Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America

Synopsis

Many people assume that eugenics all but disappeared with the fall of Nazism, but as this sweeping history demonstrates, the idea of better breeding had a wide and surprising reach in the United States throughout the twentieth century. With an original emphasis on the American West, Eugenic Nation brings to light many little-known facts--for example, that one-third of the involuntary sterilizations in this country occurred in California between 1909 and 1979--as it explores the influence of eugenics on phenomena as varied as race-based intelligence tests, school segregation, tropical medicine, the Border Patrol, and the environmental movement.

Eugenic Nation begins in the 1900s, when influential California eugenicists molded an extensive agenda of better breeding for the rest of the country. The book traces hereditarian theories of sex and gender to the culture of conformity of the 1950s and moves to the 1960s, arguing that the liberation movements of that decade emerged in part as a challenge to policies and practices informed by eugenics.

Excerpt

At a ceremony held in Oregon’s capitol building in December 2002, Governor John Kitzhaber stood before an overflowing crowd and apologized for the more than twenty-six hundred sterilizations performed in that state between 1917 and 1983. Since the summer, Kitzhaber had been under mounting pressure from a vocal coalition of mental health advocates, disability rights groups, and sterilization victims to express public remorse for what he referred to at the December event as the “misdeeds that resulted from widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry.” Kitzhaber’s apology was the second in a series initiated by Virginia’s governor, Mark Warner, who in May 2002 deemed his commonwealth’s sterilization program “a shameful effort in which state government should never have been involved.” The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, and California followed suit, delivering similar statements of regret over the next twelve months. Tangible and symbolic gestures usually accompanied these apologies. In Virginia, for example, two of the approximately eight thousand people sterilized between 1924 and the 1970s unveiled a highway marker recognizing the injustice suffered by Carrie Buck. The first person affected by Virginia’s sterilization law, Buck was the plaintiff in Buck v. Bell, the infamous 1927 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices overwhelmingly upheld the constitutionality of involuntary sterilization. In Oregon, acknowledging that a “great wrong” had been done “in accordance with eugenics,” Kitzhaber designated December 10 as Human Rights Day, a day on which hence-

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