Blog 2- Something I know a lot about

Well, recently I finished composing a final paper on the American Eugenics movement. It is actually America’s forgotten silent bio-social experiment. For decades, America has failed to even acknowledge it. Until just a day or two ago, not compensation or apology has been made to victims or their families. North Carolina has just recently received compensation, though what I do not know at this present time. Besides the social impact that the Industrial Revolution created in America, This is definitely one of my favorite time periods.

Here is an excerpt from the previously stated term paper.

Throughout history, one simple idea has led to a breakthrough revolution, time after time. The notion of harvesting, machine power over manual labor, and social equality and harmony have led to changes such as the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Communist Revolution. With the positive societal changes however, like all forms of change, bring about a negative hidden change as well. The American Eugenics Movement is no different than any other movement or revolution. Behind the positive social intent lie the negative effects.

The idea of making a better human race, a superior and flawlessly designed race that would lead the world in a new and better direction has existed throughout time. The American Eugenic Movement sought just that, a new and better society, with the theories of Social Darwinism to justify it. Eugenics by itself is the study of “good genes” of the human race,[1] but in the context of the Eugenics Movement it was the social advancements of bettering the human race. [2] In theory, the movement was to improve humanity, but process left hundreds of thousands sterile, and with a feeling of violation of their rights.

Social Darwinism is the theory that only the strongest and better adapted races of society would give rise to social progress, and that the rest, would, according to Charles Darwin, would simply fade away, go extinct in a way.[3] One race would become superior, and all others would be inferior. This was simply the natural succession of society. This led to a fear of society, and the product of this was known as the Eugenics Movement. The American Eugenic Movement, like all revelations, began with the ideas of a single person, and in this case, Francis Galton.[4] In 1833, Francis Galton applied his cousin’s theories, Charles Darwin’s theory of ‘Evolution’ to the Human Race[5] to create the bio-social idea of creating the greatest race known to man. To create the ‘greatest race,’ and to improve humanity overall, Galton proposed encouraging the healthiest and most desired people to have more children.[6] However, society furthered this idea by suggesting those that were unfit should in fact, be banned by having children entirely.[7] Though this is a relatively impossible task, scientists, political, and social leaders tried their best with an all-encompassing approach. Everything from marriage laws,[8] to fairs and carnival attractions, to contests, [9]and even sterilizations[10] were adapted to promote this ‘New Society.’

America, it seemed, was overrun with persons of criminal nature, were mentally-ill, or physically disabled. The streets were filled with sex offenders, harlots, and other such social miscreants. These types of people were not only a financial burden on citizens, but a black mark on society, and were ‘infecting the gene pool,’ denouncing humanity and inhibiting a perfect society. Sterilization made sense; prohibit them from reproducing and passing on such traits as blindness, alcoholism, drug dependence, plain folly, and other such harmful traits. Soon their genes would die out with them in a generation or two and soon, America would be cleansed of its burden, and could undisputedly be called the great society of the west. We would be superior, and would be the role model to others on how to become a pure and dignified nation, that capitalism and democracy are superior to all other forms of government, that America truly is the great society to ever befall the Earth and exist, and make up the perfect human race.

Not all individuals were so enthusiastic about this new revolution, particularly those who were considered the degenerates of society. The ones society planned to get rid of. There was nothing they could do to stop the movement. Some tried, but failed. One of the most widely known such cases was that of Carrie Buck. Both she and her mother Emma were transferred to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded under the circumstances of the two of them being feeble minded and promiscuous for having children outside of a marriage. [11] Carrie’s daughter, at seven months of age was also deemed to have been feeble-minded.[12] They soon became the test family for the legitimacy of the new Sterilization Law of Virginia. Carrie Buck sued the Virginia Board of circuits for deeming her eligible for to be sterilized. [13]

The defendant, Albert Priddy, and later J. H. Bell, Priddy having died before the appeal,[14] argued that the mother and Carrie were ‘loose’ due to having children without marriage, and that both were feeble-minded, having been sent to the asylum.[15] Her daughter Vivian was also considered feeble minded, and was predicted to be just as ‘loose’ as her mother and grandmother.[16] The defendant tried to prove that people like her were producing more and more offspring who would contribute to the downfall of society and the burden that citizens had to pay to take care of, instead of being able to put the money aside for a project to improve the community, state or even country.[17]

Carrie Buck on the other hand, argued that one should not be sterilized simply for being feeble minded, that sterilization should be used only for in purposes to relieve pain.[18] Ironically, this family wasn’t as poster family to be candidates as one suspected. Yes her mother was institutionalized by the state and did have a child outside of a marriage,[19] but Carrie was a different story.  Carrie was adopted by a foster parent after being taken away from her mother when she was institutionalized. Their nephew raped her and Carrie bore the child before 18 years of age. To prevent even more shame to the family, her parents institutionalized under being licentious.[20] As for her daughter, Vivian, the nurse performing the test, passing a coin past her seven month old eyes to see if they follow to determine intelligence, later admitted that the child was distracted by the camera, not paying attention to the coin.[21] Both of these arguments were illegitimated and thrown out of the court because Carrie was “rambling thoughts out to protect herself, with no clear intention.”[22]

Eight Supreme Court Justices ruled in favor of J. H. Bell. Only Justice Butler dissented against the verdict. Mr. Justice Holmes read the verdict out, affirming the decision to “perform an operation of salpingectomy”[23] in the desire to make Carrie Buck sterile, for “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”[24] The option to sterilize the degenerates of society was officially available.

A similar account took place involving Oklahoma’s Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act. It was brought to the Supreme Court, Skinner v. Oklahoma, and the accused was permitted to be sterilized, despite her right to bear children, based on the fact that she was a repeat criminal.[25] Criminals and other such social unwanted were fully subjected to the laws of the land, and may, if determined by a superior force, be sterilized at will.

Between 1907 and 1963, over 64,000 disabled individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.[26]  Compulsory sterilization laws adopted by over 30 states,[27] meaning that if the institute leader felt you were unfit for society, or in any way degraded society, you could be sterilized without due process or interference with the law.  Between 1934 and 1945, more than 350,000 persons were sterilized.[28] According to records, 7,325 individuals were sterilized in Virginia under its sterilization law.[29] Of those sterilized overall about half were deemed “mentally ill” and the other half deemed “mentally deficient.” Approximately 62% of total individuals sterilized were female.[30]

America was not the only country to believe in this ‘Superior Race,’ nor believe in the policies of Eugenics. Adolf Hitler, in the time of Nazi Germany, is one of the most widely known advocator of sterilizations, and of the idea of Race Supremacy[31]. His ideal was Anglo-Saxon of origin, with blue eyes and blonde hair.[32] Jews, gypsies, mentally retarded, socially inadequate, and physically disabled alike were separated away from society. Adolf Hitler also implemented mandatory sterilizations for socially inadequate persons. By the end of the Nazi Era, more than 410,600 people in his German Republic had been sterilized. More than 10,000 people with alcoholism and 200,000 with hereditary feeble-mindedness were sterilized as to prevent more social degenerates from “contaminating the gene pool.”[33] The world viewed this as a horrifying monstrosity, compared to amount of people sterilized in America, beginning almost thirty years earlier. Even after the horrors of the Nazi sterilization program became widely known, sterilization continued well into the 1970’s.[34]

As a social movement, eugenics reached its greatest popularity in the early decades of the 20th century.[35]  The sterilizations during the American Eugenics Movement were a stepping stone, and were actually the foundation of the Holocaust in Europe and the Euthanasia Murders.

The Eugenics Movement was definitely a tarnish on the history that makes this country great, but whereas Germany has taken important steps to commemorate the horrors of its past, including compulsory sterilization, the United States arguably has not.[36] For some states, there are still laws in the books regarding sterilization[37], showing that it is still legal to sterilize without the need for a life and death emergency, though socially, it would not go over well. Most hospitals, asylums, and other places where sterilizations were performed have chosen not to document that aspect of their history.[38] Coupled with a proper set of inaccurate records, if at all, the Eugenics Movement sterilization toll estimated to be more than 420,000, [39] higher than that of the Nazi’s.

Throughout the course of the history of humanity, we, as the human race have many flaws. We are very critical of differences; we are very disagreeable, argumentative, reactive and violent. We believe in the idea of equality and peace, but when push comes to shove, we break out into war over the simple fact of defining a superior race. Even at a genetic level, we do not accept anomalies. If only we could create the perfect society, the better race, then we would be considered great. The American Eugenics Movement sought to solve this by removing malefactor genes from the American gene pool by sterilizing those who were considered a tarnish or burden on America’s society. This however lead to such things as privacy rights[40], stereotyping, and a non-lethal mass execution of races and minorities by slowing removing them from society, letting time be the ultimate silencer. Even when sterilization died out, its theories and consequences have not, and ultimately have led to the newest and most heated debates around the world, the right of privacy of women and to abortion.[41] Originating from the American Eugenics Movement, both show the continued effects of the bio-social program that went amiss.

If you would like the list of sources, please ask.


About lbannister117

I’m the outdoorsy kind of girl, one of those rugged beasts. Try hard, play hard, take no prisoners kind of people. I have the intelligence, and the feminism, but yet I'm still the hard-core ‘one of the guys’ kind of girl. I enjoy the company and views of others, and love having in depth conversations about everything under the sun, whether it be politics, the weather, an event in history, the news, or simply a good story.
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