Eugenics in the US April 29, 2016Posted by irishelectionliterature in Uncategorized.
A review of what looks like an interesting book on The Eugenics movement in The US
The first two paragraphs of the review in The New Yorker
Carrie Buck was nobody you would have heard of. She was born in 1906 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Soon afterward, her father either abandoned the family or died—there’s no reliable record—leaving Carrie and her mother, Emma, in dire poverty. As a toddler, Carrie was taken in, with the approval of a municipal court, by a well-to-do couple, John and Alice Dobbs, who asked to become her foster parents after seeing Emma on the street. Carrie lived with the Dobbses and went to school through the sixth grade, after which they pulled her out of school so that she could do housework full time. She cleaned their house and was hired out to clean neighbors’ homes, until, at seventeen, she was discovered to be pregnant—she later said that she’d been raped, by Alice Dobbs’s nephew—at which point her guardians moved to have her declared mentally deficient, although there was no prior evidence that this was the case. They then had her committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded.
When Carrie was sent to the Virginia Colony, in 1924, the forward thinkers of America were preoccupied by the imagined genetic threat of feeblemindedness, a capaciously defined condition that was diagnosed using often flawed intelligence tests and by identifying symptoms such as moral degeneracy, an overactive sex drive, and other traits liberally ascribed to poor people (especially poor women) who were seen as having stepped out of line. (Just a few years before Carrie was committed to the Virginia Colony, Emma was also sent there. It seems that she had turned to drug use and prostitution—although it’s hard to say, since many female vagrants were labelled prostitutes.) A sloppy reading of Gregor Mendel’s pea pods and Charles Darwin’s theories gave a scientific veneer to the conclusion that many social ills were caused by the proliferation of the wrong sort of people and that they could be neatly nipped in the bud with the intervention of eugenics—a term coined, in 1883, by Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton, who declared it “a virile creed, full of hopefulness.” Soon, the United States, along with Germany, was at the forefront of the movement to improve the human species through breeding. Scientific American ran articles on the subject, and the American Museum of Natural History hosted conferences. Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and many other prominent citizens were outspoken supporters. Eugenics was taught in schools, celebrated in exhibits at the World’s Fair, and even preached from pulpits. The human race, one prominent advocate declared in 1909, was poised “to dry up the springs that feed the torrent of defective and degenerate protoplasm.”