Even as Americanization programs sought to assimilate immigrants into American society, the war strengthened the conviction that certain kinds of undesirable persons ought to be excluded altogether. The new immigrants, one advocate of restriction declared, appreciated the values of democracy and freedom far less than “the Anglo-Saxon,” as evidenced by their attraction to “extreme political doctrines” like anarchism and socialism. Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman introduced the term “IQ” (intelligence quotient) in 1916, claiming that this single number could measure an individual’s mental capacity. Intelligence tests administered to recruits by the army seemed to confirm scientifically that blacks and the new immigrants stood far below native white Protestants on the IQ scale, further spurring demands for immigration restriction.

A 1919 cartoon, Close the Gate, warns that unrestricted immigration allows dangerous radicals to enter the United States.

In 1917, over Wilson’s veto, Congress required that immigrants be literate in English or another language. The war accelerated other efforts to upgrade the American population. Some were inspired by the idea of improving the human race by discouraging reproduction among less “desirable” persons. Indiana in 1907 had passed a law authorizing doctors to sterilize insane and “feeble-minded” inmates in mental institutions so that they would not pass their “defective” genes on to children. Numerous other states now followed suit. In Buck v. Bell (1927), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these laws. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s opinion included the famous statement, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” By the time the practice ended in the 1960s, some 63,000 persons had been involuntarily sterilized.

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