Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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The Kallikak Family:
A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness

Henry Herbert Goddard (1913)

Director of the Research Laboratory of the Training School
at Vineland, New Jersey, for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys



The Vineland Training School has for two years employed field workers. These are women highly trained, of broad human experience, and interested in social problems. As a result of weeks of residence at the Training School, they become acquainted with the condition of the feeble-minded. They study all the grades, note their peculiarities, and acquaint themselves with the methods of testing and recognizing them. They then go out with an introduction from the Superintendent to the homes of the children and there ask that all the facts which are available may be furnished, in order that we can know more about the child and be better able to care for him and more wisely train him.

Sometimes all necessary information is obtained from the one central source, but more often, especially where the parents are themselves defective, many visits to other homes must be made. Parents often send the field worker to visit near and distant relatives as well as [p. 14] neighbors, employers, teachers, physicians, ministers, overseers of the poor, almshouse directors, etc. These must be interviewed and all the information thus obtained must be weighed and much of it verified by repeated visits to the same locality before an accurate chart of the particular child's heredity can be made.

In determining the mental condition of people in the earlier generations (that is, as to whether they were feeble-minded or not), one proceeds in the same way as one does to determine the character of a Washington or a Lincoln or any other man of the past. Recourse is had to original documents whenever possible. In the case of defectives, of course, there are not many original documents. Oftentimes the absence of these, where they are to be expected, is of itself significant. For instance, the absence of a record of marriage is often quite as significant as its presence. Some record or memory is generally obtainable of how the person lived, how he conducted himself, whether he was able to make a living, how he brought up his children, what was his reputation in the community; these facts are frequently sufficient to enable one to determine, with a high degree of accuracy, whether the individual was normal or otherwise. Sometimes the condition is marked by the [p. 15] presence of other factors. For example, if a man was strongly alcoholic, it is almost impossible to determine whether he was also feeble-minded, because the reports usually declare that the only trouble with him was that he was always drunk, and they say if he had been sober, he would have been all right. This may be true, but on the other hand, it is quite possible that he was feeble-minded also.

After some experience, the field worker becomes expert in inferring the condition of those persons who are not seen, from the similarity of the language used in describing them to that used in describing persons whom she has seen.

In Deborah's case, the woman first visited was the one who interested herself in the child and its mother when the latter had just given birth to her baby in the alms-house. From this woman was learned the subsequent history of Deborah's mother as given in the first part of this description. But references, supplied by her, soon led to further discoveries. The present family was found living within twenty miles of what was afterwards learned to be its ancestral home and in a region that was neither the slums of a city nor the wild desolation of the extreme rural community, but rather in the midst of a populous farming country, one of the best districts in [p. 16] the State. Thorough and carefully conducted investigations in the small town and among the farmers of this region showed that the family had always been notorious for the number of defectives and delinquents it had produced; and this notoriety made it possible to trace them back for no less than six generations.

It was determined to make a survey of the entire family and to discover the condition, as far as possible, of every person in each generation.

The surprise and horror of it all was that no matter where we traced them, whether in the prosperous rural district, in the city slums to which some had drifted, or in the more remote mountain regions, or whether it was a question of the second or the sixth generation, an appalling amount of defectiveness was everywhere found.

In the course of the work of tracing various members of the family, our field worker occasionally found herself in the midst of a good family of the same name, which apparently was in no way related to the girl whose ancestry we were investigating. In such cases, there was nothing to be done but to beat a retreat and start again in another direction. However, these cases became so frequent that there gradually grew the conviction that ours must be a degenerate offshoot from an older family of better stock. Definite work was [p. 17] undertaken in order to locate the point at which the separation took place. Over and over, the investigation was laid aside in sheer despair of ever being able to find absolute proofs or to establish missing links in the testimony. Then some freshly discovered facts, that came often quite unexpectedly, would throw new light on the situation, and the work would be resumed.

The great-great-grandfather of Deborah[1] was Martin Kallikak.[1] That we knew. We had also traced the good family, before alluded to, back to an ancestor belonging to an older generation than this Martin Kallikak, but bearing the same name. He was the father of a large family. His eldest son was named Frederick, but there was no son by the name of Martin. Consequently, no connection could be made. Many months later, a granddaughter of Martin revealed in a burst of confidence the situation. She told us (and this was afterwards fully verified) that Martin had a half brother Frederick, -- and that Martin never had an own brother "because," as she now naïvely expressed it, "you see, his mother had him before she was married." Deeper scrutiny into the life of Martin Kallikak Sr., which was made possible through well-preserved family records, enabled us to complete the story. [p. 18]

When Martin Sr., of the good family, was a boy of fifteen, his father died, leaving him without parental care or oversight. Just before attaining his majority, the young man joined one of the numerous military companies that were formed to protect the country at the beginning of the Revolution. At one of the taverns frequented by the militia he met a feeble-minded girl by whom he became the father of a feeble-minded son. This child was given, by its mother, the name of the father in full, and thus has been handed down to posterity the father's name and the mother's mental capacity. This illegitimate boy was Martin Kallikak Jr., the great-great-grandfather of our Deborah, and from him have come four hundred and eighty descendants. One hundred and forty-three of these, we have conclusive proof, were or are feeble-minded, while only forty-six have been found normal. The rest are unknown or doubtful.

Among these four hundred and eighty descendants, thirty-six have been illegitimate.

There have been thirty-three sexually immoral persons, mostly prostitutes.

There have been twenty-four confirmed alcoholics.

There have been three epileptics.

Eighty-two died in infancy. [p. 19]

Three were criminal.

Eight kept houses of ill fame.

These people have married into other families, generally of about the same type, so that we now have on record and charted eleven hundred and forty-six individuals.

Of this large group, we have discovered that two hundred and sixty-two were feeble-minded, while one hundred and ninety-seven are considered normal, the remaining five hundred and eighty-one being still undetermined. "Undetermined," as here employed, often means not that we knew nothing about the person, but that we could not decide. They are people we can scarcely recognize as normal; frequently they are not what we could call good members of society. But it is very difficult to decide without more facts whether the condition that we find or that we learn about, as in the case of older generations, is or was really one of true feeble-mindedness.)

In 1803, Martin Kallikak Jr., otherwise known as the "Old Horror," married Rhoda Zabeth, a normal woman. (See Chart II.) They had ten children, of whom one died in infancy and another died at birth with the mother. Of those who lived, the oldest was Millard, the direct ancestor of our Deborah. He [p. 20] married Althea Haight, and they had fifteen children, of whom more later.

The next born of Martin Jr. was Nathan, known in the community as "Daddy" (see Chart III),[2] who died at the advanced age of ninety-three. He was the father of six children. One of his sons was a criminal, a horse thief, who also stole a flock of sheep which the owner all unwittingly helped him to drive away. Three other children of "Daddy" married and themselves had children. These are all families about whose mentality it is difficult to decide. They are all peculiar, but more respectable than some other branches of this family. One is dead. The sixth, a daughter, is feeble-minded and sexually immoral. She married a man who was feeble-minded and alcoholic. Of her six children, two at least are feeble-minded. Whether her husband is the father of all of the children is very doubtful. Sexual immorality and alcoholism are prevalent in this family. One of the sons married a feeble-minded woman who came from feeble-minded stock. They had six children, all of whom were feeble-minded. One of these is of the Mongolian type, an interesting fact, as it shows that this particular form of arrest of development may occur in a defective family. [p. 21]

Martin Jr.'s third child was James (Chart II), who went away, and we know nothing about him.

Martin Jr.'s fourth child, "Old Sal" (Chart IV), was feeble-minded and she married a feeble-minded man. Two of their children are undetermined, but one of these had at least one feeble-minded grandchild; the other, an alcoholic man, had three feeble-minded grandchildren, one of whom is in the Training School at Vineland. She is thus a cousin of Deborah -- a fact not known until this study was made. The two other children of Old Sal were feeble-minded, married feeble-minded wives, and had large families of defective children and grandchildren, as will be seen in the chart.

The fifth child of Martin Jr. was Jemima (Chart V), feeble-minded and sexually immoral. She lived with a feeble-minded man named Horser, to whom she was supposed to have been married. Of her five children, three are known to have been feeble-minded, two are undetermined. From these again, have come a large number of feeble-minded children and grandchildren. Jemima had an illegitimate son by a man who was high in the Nation's offices. This son married a feeble-minded girl and they had feeble-minded children, and grandchildren.

The sixth child of Martin Jr., known as "Old Moll" [p. 22] (Chart VI), was feeble-minded, alcoholic, epileptic, and sexually immoral. She had three illegitimate children who were sent to the almshouse, and from there bound out to neighboring farmers. One of these turned out normal, one was feeble-minded, and the other undetermined. Neither of the two older ones had any children. The third child, a daughter, was tubercular, but nothing is known of her descendants, except that there were several children and grandchildren.

The seventh child of Martin Jr. was a daughter, Sylvia (Chart VII), who seemed to be a normal woman. She was taken very young by a good family who brought her up carefully. She later married a normal man. Although we have marked her normal, she was always peculiar. All her children and grandchildren were either normal or are undetermined.

The youngest child of Martin Jr. who lived to grow up was Amy Jones, also normal. (Chart VIII.) She, too, was taken into a good family and married a normal man, and lived to be very old. Two of Amy's children died in infancy. Of two others, one was normal and one feeble-minded. This latter married a normal man and had one feeble-minded and immoral daughter; five other children are undetermined.

We now return to Martin Jr.'s oldest son, Millard [p. 23] (Chart IX), to take up the story of his descendants, of whom our girl Deborah is one.

Millard married Althea Haight about 1830 They had fifteen children born in the following years: 1830, 1831, 1832, 1834, 1836, 1838, 1840, 1841, 1843, 1845, 1847, 1849, 1851, 1854, 1856. The mother died in 1857. This mother, Althea Haight, was feeble-minded. That she came from a feeble-minded family is evidenced by the fact that she had at least one feeble-minded brother, while of her mother it was said that the "devil himself could not live with her." The feeble-minded brother had six children, of whom three are known to have been feeble-minded. He had seven grandchildren who were feeble-minded, and no less than nine feeble-minded great-grandchildren. (These are not shown on the chart.)

The oldest child of Millard and Althea was a daughter who grew up a feeble-minded and immoral woman. She had several husbands, but only one of her children lived to be old enough to marry. This one, a daughter of illegitimate birth, married a man of good family who was a confirmed alcoholic. Their children are all undetermined, except one who was normal.

The second child of Millard, a daughter, was a bad character. We know of one illegitimate and feeble- minded son who married a feeble-minded and immoral [p. 24] girl. They had four children, but all died in infancy. This wife was also the mother of an illegitimate son, who was feeble-minded and sexually immoral. The third child of Millard was Justin (Chart IX, section E), the grandfather of our Deborah. His family we shall discuss later.

According to Mendelian expectation, all of the children of Millard Kallikak and Althea Haight should have been feeble-minded, because the parents were such. The facts, so far as known, confirm this expectation, with the exception of the fourth child, a daughter, who was taken into a good family and grew up apparently a normal woman. She married a normal man and they had one son who was normal. He married a normal woman and they have two children, a boy and girl, who are normal and above average intelligence.

The fifth child was Albert, feeble-minded, who died at twenty-five, unmarried.

The sixth child was Warren, who had four children, three of whom were feeble-minded and of very doubtful morality. Each of the three had feeble-minded children. One of these, Guss by name, was specially loose and much mixed in his marital relations.

The seventh child was Lavinia, who died unmarried at the age of thirty-nine. She had been brought up [p. 25] in a good family and never manifested any of those characteristics that indicate feeble-mindedness.

The eighth was Cordelia, who died at nine; condition unknown.

The ninth was Prince, who died at four years.

The tenth was Paula, feeble-minded; married and had four children. Her husband and children are undetermined.

Then comes Gregory, the eleventh, who was feeble-minded and alcoholic. He married an alcoholic and syphilitic woman, mentality difficult to determine. They had seven children, of whom two were feeble-minded, syphilitic, alcoholic, and sexually immoral. One died of delirium tremens, the other of alcoholism, leaving a long line of descendants. The other children died young, except one daughter who has a feeble-minded grandchild who cannot speak.

The twelfth child was Harriet, feeble-minded, twice married, but without children.

The thirteenth, Sanders, who was drowned as a young man, was feeble-minded and sexually immoral.

The fourteenth was Thomas, feeble-minded, alcoholic, and sexually immoral. He died from over self-indulgence. He was married and had a daughter, but her condition as well as her mother's is unknown. [p. 26]

The last child was Joseph, feeble-minded. He married his first cousin, Eva Haight, who was also feeble-minded. They had five children, two dying in infancy, and the rest feeble-minded. Of their nineteen grandchildren, five died in infancy, one is undetermined, and the remaining thirteen are all feeble-minded.

Millard Kallikak married for his second wife a normal woman, a sister of a man of prominence. She was, however, of marked peculiarity. By her, he had three children; two died in infancy. The one who grew to manhood was alcoholic and syphilitic. He ran off with the wife of his nephew, who was about his own age. His mental condition is undetermined. He was killed by an accident a few years later.

We now return to the third born of this family, Justin Kallikak, the grandfather of our Deborah (Chart IX, section E). He was feeble-minded, alcoholic, and sexually immoral. He married Eunice Barrah, who belonged to a family of dull mentality. Her mother and paternal grandfather were feeble-minded, and the grandfather had a brother that was feeble-minded. That brother had at least six descendants who were feeble-minded. The father, also, had a brother feeble-minded who had eleven children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who were feeble-minded. (Not shown). [p. 27]

The children of Deborah's grandparents, Justin and Eunice, were as follows: first, Martha, the mother of our Deborah, whose story has already been partly told. This woman is supposed to have had three illegitimate children before Deborah was born. They died in infancy. The next younger half sister of Deborah was placed out by a charitable organization when very young. From their records we learn that in five years she had been tried in thirteen different families and by all found impossible. In one of these she set the barn on fire. When found by our field worker, she had grown to be a girl of twenty, pretty, graceful, but of low mentality. She had already followed the instinct implanted in her by her mother, and was on the point of giving birth to an illegitimate child. She was sent to a hospital. The child died, and then the girl was placed permanently in a home for feeble-minded. An own brother of this girl was placed out in a private family. When a little under sixteen, his foster mother died and her husband married again. Thus the boy was turned adrift. Having been well trained, and being naturally of an agreeable disposition, he easily found employment. Bad company, however, soon led to his discharge. He has now drifted into one of our big cities. It requires no prophet to predict his future. [p. 28]

The last family of half brothers and sisters of Deborah are, at present, living with the mother and her second husband. The oldest three of these are distinctly feeble-minded. Between them and the two younger children there was a stillbirth and a miscarriage. The little ones appear normal and test normal for their ages, but there is good reason to believe that they will develop the same defect as they grow older.

Besides the mother of Deborah, Justin and Eunice had ten other children, of whom six died in infancy. One of the daughters, Margaret, was taken by a good family when a very small child. When she was about thirteen, she visited her parents for a few weeks. While her mother was away at work, her father, who was a drunken brute, committed incest with her. When the fact became known in her adopted home, she was placed in the almshouse. The child born there soon died, and she was again received into the family where she formerly lived. The care with which she was surrounded prevented her from becoming a vicious woman. Although of dull mentality, she was a good and cheerful worker. When about thirty-five, she married a respectable workingman but has had no children by him.

Another daughter, Abigail, feeble-minded, married a feeble-minded man by whom she had two feeble- [p. 29] minded children, besides a third that died in infancy. She later married a normal man.

The next child of Justin and Eunice was Beede, who is feeble-minded. He married a girl who left him before their child was born. He lives at present with a very low, immoral woman.

The youngest child of Justin and Eunice was a son, Gaston, feeble-minded and a horse thief; he removed to a distant town where he married. He has one child; mentality of both mother and child undetermined.

This is the ghastly story of the descendants of Martin Kallikak Sr., from the nameless feeble-minded girl.

Although Martin himself paid no further attention to the girl nor her child, society has had to pay the heavy price of all the evil he engendered.

Martin Sr., on leaving the Revolutionary Army, straightened up and married a respectable girl of good family, and through that union has come another line of descendants of radically different character. These now number four hundred and ninety-six in direct descent. All of them are normal people. Three men only have been found among them who were somewhat degenerate, but they were not defective. Two of these were alcoholic, and the other sexually loose.

All of the legitimate children of Martin Sr. married [p. 30] into the best families in their state, the descendants of colonial governors, signers of the Declaration of Independence, soldiers and even the founders of a great university. Indeed, in this family and its collateral branches, we find nothing but good representative citizenship. There are doctors, lawyers, judges, educators, traders, landholders, in short, respectable citizens, men and women prominent in every phase of social life. They have scattered over the United States and are prominent in their communities wherever they have gone. Half a dozen towns in New Jersey are named from the families into which Martin's descend ants have married. There have been no feeble-minded among them; no illegitimate children; no immoral women; only one man was sexually loose. There has been no epilepsy, no criminals, no keepers of houses of prostitution. Only fifteen children have died in infancy. There has been one "insane,'' a case of religious mania, perhaps inherited, but not from the Kallikak side. The appetite for strong drink has been present here and there in this family from the beginning. It was in Martin Sr., and was cultivated at a time when such practices were common everywhere. But while the other branch of the family has had twenty-four victims of habitual drunkenness, this side scores only two.

The charts of these two families follow.


[1] All names, both Christian and surnames, are fictitious.

[2] It is important to trace out in detail these relationships on the charts.