Tuesday, September 4, 2012


           The women's  organizations in the deep south played a large role in the acceptance of Eugenics.  Between 1915 and 1920 women's clubs played a major role in establishing public eugenics institutions that were segregated by sex.  Florida passed laws to separate mentally retarded men and women to prevent them from breeding more "feeble minded" individuals.
      Public acceptance in the US was the reason eugenic legislation was passed.  Almost 19 million people attended the Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco from Feb. 20th to Dec. 4th, 1915.  The fair was devoted to the virtues of a rapidly progressing nation, featuring developments in science, agriculture, manufacturing, and technology.  A large amount of space was devoted to the developments in health, disease particularly tropical medicine and racial betterment.
     Intertwining all the elements categorized all this into the advancement of civilization.  Back starting in 1896 in Connecticut and soon others, marriage laws were passed with eugenic criteria.  This prohibited anyone who was epileptic, imbecile, or feeble minded from marrying.
      The first state to introduce compulsory sterilization was Michigan in 1897 but failed to get enough votes.  Indiana was the first state to enact the legislation in 1907.  This was followed closely by Washington and California.  The practice did not ramp up until 1927 when the Supreme Court legitimized sterilization.
     The state of California was at the top of numbers of forced sterilizations, performing 20,000 of the 60,000 done from 1909 until the 1960's.  North Carolina's program ran from 1933 until 1977 and was the most aggressive of the 32 states that legalized forced sterilization.  North Carolina gave social workers the power to decide who should be sterilized.  Wallace Kuralt wrote in the March 1967 Journal of the NC Board of Public Welfare, "Here at last was a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies by an acceptable, practical and inexpensive method.  The poor readily adopted the new techniques for birth control."
     The Immigration Restriction League was founded in 1894 by three Harvard graduates.  They sought to bar what it considered the "inferior races" from entering the "superior" American racial stock. 
      The league allied itself with the American Breeder's Association to further it's goals.  The committee chaired by David Starr Jordan with members Charles Davenport, Alexander Graham Bell, Vernon Kellogg, Luther Burbank, William Ernest Castle, Adolf Meyer, H.J. Webber, and Fredrick Woods.
      This is the mission statement they wrote:  "Society must protect itself; as it claims the right to deprive the murderer of his life so it may also annihilate the hideous serpent of hopelessly vicious protoplasm.  Here is where appropriate legislation will aid in eugenics and creating a healthier, saner society in the future".
     Money from the Harriman railroad fortune was also given to local charities, in order to find immigrants from specific ethnic groups and deport, confine, or forcibly sterilize them.
      Both class and race was used to define the "fit and unfit".  By using intelligence testing the assertion was made that social mobility was indicative of ones genetic fitness.  Because of class status upper and lower class women were treated differently.  Eugenicists promoted procreation among the fittest in society and encouraged middle class women to bear more children.
      Since poverty was associated with prostitution and "mental idiocy", women of lower classes were the first to be deemed "unfit" and Promiscuous.  These women were predominately immigrants or women of color and were discouraged from bearing children and were encouraged to use birth control.
     Men and women were compulsorily sterilized for different reasons.  Men to treat aggressive and criminal behavior.  Women to control the results of their sexuality.  Since women bore children they were held more accountable than men.
      A 1927 Fortune magazine poll found that 2/3 of respondents supported eugenic sterilization of "mental defectives".  Sixty three percent supported sterilization of criminals, and only 15% opposed both.
     Is it coincidental that the rise of Jim Crow laws and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan parallels the rise of Eugenics?
     Native American women were also victims of the eugenics laws.  They were victims up into the 1970's.  Women were warned that if they had more children they would be denied welfare benefits.  Women were also tricked into giving consent to be sterilized as they were in labor.  The delivery's were held up until they consented.

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