So-called “designer babies” have generated fervent discussion in recent weeks, sparked by the latest online dating trend: a sperm and egg bank with the goal to make beautiful people. For some, genetic manipulation is a moral necessity, for others it is an ethical outrage. We are reminded of the eugenics movement.

“Better Babies” contests, originally conceived to promote child welfare and physical development, were the first eugenics contests run at a state fairs (the first held in 1908). By 1920, “Fitter Families” contests were also held at state fairs, where human “stock” was judged alongside cows, pigs, and produce. Contestants completed family trait forms, were examined physically and psychologically, and were graded and awarded prizes as a result. The image below may indicate that there was even a swimsuit competition!

Visit the topics “Better Babies Contests” and “Fitter Families Contests” on the Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement site to explore images of the movement.