1937’s leading doctors ask, “Should Cousins Marry?” Plus: Why rich kids are the true underprivileged


Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

Hygeia: The Health Magazine

Date: November, 1937
Publisher: American Medical Association
The Cover Asks: “Should Cousins Marry? See page 980.”
Representative Quote:
“If defective animals are born, the stock breeder sends them to the butcher and continues to breed only from the best. In the human family the defectives remain to give cousin marriage an ill repute.” (page 1014)

People have married their cousins pretty much the day everyone got together and defined marriage and cousins. This is because every person alive would like nothing more than to keep the feeling of family get-togethers going all year long, especially the parts where you just look at each other and eat drab hamburger patties from Sam’s Club while some game you wouldn’t otherwise watch plays on TV.

Still, Americans know this is wrong, and that too many generations of it leads to Prince Charleses and high Mountain Dew sales, so we have banned marriages between first cousins outright in 33 states and the District of Columbia. (No consanguination or representation!)

But even Dick Cheney understands that skeeviness might not be reason enough to deny people the choice of who to marry. In this 1937 issue of the general-interest health magazine Hygeia, Paul Popenoe claims our view of cousin marriage “still dominated by the ignorant, if not superstitious, views of the past.”

Popenoe argues that many biblical figures married their cousins, as did important Egyptians and millions of people all over the world. Addressing the increased likelihood of birth defects – a suspicion confirmed – Popenoe insists,”Experimental inbreeding of small animals over 50 or 100 years has in recent decades cleared the problem up completely, from a scientific point of view.”

Our objection, he insists, is societal rather than biological. That means you better look sharp, even when it’s just you and the family! Hygeia‘s ads remind us that ladies never want to be flopping flappers.

One reason to marry your cousin is that your cousin is doing better than you. (That brings to mind the only “two-types-of-people” joke Your Crap Archivist believes in: the world is divided into people who are doing well, and those people’s cousins.)

In fact, here is where your cousins hang out:

Anyway, if you do marry well, and your child emerges unscathed from the womb, that kid is bound to be glum and friendless.

“Who is America’s underprivileged boy?” writes Frank Howard Richardson in the article “Sportsmanship Preferred.” “Is he the poor boy for who society has provided gymnasiums and swimming pools, camps and athletic fields? Or is it the rich one whose family is in comfortable circumstances and can buy him anything he wants?”

Good questions!

Richardson’s answer, of course, is that it is the rich kid who is disadvantaged. He tells the story of Frtiz Orr, a”keen young business and society man,” who started up a boys’ club in Georgia. Orr’s goal? To give the sons of “doctors, lawyers, executives of big business . . . at least as good a ‘break’ as the children of the tenements are entitled to receive.”

Richardson writes,

“As a result of this, the well-to-do boy of Atlanta has as good a chance today as though he were a poor boy from the recently demolished slum areas!”

That still doesn’t sound fair to me. I mean, if the poor kid’s entire neighborhood has been destroyed, think how much more fresh air he is getting!

Other articles focus on cleanliness, a popular fad of the time. In “Clean Sports – A New Angle,” C. O. Jackson suggests that school athletes not share towels and water bottles. Another article touts “vacuum methods” of housecleaning. Thelma Knoles, in”Growing Up Groomed,” proposes what today seem common-sense parenting techniques: teaching kids to wash hands, brush teeth, and engage in a daily “beauty routine.” But that’s not all:

“The little girl who is old enough to start school should have her own manicure set . . . If the right attitude about such matters is observed in the family, Brother may have a similar set without being considered ‘sissy.'”

Just in case this isn’t enough for mothers to worry about, consider this chart:

Shocking Detail:
From a column addressing real questions from readers:

Q: What makes a person sneeze after coming out of a dark room into the sun?


Issues of reproductive health are left to the advertisements.


Advertisers knew that frank talk about birth-control methods attracted attention. Even Kleenex capitalized on this:

[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice‘s sister paper, The Pitch.]