In Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia, Dr. Elizabeth Catte expertly investigates and contextualizes the local history of eugenics in Staunton, Virginia. The story of the former Western State Lunatic Asylum—now renovated as a luxury hotel and pricey condos—demonstrates how race, gender, class and capitalism intersect in the American eugenics movement to… Read more →
Search Results for: eugenics
Carrie Buck was three months shy of her twenty-second birthday when she was forcibly sterilized on October 19, 1927. Buck’s fate was based on the 1924 Virginia eugenic sterilization law, which marked individuals for sterilization based on vague and misleading concepts such as immorality, defectiveness, weak-mindedness, and promiscuity.1 Eugenicists, social hygienists, and lawmakers passed state… Read more →
Eugenics as an explicit social program went mostly out of favor in the United States after the Second World War, although many of its underlying beliefs, methods, and goals persisted. The science and language of genetics remained. The techniques used to modify plants and animals continued. Horticulture continued to develop (“Horticulture!?” you ask. Why yes,… Read more →
Eugenics is still a dirty word. It makes us think about science gone horribly wrong. It reminds us of the ghosts of Nazis past. The specter of eugenics is invoked when discussing new genetic technologies, often serving as a warning that engineering humanity can go too far. It wasn’t always like this. For much of… Read more →
By Tina M. Kibbe
Happy New Year! As another year ends, I wanted to take a look at three news stories involving eugenics and genetics in 2013 that you may have missed.
A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) disclosed that physicians, under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, performed tubal ligations on nearly 150 female inmates while they were housed at two of the institutions under its authority. Between 2006 and 2010 148 women at the California Institution for Women in… Read more →
Surprisingly, I have been asked that question on more than one occasion. I have had students ask me during class and once after a conference presentation. The last time I was confronted with this question was in my summer class, when an earnest young student asked, “If you take the racial prejudice out, what’s wrong with eugenics?” The student continued to press his point: “What’s wrong with a program that has the goal of improving the human race and now that genetics is so advanced, surely we could make sure that people have the best genes and traits. Wouldn’t that make for a healthier, happier population?” Hmm. So much to think about here. A program that uses cutting edge science to improve the human race by ensuring that individuals have only the best genes or traits so that people will be healthy and happy? Indeed, what is so bad about that? Who can say, “NO” to having the best genes, being healthy, and being happy? This is precisely the reason why eugenics was fairly easy “to sell” in the early twentieth century. For the sake of brevity, let’s set aside the vast complexity of the science of genetics and pretend that we could just pluck out the “bad” genes and insert the “good” ones on DNA strands so that in a few generations we might have a utopian world filled with people swimming in the luxurious, healthy, and happy waters of the “best” gene pool. At this point, I have two questions. What determines which genes or traits are the “best,” and in this program of improving the human race, who makes the determination of which ones are the best? Me? You? Or what about a panel of experts? Afterall, we are talking about using science and a panel of objective scientific experts seems like an appropriate choice to make these important decisions. Or is it? While we ponder that for a moment, let’s take a look back.
Once upon a time (about two months ago) a group of academics/activists got together to start Nursing Clio, a collaborative blog project that aimed to engage with historical scholarship as a means to contextualize present-day political, social, and cultural issues surrounding gender and medicine. To be honest with you, dear readers (all 5 of you), in the planning stages I sometimes doubted whether we would have enough present-day material to continue the blog past the first month. What if we ran out of material? What if we said everything we needed to say? I made sure to make a list of emergency blog post ideas just in case we got desperate.
As it turns out, we have never once had to break into the emergency blog post survival kit. Between the North Carolina preacher who invoked the Holocaust in an anti-gay sermon, to the continuing War on Women, to the new movie Hysteria – our gender, medicine, and history cup runneth over, my friends.
The methodology proposed by “Archival Kismet” is to go where the archive leads you (while bearing in mind, of course, all the people, structures, and historically contingent happenings that have produced “the archive” in its current form). Sometimes you follow archival sources down a dead-end rabbit hole, or along a new and exciting path of… Read more →
When sociology and economics professor Norman E. Himes published The Medical History of Contraception in 1936, he had made a daring, yet tactical move. At the time, contraception was not, legally speaking, considered a medical matter at all. Under the Comstock Act, which had been in effect since 1873, all literature and devices used for… Read more →