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Henry H. Goddard (1866–1957)

Background and Education, Intelligence Testing, The Kallikak Family Study, Controversy, Contribution

Director of research at the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feeble-Minded Children in Vineland, Henry H. Goddard used and elaborated Alfred Binet's intelligence tests for use with American students. Goddard made a number of important contributions in special education, including his guiding role in the establishment of the first state law mandating special education services. He is remembered, however, primarily for his work in popularizing Alfred Binet's approach to psychological testing in the United States and studying the hereditary roots of feeble-mindedness in his book, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness (1912).

Background and Education

Goddard grew up in a devout Quaker family, and his initial educational experiences occurred at Haverford College, a Quaker institution in Pennsylvania. At various points during his education, he took teaching and administrative positions in Quaker schools. At one point, he lectured at the newly founded University of Southern California–where he held the distinction of being that university's first football coach. But Goddard's interests in psychology lured him to Clark University to study with G. Stanley Hall, where Goddard gained an appreciation for scientific approaches to studying human behavior.

Upon graduation with his doctorate, Goddard worked for several years at a teacher's college in Pennsylvania, where he became frustrated by the lack of emphasis on scientific psychology and pedagogy. As a result, in 1906 he accepted the position of director of research at the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feeble-Minded Children in Vineland, a small town in the southern, rural part of the state. Although Goddard is best known for his work at the Vineland School, he also held two major positions in Ohio before his retirement.

Intelligence Testing

Early in the twentieth century, Goddard was concerned with separating, in his terms, the retarded–who suffered from poor health or environment and required remedial help–from the feeble-minded–who suffered from decreased mental capacity and required a special curriculum. Goddard believed that the Binet-Simon intelligence tests, recently developed in France, could aid in assessing the nature of this problem and began to advocate for the use of the scales in the United States.

About this time, American educators became concerned with the percentage of students who were older than would be expected given their grade. When the question of grade versus age became a major issue in American education, Goddard saw that the Binet scales with which he was already working could be used to study this issue. Goddard's advocacy for the Binet tests was enthusiastic and exhaustive. Well-connected in areas as diverse as medicine, education, psychology, and law, he championed the use of the tests in several venues. For example, he taught or organized courses for teachers on administration of the Binet tests at several institutions. These teachers proceeded to use the tests in educational settings throughout the United States. In addition, he advocated the value of test results as legal evidence. Goddard was also highly involved in the U.S. army psychological testing program during World War I, further legitimizing this particular approach to mental testing.

Goddard's advocacy of the Binet tests had two important outcomes. The mental testing approach gained popularity relative to the qualitatively different techniques used by Francis Galton and others who relied upon physical and physiological measures to estimate intelligence. Also, various forms of the Binet test, primarily revisions by Goddard and especially Lewis Terman, remain in use, and a majority of contemporary intelligence tests are based on similar methodologies. Without Goddard's influence, early-twenty-first century testing and related educational practices might look quite different.

The Kallikak Family Study

Goddard's other major contribution was his study of feeble-mindedness. Goddard's field-based research resulted in many publications, with the best known being The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness. Although Goddard and his assistants studied hundreds of families, the Kallikak family remains the most famous. The family was that of a Vineland student, Deborah. The name Kallikak is actually a pseudonym created from the Greek words kallos (beauty) and kakos (bad). The Kallikak family was divided into two branches–one "good" and one "bad,"–both of which originated from Deborah's great-great-great grandfather, Martin Kallikak. When Kallikak was a young soldier, he had a liaison with an "unnamed, feeble-minded tavern girl." This tryst resulted in the birth of an illegitimate son, Martin Kallikak Jr., from whom the bad branch of the family descended. Later in his life, Martin Kallikak Sr. married a Quaker woman from a good family. The good branch descended from this marriage.

Goddard's genealogical research revealed that the union with the feeble-minded girl resulted in generations plagued by feeble-mindedness, illegitimacy, prostitution, alcoholism, and lechery. The marriage of Martin Kallikak Sr. to the Quaker woman yielded generations of normal, accomplished offspring. Goddard believed that the remarkable difference separating the two branches of the family was due entirely to the different hereditary influences from the two women involved with the senior Kallikak.

Goddard's work had a powerful effect. Scholars were generally impressed by the magnitude of the study, and The Kallikak Family became very popular. Critical reaction in the popular press was positive, with more muted reaction within the scientific community. For example, James McKeen Cattell praised the contribution and conclusions but criticized the research design. The Kallikak study was a powerful ally to eugenicist movements, including that of the Nazi party, and contributed to the atmosphere in which compulsory sterilization laws were passed in many states.


Controversy followed Goddard throughout his career. However, the Kallikak study and Goddard's eugenicism in the 1910s created the most serious problems. For example, Goddard concluded The Kallikak Family with recommendations of forced sterilization and segregation of the feeble-minded in isolated colonies. His work also had a strong antiimmigrant tone at a time when immigrants were seeking citizenship in record numbers. Goddard later admitted that many of his recommendations on social policy had been misguided, but his controversial role earlier in the twentieth century helped to place his work in low regard by the 1940s.

By the end of the twentieth century, Goddard's research once again came under fire. A photographic expert suggested that some of the Kallikak photographs–those of the bad branch of the family–were retouched. Critics charged that the modifications were made by Goddard to give a more disturbing appearance. However, several researchers have concluded that fraud appears to be unlikely. As Leila Zederland noted, a main thrust of Goddard's work was to show that feeble-minded people looked normal and were often quite attractive; he was advocating for mental testing, not visual inspection, to determine feeble-mindedness.


Henry Goddard made substantial contributions to American education, including the popularizing of mental testing, compulsory special education, and gifted education. His research into the hereditary nature of feeble-mindedness and related eugenicist activities, however, has helped to paint the rather negative picture many people continue to hold of Goddard and his work.


FANCHER, RAYMOND E. 1987. "Henry Goddard and the Kallikak Family Photographs: 'Conscious Skullduggery' or 'Whig History'?" American Psychologist 42:585–590.

GODDARD, HENRY H. 1912. The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness. New York: Macmillan.

GODDARD, HENRY H. 1914. Feeble-Mindedness: Its Causes and Consequences. New York: Macmillan.

GODDARD, HENRY H. 1927. "Who Is a Moron?" Scientific Monthly 24:41–46.

GODDARD, HENRY H. 1942. "In Defense of the Kallikak Study." Science 95:574–576.

GOULD, STEPHEN J. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton.

SMITH, JOHN D. 1985. Minds Made Feeble: The Myth and Legacy of the Kallikaks. Rockville, MD: Aspen.

ZENDERLAND, LEILA. 1998. Measuring Minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Origins of American Intelligence Testing. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.



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