- Measuring Minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Origins of American Intelligence Testing
At first sight, the topic of Leila Zenderland’s biography is entirely clear: we all know about H. H. Goddard and his stark hereditarian views as he expressed them in his notorious study of the Kallikak family, which still serves as a prime example of bad science. Goddard’s work figured prominently in the scare rhetoric of the menace of the feebleminded, and of the threat of race suicide due to inferior immigration, during the two decades after its publication in 1912. In her detailed and exhaustive study of Goddard’s life and work, Zenderland paints a far more nuanced picture than has commonly been presented in the literature. She exonerates him from the worst allegations that have been leveled against him: his work, for example, hardly addresses issues such as race, racial inferiority, and the relative intelligence of immigrants from different countries. Eugenicists favoring immigration restriction often quoted his work; a close inspection of his writings, however, reveals surprisingly few statements on these issues.
In addition, Zenderland argues that the characterization of Goddard as a [End Page 525] hereditarian is misleading, because the term meant something entirely different at the turn of the century compared to the meaning it acquired during the acrimonious heredity/environment debates of the 1920s. In Goddard’s early days, heredity referred to all characteristics that children received from their parents, ranging from hair color to language and folkloric traditions. At the time, acquired characteristics were still easily inherited.
Zenderland convincingly analyzes Goddard’s study of the Kallikak family tree as a restatement of the old Christian belief, that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children unto the third and fourth generation, in the language of modern genetics. His book was based upon then-popular ideas of degeneration and the inheritability of a neuropathic constitution, which could manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, ranging from insanity, alcoholism, and dependency to neurotic tics and mania. Its forceful combination of an old-fashioned Puritan morality with modern science partly explains its popularity back then.
Measuring Minds provides an excellent view of Goddard’s childhood, which was steeped in the strong Quaker religion that was characteristic of small New England communities. It also provides a thorough insight into how the politically savvy Goddard convinced physicians working in institutions for the feebleminded, school teachers, social workers, educational administrators, immigration officers, and even army officers to use intelligence tests. In the process, he carefully carved out a niche for test psychologists that did not infringe on the domain of physicians and was safe from the intrusions of teachers. Zenderland’s analysis does not stop with Goddard’s biography, though. She also provides an excellent overview of the debates around intelligence testing during the decades after its introduction, when the terms of the debate were still being negotiated. The early phase of the debate was rather sophisticated; unfortunately, it is relatively little known today. The bitter controversies during the 1920s, when hereditarians were pitted against environmentalists, are more familiar, although not as interesting. The book strongly suggests that the discussions about intelligence testing in the psychological profession came to a premature halt at the onset of the Great War, when psychologists, out of political expediency, presented a united front to the U.S. Army.
This volume, richly detailed and based on extensive research of archival as well as published sources, promises to become the authoritative study of Goddard’s life and work, as well as of the early debates around intelligence testing.