Richard Louis Dugdale

The English-born American sociologist Richard Louis Dugdale (1841-1883), one of the first investigators to study familial feeblemindedness and criminality, is chiefly known as the author of "The Jukes."

Richard Dugdale was born in Paris of English parentage. He came to New York City with his parents in 1851, where he attended the public schools until, at the age of 14, having shown some ability in drawing, he was employed briefly as a sculptor. At the age of 17 he went with his parents to live on a farm in Indiana. Unable to perform manual labor because of heart trouble, Dugdale learned shorthand. In 1860 he obtained employment as a stenographer in New York City.

Dugdale attended night school at Cooper Union. He developed an overriding interest in sociological questions and was determined to be a social investigator. Since he lacked the academic degrees necessary for a university position, he entered business to accumulate enough money to allow him to pursue such a career.

In 1868 Dugdale became a member of the executive committee of the Prison Association of New York and 6 years later was appointed a committee of one to investigate 13 county jails. Struck by the consanguinity of many of the criminals, he used private funds to make a detailed study of one large family connection, "the Jukes," a fictitious name for a real family. The results of the research were published in 1875 as a Prison Association report, entitled The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease, and Heredity. The publication created a popular uproar, especially in the press. It was republished in 1877, together with his Further Studies of Criminals.

Dugdale believed that the results of his research indicated that heredity was of more importance than environment as a limiting factor in determining character and behavior, although at the same time he tried to give proper emphasis to environment. As evidence, he cited statistics relating to "the Jukes family." He discovered that of 709 persons (540 of "Jukes" blood and 169 of other strains connected to the family by marriage or cohabitation) 180 had been in the poorhouse or received relief for a total of 800 years, 140 had been convicted of criminal offenses, 60 had been habitual thieves, seven had been murdered, 50 had been common prostitutes, 40 women venereally diseased had infected at least 440 persons, and there had been 30 prosecutions over bastardy. All this had cost the state a minimum of $1,308,000.

Most of Dugdale's assumptions and conclusions about hereditary degeneracy are no longer accepted. What Dugdale had discerned is today known as "the poverty cycle" or "culture of poverty," and is believed to be the result of environment, not heredity. The value of his work was that it greatly stimulated discussion and controversy in areas which were much in need of investigation, and on which no unanimous agreement is yet in sight.

In 1880 Dugdale became the first secretary of the Society for Political Education. He was also a member of many sociological and civic organizations, wrote for scholarly reviews, and addressed leading scientific associations, particularly on criminology. The discovery of Dugdale's original manuscript in 1911, revealing the true names of the family, enabled Arthur H. Estabrook to make his comparative study, The Jukes in 1915 (1916).

Further Reading on Richard Louis Dugdale

Arthur H. Estabrook, The Jukes in 1915 (1916), contains a memoir of Dugdale and his work. See also George Haven Putnam, Memories of a Publisher, 1865-1915 (1915; 2d ed. 1916).