Like robins in spring, the return of the Barlow boys to the Sebastopol work camps announced the arrival of summer.
(Handwritten caption on photo: “A squad goes to a near by farm to pick berries.” Photo early 1910s and courtesy Western Sonoma County Historical Society)
In the early Twentieth Century, California juvenile courts sentenced boys who committed minor crimes or deemed incorrigible to spend the rest of their youth at institutions not unlike a modern prison halfway house. One of these places, the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco, struck a deal with the Barlow family of Sebastopol; during summers the boys would camp on the ranch and pick berries and fruit for low pay. Soon other farmers wanted in on the sweet deal for ultra-cheap labor and it wasn’t long before the Aid Society and similar institutions were sending up hundred of boys – some as young as seven – to work in West County fields and canneries every year. (For more background, see “SEBASTOPOL’S CHILD LABOR CAMPS.”)
The year 1911 wasn’t much different than previous years; at least four boys tried to escape and a pair of them made it as far as Sacramento – no easy task, considering their clothes were locked up at night and they probably had little or no money. The Santa Rosa newspapers predictably described the Aid Society children as being on “vacation” during their time here and boasted they were earning “splendid wages,” without mentioning they were being paid a fraction of the rate formerly earned by the adult farmworkers they were displacing.
Some new details did emerge however; we learn the Barlow boys were sometimes working over eleven hours a day in the fields, which certainly puts a crimp in the ol’ “vacation” portrayal. Thanks to a Press Democrat summary of the Aid Society’s annual report, we find more than a dozen of the boys escaped or tried to escape from their facility in San Francisco during the year, so it wasn’t just that they disliked their hands and arms being incessantly scratched by thorns all summer. The Aid Society placed employment above education and about two in three of the kids had a job, which suggests the Barlow boys were the leftovers, either too young to work or unemployable for some reason. Although they said “night classes are conducted for the benefit of these working boys and every boy is given an opportunity to improve his education,” I’m certain a 12 year-old who spends all day sweeping factory floors is raring to be drilled on his multiplication tables after supper.
We don’t know much about the boys individually except for the occasional anecdote, such as the two Santa Rosa kids who were sentenced there for truancy and stealing chickens in 1907. But we do know some interesting stuff about them as a group because a medical journal published a 1916 study of the “juvenile delinquents” at the Aid Society. We learn they were mostly a little taller and heavier and stronger than average for their age, with over half suffering dental problems – which is really no surprise as the kids were expected to pay for their own dentistry out of their earnings (clothing, too). .
Measuring their physical traits is all well and good, but what the researchers really wanted to know was this: How smart were they? Linking criminality to low intelligence was one of the burning scientific questions of the day, and most of the boys were sentenced to the Aid Society for minor crimes – stealing, burglary, truancy and incorrigibility (children who committed serious crimes went to the Preston School of Industry at Ione, which was like a prison). To make sense of what they found, we have to first wade into the murky waters of the “IQ” test.
How do you estimate intelligence? At the turn of the century, you primarily measured the size and shape of someone’s head; a pretty skull meant there were probably pretty brains inside, and a noggin that was small or shaped the “wrong” way meant the person wasn’t too bright and probably wanted to steal your watch. There were other considerations (tattoos! long arms! “precocious” wrinkles!) but all came down to the nonsense that you could tell how smart, dumb, or inclined to criminality someone was by looking at their body.
French psychologist Alfred Binet was among a few pioneers in his field experimenting with a radical new approach: Evaluating how well someone answered questions and solved problems. In 1904 the French government hired him to develop a test to identify children with learning disabilities so they could be helped with special education. Over the next several years he refined his method with a colleague and the “Binet-Simon Scale” became the standard method of evaluating children, although he never claimed his technique measured intelligence.
Binet’s test was adapted for American use in 1916 by Stanford University professor Lewis Terman, whose main interest was the opposite – using the test to spot “gifted” children. If those kids were given a good education, he believed they would grow up to be captains of industry, statesmen, brilliant scientists and other topnotch achievers. Professor Terman, it seems, was a true believer in the dark nonsense of eugenics with its notion some people are superior to others.
To prove his point, he followed over a thousand high-IQ youths – almost all white and middle class – around for the rest of their lives (Terman called the subjects his “Termites,” yuk, yuk). Ultimately he proved himself wrong; while a great many of them went to college, overall they were no more successful than other American boys and girls in their generation. Only a handful made any sort of notable achievement, but ironically two young men who Terman deemed not smart enough to qualify later won a Nobel Prize in Physics (William Shockley and Luis Alvarez).
Terman’s eugenic views are most obvious when he classified kids at the lower end of the scale. Binet called these children “retarded,” meaning simply they weren’t keeping up with their peers, and besides a lack of intelligence the cause could be family problems, bad teachers, or other reasons that could be fixed. When explaining how his test should be used, he worried that psychologists were too eager to tar these children for life by slapping labels on their backs with vague meanings such as “idiot,” “imbecile” and “moron.” Professor Terman and other eugenicists instead claimed those derogatory terms had scientific precision. Those below an IQ of about 25 he classified as idiots; a ranking of 25-50 was an imbecile; anyone between 50 and 70 was a low, middle, or high moron. Terman believed schooling these “defectives” was a waste of time and taxpayer money, except for vocational training. Possibly.
Lewis Terman’s first revision of the Binet test can be found in his 1916 book, “The Measurement of Intelligence.” Getting a good IQ score required more than quick wits, however; you also had to share Terman’s prejudices and cultural background. Some examples:
* Shown a drawing of a Native American rowing a white man and woman in a canoe, children were asked to explain the picture. An acceptable answer was, “In frontier days a man and his wife have been captured by the Indians.” An example of an unsatisfactory reply was, “Indians have rescued a couple from a shipwreck.”
* Asked how a “knife blade, a penny and a piece of wire” were alike, acceptable answers included, “All are metal” or “All come from mines.” It was wrong to say “they are small” or all were the same metal. Aside from the problem of assuming knowledge of different types of metal qualifies as a measure of intelligence, this is a poorly designed question. All three objects could be copper; it was regularly used in wire and copper letter openers were made. Also, brass and steel, both commonly used in blades and wire, are alloys and not mined metals.
* “My neighbor has been having queer visitors. First a doctor came to his house, then a lawyer, then a minister (preacher or priest). What do you think happened there?” The only acceptable answer was some variation of “a death.” Of those who failed to answer correctly, over half apparently did not know that attorneys wrote wills or ministers conducted home funerals. Wrong answers also included “a baby born” and “a divorce,” which Terman remarked was a very common reply from children living in Reno, then a destination for people nationwide seeking to end a marriage.
In his book Terman provided several case studies of low-IQ children, and a common thread was the futility of keeping them in school. A boy of eight was kicked out of kindergarten because his 50 IQ “required so much of the teacher’s time and [he] appeared uneducable.” A boy who just “stands around” and was “indifferent to praise or blame” was enrolled in a sixth-grade class at age 17, but was doing “absolutely nothing” in the classroom. They were also troublemakers, according to Terman: A “high-grade moron” boy “caused much trouble at school by puncturing bicycle tires.” A 14 year-old girl with an IQ of 65 was a “menace to the morals of the school because of her sex interests and lack of self-restraint.” Another young woman he called “the type from which prostitutes often come.”
The problem with eugenics (well, one of the problems) is that it’s built on the worst sort of slippery slope logic. Not only were defectives unteachable, declared Terman, but also prone to crime – a false assumption which still carried over from the days when we were looking at the shape of heads. In his 1916 book on the IQ test he wrote, “not all criminals are feeble-minded, but all feeble-minded are at least potential criminals. That every feeble-minded woman is a potential prostitute would hardly be disputed by any one.”
So did the IQ study of the Aid Society kids prove Terman right? The researchers found “dull normals” – meaning just slightly below average intelligence – were most likely to be there because they were skipping school (interestingly, they were also ten times more likely than any of the others to have bad hearing).
In the other three crime categories – stealing, burglary and incorrigibility – the boys with normal intelligence exceeded or were tied with those classified as being not as smart. More than half of the “normals” were there for stealing or burglary. The researchers also did a limited survey of the Aid Society boys’ backgrounds and it shows the main environmental factors they shared were extreme poverty and bad friends. It completely disproved Terman’s eugenics theories; these bad eggs were mostly average boys who happened to be poor and hung out with the wrong crowd.
Whether Terman read that study is unknown but it is extremely likely, given that it was based on the Binet tests he was then adapting for American use. It certainly didn’t make him waver in his views; as years went on his enthusiasm for eugenics hardened. He began saying some people – including entire nationalities and races – were uniformly inferior. He later wrote, “a median IQ of 80 for Italian, Portuguese, and Mexican school children in the cities of California would be a liberal estimate.”
We also can’t be sure if Terman ever came up from Stanford to visit Sonoma County, but if he did it was surely to meet Dr. Fred O. Butler of the Sonoma State Home (now called the Sonoma Developmental Center). Prof. Terman was an enthusiastic believer that “defectives” should be sterilized so they can’t parent children, and Dr. Butler had turned the hospital into a sterilization mill, leading the nation in performing thousands of such operations. And when eugenicists later classified homosexual boys and promiscuous girls as sexually delinquent defectives, they were forcibly sterilized by Dr. Butler as well (see “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS” for more).
Today the reputation of Lewis Terman has been largely whitewashed. A recent textbook on multicultural education points out that high school and college texts are likely to describe his genius tracking study and his revision of Binet’s scale but rarely is his eugenics history noted. A Google search for his name in scholarly books and journals shows the word “eugenics” appears in only 1 out of 10 works.
Yet the damage he caused was incalculable. By turning Binet’s method – which wasn’t intended to measure intelligence at all – into a written test with right and wrong answers, Terman made it easy to condemn people who tested poorly as inferiors, which usually leads to lives of lesser opportunities and hopes. He was a bad scientist with regrettable ethics; Terman was on the Advisory Committee of the American Eugenics Society and didn’t resign until after Hitler came to power, so maybe he should be called clueless as well.
The one bright spot in this dismal tale is that in 1916, the Barlow boys proved him completely, utterly wrong about everything. Too bad he wasn’t smart enough to pay attention.
DID GOOD WORK FOR THE BOYSAccomplishments of the Boys and Girls Aid Society–Boys Are Picking Berries
The annual meeting of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society was held on Tuesday for the purpose of hearing reports of the officers of the Society and electing a Board of Trustees for the ensuing year. In the absence of the president, Senator George C. Perkins, who is in Washington, D. C., the chair was taken by the vice-president, Charles A. Murdock.
The report of the superintendent, George C. Turner, gave the details of the splendid work of the Society for the needy boys of San Francisco and vicinity.
Two hundred and forty-one boys were received into the hands of the Society during the year ending June 30th, and received the benefits of special training and schooling including manual training under the Lloyd system.
The Society is working in conjunction with the juvenile courts and probation officers of this and other counties in the State and has received one hundred and forty boys from the courts.
As the boys improve in their conduct and when they have made satisfactory progress in their school work, they are secured positions through the employment agency maintained by the Society, through which one hundred and fifty-one boys were placed in good positions during the year.
The best qualities of manhood are developed by the care given the boys who are placed on their honor. This is shown by the fact that during last year 5,172 leaves of absence were granted on Sundays with but 13 failures to return–less than ½ of 1%.
For homeless boys the Society maintains the Charles R. Bishop Annex, where boys may board while they are learning trades and until they become self-supporting. These boys have individual rooms not very large, but neat and tasteful and have sitting rooms, library, and the family dining room where excellent meals are served at moderate rates. Night classes are conducted for the benefit of these working boys and every boy is given an opportunity to improve his education.
The younger boys are sent to approved country homes through the Children’s Agency, the Children’s Home Society and the Native Sons and Native Daughters Committee on Homeless Children, who last year placed out fifty-two boys for the Society. Children so placed are permanently removed from the streets of the city and often grow up in their environment.
In addition to the work in San Francisco, the Society maintains a summer camp on the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol, where last year one hundred and sixty-three boys were engaged in picking loganberries and Mammoths and Lawton blackberries, picking one hundred and ninety-four tons of berries and earning in all $3,948, of which the boys received $2,328.39, which was used for clothing and dentistry, and some of it put in the bank.
The summer outing is a great benefit to the boys and a great help to the berry growers, who have learned to depend on the boys for assistance in harvesting their berries.
The officers and trustees for the following year are: […]– Press Democrat, July 21, 1911BOYS PICKING MANY BERRIESHaving Great Financial Success in Their Labors
Special Officer W. D. Scott, of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society, came up on the evening train Tuesday with several boys, who were being escorted to the berry fields at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol.
Two of the boys in charge of Mr. Scott had recently made their escape from the berry fields, having taken French leave at night. They passed through this city and made their way to Sacramento before they wee captured. They were Clarence Johnson and H. Chapman. They enjoyed liberty for four days.
Officer Scott declares the boys in the berry fields are not only having one of the finest vacations they have ever enjoyed, but they are meeting with greater financial success than ever before. One of the boys in camp earned $2.64 in one day during the past week and most of the boys are averaging splendid wages. The berries are ripening rapidly and the lads are laboring until 6 o’clock each evening in the endeavor to relieve the vines of their burden of fruit before it becomes too ripe for shipment.
On a recent evening the books at the camp were examined and it was found that the boys had collectively earned $1800 up to that date in harvesting the berry crop. The harvest will last for some time to come, and it can be readily be seen what a financial benefit the outing of the boys turns out to be. Aside from this it gives the lads one of the best vacations in the country that could be planned for them.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1911RUNAWAY BOYS RECAPTURED
Two runaway boys from the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society camp at Mrs. Barlow’s ranch in the Gold Ridge district were taken back to camp by officers of the association Saturday night, after having been caught here by Officer Nick Yeager.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1911BOYS EARNED MUCH MONEYBerry Harvesting Profitable to Large Number
Something of the magnitude of the berry industry in the Gold Ridge section can be ascertained when it is realized that the forces of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society this season earned more than $4600 gathering the crop. The boys were paid four cents per tray for the harvesting of the berries, both Logans and blacks.
The boys went into camp on the Barlow place about June 1st, and finished picking the berries on September 13. Their record this year shows that they have earned one hundred dollars more than on any previous year, the record of $4500 having been made in 1910. This would indicate that the berry crop was slightly larger this year than the previous season.
Two-thirds of this money will be distributed to the boys who earned it, and it will be given them in proportion to the amount earned by each individual boys. With the moneys [sic] given to the boys they have the right to choose what they will do with it, so long as the contemplated expenditure is legitimate. Many of the lads buy clothing, some place the money in bank to draw interest, while still others help their families financially. Most of the boys buy magazines with a portion of their coin.
During the year the boys were engaged in picking for about twenty people while they were in the Gold Ridge section. Their camp at the Barlow ranch was dismantled Friday morning, preparatory for their start for home and Old Glory, which has floated from the flagstaff there daily was hauled down with appropriate ceremonies.
Ninety-five boys were in the merry party which returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train Friday, having had one of the most enjoyable outings on record.– Santa Rosa Republican, September 15, 1911