze star in Paris, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Selective Service Medal, and he was made Honorary Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.


Rather curious as to why a man who seemed sympathetic to the Nazi cause was promoted in America at a time when America was both physically and ideologically battling Nazi Germany. While Osborn liked to describe himself as a "positive" eugenicist, his writings and propensity for advocating duplicity seemed to suggest far different story.

  • The quote provided does not support the rhetoric.
    – MCW
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 11:47

3 Answers 3


Osborne, as well as many others at the time, was a believer that Eugenics would lead to a better world for all. Eugenics had become a popular subject well before Hitler twisted it to his goals.

Eugenics was widely accepted in the U.S. academic community.[7] By 1928 there were 376 separate university courses in some of the United States' leading schools, enrolling more than 20,000 students, which included eugenics in the curriculum

It was considered a valid area of research:

The American Breeder's Association was the first eugenic body in the U.S., established in 1906 under the direction of biologist Charles B. Davenport. The ABA was formed specifically to "investigate and report on heredity in the human race, and emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood." Membership included Alexander Graham Bell, Stanford president David Starr Jordan and Luther Burbank.

and was also picked up by feminists and those supporting birth control laws:

The National Federation of Women's Clubs, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the National League of Women Voters were among the variety of state and local feminist organization that at some point lobbied for eugenic reforms.

One of the most prominent feminists to champion the eugenic agenda was Margaret Sanger, the leader of the American birth control movement. Margaret Sanger saw birth control as a means to prevent unwanted children from being born into a disadvantaged life, and incorporated the language of eugenics to advance the movement

Roosevelt hired someone who was one of the premier scientists in his field, due to the fact that his scientific knowledge was of import to U.S. policy. Remember eugenics ws being practiced not just by the Germans, but the US as well:

The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.

All above quotes from wiki:Eugenics in the United States

  • A little update.

    I looked at the article referenced by the question above, and found this quote:

The German sterilization program is apparently an excellent one,' remarked Frederick Osborn, secretary of the American Eugenics Society, in 1937.

and a little farther down the page, an explanation:

Osborn's enthusiastic endorsement of Nazi eugenic sterilization - which mandated the sterilization of people with disabilities deemed heritable

So this shows that, though the regimes later use of eugenics was horrific, that wasn't what Osborne was referring to. but the attempt to possibly eliminate genetic diseases, not genocide. These are the same applications the US was doing, with most of the sterilizations mentioned above being those in Insane Asylums.

  • Yes I know this. But I am wondering whether Roosevelt knew Osborn lauded Nazi dogma. I assume he did know. So why would he promote him?
    – masque
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 21:49
  • @masque I think it may be a case of looking at it from our time frame, where we associate eugenics with Hitler. But like many scientists work, the pure goal of scientific discovery may be eventually outshadowed by the political application or use of that discovery to validate someones non-scientific agenda. I can't speak for Roosevelt, but it may be that he hired Osborne for his expertise, due to the amount of political groups, some listed above, citing 'eugenics science' to promote their own racial or class-war style agendas as Hitler did. Best to have an 'expert' to confer with.
    – justCal
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 22:29
  • 1
    @masque Take a look at the update (from your source). It seems he was speaking of eliminating disease and mental illness, and the time was 1937, before any hints of what would begin 4 years later.
    – justCal
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 23:07
  • Yes but his comments on Poles and Jews are rather disturbing to a contemporary reader. Thank you for the clarification though.
    – masque
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 4:25
  • 1
    Did you look at my link to the article wiki lists as its source for that paragraph? I just double checked it, and do not find that phrase listed anywhere -the word 'Poles' appears no where in the article, nor do I see anything attributed to Osborn concerning Jews. Do you have any other links or sources?
    – justCal
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 5:33

"Eugenics," unfortunately, was a subject that was "accepted" if not popular at the time. But "pro eugenics" was not the same as pro-Nazi, even though there were some overlaps. One Roosevelt ally who was also a believer was a man named Winston Churchill, who was clearly not a "Nazi sympathizer." Most eugenicists advocated "protective" measures toward the "unfit" for the benefit of the rest of society that fell far short of the Nazis' "elimination," and were horrified by the German version.

Apart from his connection with eugenics, Osborn was a member of the establishment. He was a successful Wall Street man (like Joe Kennedy, another suspected Nazi sympathizer). He was an active member of one of the "pet" foundations of the Rockefeller family. Partly "immunizing" him from charges of being "pro-Nazi" (as opposed to pro eugenics) was the fact that some of his closest associates had names like Strauss, and Schiff, and Warburg, and could vouch for him. Finally, he was a member of the Carnegie Corporation; a fellow member was Henry Stimson, Secretary of War, and former Secretary of State, who ultimately nominated Osborn for the Army posts Roosevelt appointed him to.


Osborn was very much a part of the "establishment." His eugenics advocacy did nothing to isolate him. Nor did Sanger's views on race and abortion. Osborn was also an associate of Allen Dulles. They worked together to set up early psywar projects such as Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom. After the JFK assassination, Osborn's son would vouch for Ruth and Michael Paine, associated with Lee Harvey Oswald, to the FBI. Michael Paine's mother, Ruth Forbes Paine, was a close friend of Dulles' wartime mistress Mary Bancroft.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.