Sample Summary Statement Forms PDF Print E-mail

The Summary Statement Form is the History Fair judges' first look at the student project. The judges see the thesis, main ideas, and student explanation about how the theme is integrated into the project. The other questions allow the judges to see the student historian at work. In the sample below, note how high school student Carl Arkebauer demonstrates his deep thinking about his thesis and the theme.

Download this year's Summary Statement.

Also, by using the Word version of the form and typing his responses rather than handwriting, Carl's SSF looks professionally done by a student that takes pride in his/her project and wants to put the best foot forward.


ALL PROJECTS: Attach an annotated bibliography. Please divide between primary and secondary sources. Please TYPE on sheet or use word processing. Two copies of SSF & Annotated Bibliography are required for competitions.

TITLE: The Eugenics Debate: Civil Rights Failures & Catastrophic Consequences

STUDENT NAME(s): Carl Arkebauer

This project uses the 2011 National History Day theme, “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, and Consequences.” All competing projects must have a Chicago connection.


Present the project’s argument or interpretation in two sentences.

In the mid-1910s, Chicago became the center a worldwide debate about eugenics that led many white Americans to embrace this movement as the scientific solution to social problems involving “defective” people who were a “burden to themselves and society.” Consequently, federal and state eugenics-based laws were adopted that are now considered serious civil rights failures, and then Germany adopted similar laws and used eugenics to justify killing millions of people during WWII. After the world discovered the catastrophic consequences of the eugenics movement, diplomacy led to reforms designed to prohibit the atrocious human rights violations it perpetrated.


Briefly explain your project and its conclusion. Include: How and why did change happen and what was the impact? Why is it historically significant? What historical meaning or importance can we learn from your findings?

Despite opposition by the Catholic Church and refuting evidence supplied by sophisticated geneticists, the movement gained momentum in America for three main reasons: (1) intense racism white Southerners felt towards newly freed African Americans, (2) ethnic prejudice that grew in intensity as enormous numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants arrived with different physical traits, political and religious beliefs, and customs, and (3) economic and social fears associated with mentally and physically disabled people and others supported by state institutions. By the early 1910s, the movement was being organized into a scientific discipline. The debate about infant euthanasia that started in Chicago helped popularize eugenics ideas worldwide. In an effort to eliminate “undesirable” segments of society, elite Americans relied on eugenics to justify laws that are recognized today as egregious civil rights failures. Wealthy Americans funded and supported the eugenics movement in Germany, where the Nazi Party enforced eugenic-based “racial hygiene” policies that led to the Holocaust. When the horrific consequences of eugenics and the “final solution” were discovered, the movement was finally discredited. Despite international diplomatic human rights efforts, the social attitudes that supported popular eugenics are far from forgotten. In 2010 some politicians raised the issue of healthcare “death panels” and endorsed race-mixing marriage bans and ethnically based immigration restrictions. We must examine eugenics-based ideas very carefully so we do not repeat the human rights failures of the past.

3. Required for projects using the National History Day theme only.

How does this project integrate the NHD theme, “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences”?

The History Fair theme, “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures and Consequences,” is the foundation of my exhibit. First, my exhibit focuses on the eugenics-based debate involving infant euthanasia that brought worldwide attention to Chicago in the mid-1910s. Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, a prominent Chicago physician, publicly urged parents to let their “defective” newborn die even though surgery could save his life. The parents agreed and the baby died, triggering an enormous controversy. Largely because Haiselden vigorously publicized and promoted these deaths (he even wrote and starred in a feature film warning against the marriage of “defectives” and allowing disabled children to live), hundreds of reviews, letters, articles and editorials were published on both sides of the eugenics debate.

The next part of my board will focus on the domestic consequences of this pro-eugenics publicity: legislation that is now considered a civil rights failure. First, the eugenics lobby actively advocated for involuntary sterilization of epileptics, the "feebleminded," and "hereditary defectives" in an effort to prevent these individuals from reproducing, thereby reducing the burden of "social dependents" who had to be supported in state institutions. Second, eugenicists supplied “scientific” ammunition to pass new laws and strengthen existing laws forbidding interracial marriage to prevent contamination of the white race. Third, eugenicists were recruited to support selective immigration restrictions to stem the flood of "inferior stock" represented by the Italian and eastern European Jewish immigrants.

The next part of my board will focus on the catastrophic international consequences of the eugenics movement. American philanthropists contributed massive amounts of money to eugenics organizations in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and Hitler used the American model sterilization law as a basis for sterilizing 400,000 disabled Germans who were viewed as a waste of resources. In 1939 the need for hospital beds for wounded Nazi soldiers prompted a "final solution" for "lives not worth living," so doctors identified more than 70,000 physically and mentally disabled people who murdered at hospitals. In 1941 medical and other personnel with euthanasia experience were reassigned to concentration camps in Poland, where gas was used to kill millions of Jews and other ethnic groups viewed to be enemies of Third Reich.

When the full extent of Nazi atrocities were discovered after WWII, the eugenics debate was silenced when both the public and scientific communities realized the catastrophic consequences of this movement. The newly created United Nations successfully responded to these horrors with diplomacy. In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, representing the first global expression of rights to which all human beings, including hundreds of millions of disabled people, are inherently entitled.

Because my exhibit board discusses both debate and diplomacy, as well a their successes, failures and consequences, my project integrates the History Fair theme, “Debate and Diplomacy: Successes, Failures and Consequences.”


A. What historical question did you start off with—and how did it change once you began doing your research?

My historical question evolved from focusing on the eugenics debate in Chicago to investigating the catastrophic consequences of this movement on the entire nation and the world. When I started my History Fair project, I was familiar with the big eugenics debate created by Dr. Haiselden and the Baby Bollinger case as well as the eugenics propaganda film called The Black Stork. Because I was unaware of the national and international consequences of the eugenics debate, my initial historical question was rather limited: “What were the consequences of the eugenics debate to disabled people in Chicago?”

As my research continued, I discovered that eugenics wasn’t just centered in Chicago; rather, it became a major social movement first throughout the United States and then in Germany. In addition, the impact of eugenics didn’t just stay with disabled people either. Eugenics-based laws were passed that prohibited interracial marriage, placed caps on immigration from “undesirable” countries, and involuntarily sterilized people who were deemed defective. These laws and regulations were created directly from the idea that defective people should be controlled and eliminated and are viewed today as horrible civil rights violations.

Before this project I also never imagined the effect that eugenics had on the world stage. Eventually, eugenics were used to justify the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” When this project started I never would have guessed how the beliefs of few would spread like wildfire across the country and Europe, leading to catastrophic consequences. Now my historical question is much broader: “What were the consequences of the eugenics debate to disabled people, minorities and immigrants in America and Europe?”

B. What kinds of sources did you use as evidence to develop your argument (for example, letters, photographs, government documents, interviews, etc.)?

I used a wide variety of sources as evidence to develop my argument. I discovered a number of excellent primary resources that discussed had first-hand accounts the eugenics debate about infant euthanasia in Chicago, including newspaper articles from 1915-1917. I also found an excellent book that was published recently about the infant euthanasia debate in Chicago that went on to describe Dr. Haiselden’s efforts to publicize his views on eugenics around the world, including a detailed account of his feature film called The Black Stork. I also used letters, government documents and newspaper articles from around the country (all primary resources) that describe the national consequences of the eugenics debate, including race-mixing prohibitions, involuntary sterilization laws and ethnically based immigration restrictions from the 1920s and 1930s. I also found similar resources that describe the spread of American-style eugenics to Nazi Germany and the catastrophic consequences of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” I also found a large number of photographs that will both enhance my exhibit board and strengthen my argument.

C. Select one piece of evidence that you used and explain how it influenced your argument.

One interesting piece of evidence that I intend to use on my exhibit board Is a newspaper article from the Chicago Daily Tribune dated November 17, 1915, that I found at the Chicago History Museum. The article is entitled “Does Humanity Demand the Saving of Defective Babies?” It is a wonderful demonstration of the debate that was going on about infant euthanasia being promoted by Dr. Haiselden in Chicago and the different sides of the issue. The article beings by saying “Various views were expressed last night on Dr. H. J. Haiselden’s pure science that the defective child in the German-American hospital shall be allowed to die. Here are some of them….” Reading the words of this article will have a significant impact on people who see my exhibit board because it captures the essence of the debate in a primary resource.

D. List libraries (other than school), museums, and other institutions that you visited to do your research.

On Site:

  • Access Living of Greater Chicago- Disability Rights Exhibit
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Chicago Public Library
  • Newberry Library


  • American Philosophical Society
  • The Rockefeller Archive Center
  • Truman State University—Pickler Memorial Library
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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