Psychiatry and social values: the American Psychiatric Association and immigration restriction, 1880-1930.
From time to time during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the issue of immigration came before the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Members of the APA who publicly discussed the problem of immigration often addressed it in ways that emphasized the importance of hereditary and racial factors in determining mental health. There was considerable feeling among psychiatrists that the immigrant population harbored a large number of "mental defectives" who would taint future generations of Americans if not restricted. Though psychiatrists were not as extreme in their advocacy of immigration restriction as some segments of American society (Grob 1983), many were nonetheless eager to see limits imposed upon the entry of defective and potentially defective immigrants, particularly those from Southern and Eastern Europe. Some practitioners were also deeply concerned about what might happen to the state of American mental health if the racial mixture of the nation's population were substantially altered. On the other hand, some psychiatrists, particularly in the period after 1910, were uncomfortable with views that emphasized hereditary determinism and therefore emphasized the role of environmental factors in the development of mental disease. The purpose of this paper is to examine how social and cultural forces interacted with contemporary scientific ideas to shape the way psychiatrists dealt with the problem of immigration at the turn of the century.
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