American Humorist and Author, Sam Levenson once said, “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from you children.” It seems as though that Dr. Davenport would agree because his daughter, Elizabeth, is stressing him out and he feels like he is losing his mind. Elizabeth has decided that the frivolous life of a “deb” is not for her, and she has made up her mind to embark on a nursing career. For some reason, Dr. Davenport doesn’t want Elizabeth to become a nurse. Maybe he knows that being a nurse is hard work. It looks like Elizabeth is very frustrated about her father’s attitude. She thinks that her dad is an idiot. After all, doesn’t he realize that not every girl wants to sit around all day eating chocolate bonbons while waiting for Prince Charming to come sweep her off her feet? I bet Elizabeth wins this argument. She looks like she has spunk, and her friends are backing her up.

Although we know that some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may have genetic components, medical science once believed that all mental illnesses were caused by primitive drives related to heredity. In other words, mankind comes from a bad seed. According to the book, Modern Home Medical Adviser: Your Health and How to Preserve It, published in 1935, mothers could avoid raising someone who would become mentally ill by using sound mental hygiene techniques. These techniques included hitting and shaming a child into submission, and telling them that they were going to hell if they are bad. The author said that the child would grow up to be mentally ill if the mother did not use these techniques to suppress her child’s “evil primitive impulses.” According to the author, these impulses were genetically based, and to keep a child from becoming mentally ill as an adult, it was the mother’s duty to turn her child into a quivering psychological mess. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t write the book.

Dr. J. H Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes and the Chief Medical Director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium believed that “bad breeding” played a big part in the development of mental illnesses. In his book, A Thousand Questions Answered, published in 1917, Dr. Kellogg writes, “Mental defectives have increased within the last fifty years at the rate of 900 percent in a century. That is, at the present rate of increase, in one hundred years from the present time, 9 percent of the total population will be insane, idiotic, or imbeciles. Mental defectives now constitute 1 percent of the population. The recognition of a new class of mental defectives, the moron, gives us the key to a large number of social problems and explains the rapid increase of a certain type of criminal of the growing army of ne’er-do-wells. Of all classes of mental defectives this class is by far the most dangerous because they are not easily recognized except by experts, and so left to reproduce and increase without restriction.”

In order to save the human race from mental illness and other social ills, Dr. Kellogg advocated the use of eugenics and euthenics, and he also advocated the use of a eugenics registry in order to keep the “races pure.” Thanks to Dr. Kellogg and his followers, many states tried to pass legislation mandating the sterilization of mentally ill patients and other “undesirables.” That’s code for people of color. The idea was to keep the insanity gene from polluting the general gene pool. After reading his book, I’ll never be able to look at cornflakes the same way again. I’m sticking with Quaker Oatmeal for breakfast.


So much for the good old days of medicine when you could blame someone else for all of your problems. It really isn’t your mother’s fault.