insane asylum
A dark dirty white padded cell in a mental hospital with an empty chair in the corner lit by a single spotlight

The Insane Asylum Was The Birthplace Of Human Heredity Studies

Padded Cell And Empty Chair. Photo: allanswart (Getty)

Thank Christ it wasn’t the birthplace of orgies, or we’d be in quite of bit of trouble today.

According to Science News, a new book titled Genetics in the Madhouse by Theodore M. Porter is currently sitting on the shelves at your favorite bookstores. It’s a great place to start if you’re in the market for learning about the early days of the study of human heredity.

In 1789, England’s King George III lost his marbles, and that one moment “invigorated research at England’s insane asylums into the inheritance of madness.” In the years that followed, doctors on several continents began collecting family histories of “madness, intellectual disability and crime among the growing numbers of people consigned to asylums, schools for feebleminded children and prisons” in the belief that insanity and criminal traits were simply handed down to the next generations of the same families genetically.

Related: Secret Histories | “This Way Madness Lies” Exposes the Dark History of Asylums

The belief that mentally-disturbed people and criminals were a product of heredity eventually fueled the eugenics movement, in which reproduction among the insane would be highly discouraged. Walk outside for three minutes today, and you’ll see that eugenicists didn’t see their plan come to fruition in the way they had hoped.

Porter’s book sounds like an interesting read, and who knows, it might even explain a lot about your family.


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