I’ve been very swamped with a new show, a world premier actually. It deals with a very dark part of history and I’ve been moved to write about it.
Eugenics – the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Kind of like genetic engineering. A kind of x-man study, perhaps an episode of The Alpha’s…..but it is anything but.
Indeed, Eugenics fell out of favor by the end of World War 2, but it was entertained by several countries around the world. These countries include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, The United Kingdom and The United States.
Eugenics, in all truth and reality, is not the study of “improving” the human race, but controlling the human race. In an effort to keep “unfavorable” genes from continuing on through the generations, those considered to be “unfit” were forcibly sterilized. Yes, sterilized. I.E. cutting the fallopian tubes or castrations.
So, exactly what made them unfit? Low I.Q. scores, epilepsy, deafness, blindness and more. For lack of better terms, depending on your IQ score you could be classified as a “moron”, “imbecile”, or “idiot.” But it wasn’t just limited to low I.Q. Scores or physical handicaps, it expanded to groups of people who were thought to have a high rate of mental deficiency and criminal behavior such as the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, African Americans, the Roma and the Jewish.
In the 1920s Eugenics was backed by some of history’s most well-known figureheads and leaders such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H. G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg, Linus Pauling and Sidney Webb. The best known proponent for Eugenics in America was Harry Laughlin. He ran the Eugenics Recording Office in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Laughlin designed a “model” law that outlined the sterilization process, whom should be subject to it and why. In 1924 the Commonwealth State of Virginia adapted a statue that made compulsory sterilization acceptable. This statue was based on Laughlin’s model law.
Shortly thereafter the State of Virginia wanted ensure this statute could withstand a legal challenge, so the Virginia State Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded petitioned the Board of Directors to sterilize Carrie Buck. Carrie was an 18-year-old patient at the Colony and the superintendent, Dr. Albert Sidney Priddy claimed that Carrie had the mental capacity of a nine-year-old and was a significant threat to the gene pool. He claimed that Carrie’s mother had a record of promiscuity and immorality. Carrie had been adopted and attended public school until the sixth grade. Priddy further insinuated that by the sixth grade she became “incorrigible.” Eventually she gave birth to an illegitimate child. Her adopted family had then committed her to the colony as “feeble-minded.” It was later found that the child she gave birth to was not by her own promiscuity, but because she had been raped by her adoptive mother’s cousin and her commitment was meant to save the reputation of the family.
Priddy died while litigation was making its way through the system and thus Priddy’s successor, Dr. James Hendren Bell, took over the case. The Board of Directors approved Carrie’s sterilization procedure, but Carrie’s family fought back. The case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court. It was argued that the due process clause guaranteeing the right to procreate and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was being violated due to the unequal treatment of the patients.
On May 2, 1927 the Supreme Court upheld the statute 8-1 and ruled that Carrie, her mother and her child were feeble-minded and promiscuous and that it was in the state’s best interest to have them sterilized. This ruling legitimized Virginia’s sterilization procedure. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the ruling stating, “We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Eugenics played a major role in Nazi Germany, with Adolph Hitler being one of the most interested parties in Eugenics. He wrote about it in Mein Kampf stating, “”A prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over the period of only six hundred years, would not only free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune, but would lead to a recovery which today seems scarcely conceivable.”
Eugenics became the heart and soul of the Nazi Party and the rest is history.
By the end of World War Two, Eugenics fell out of favor. However, in some states the practice of sterilization continued long after. The Virginia Law was not repealed until 1976. While now this practice is looked at as inhuman, in the early part of the century, this was very real and a part of our history we should not forget.
Here I remember all the children robbed of life.