Disability History: The Hidden History of Eugenics

By Sunrise Group on August 10, 2016

Courtesy Repost: Presented by Kirsti Melville

The hidden history of eugenics: fitter families and the feebleminded

Carrie Buck with her mother Emma Buck. Carrie became the subject of the infamous U.S Supreme Court case on eugenic sterilisationIMAGE: CARRIE BUCK WITH HER MOTHER EMMA, SUBJECTS OF THE INFAMOUS U.S SUPREME COURT CASE ON EUGENIC STERILISATION, BUCK VS BELL. (UNIVERSITY OF ALBANY, SUNY)

The ugly spectre of eugenics left a dark stain on the 20th Century, with the genocidal quest of the Nazis to produce a ‘master race’. But the eugenic agenda reached much further and deeper still—into everyday laws and lives across the Western world—with profound consequences. In this 4 part series, RN’s Natasha Mitchellreveals a little-told story of misplaced power, misguided science and social engineering.

Are we on the cusp of a “new” eugenics, driven by modern genetics and the mantra of individual choice? From wrenching personal accounts of enforced sterilization to the fledgling foundations of education in Australia; have we learned from the mistakes of our past or are we at risk of repeating them?

Eugenics and health exhibition, Kansas State Free Fair, 1929. 'Fitter Families' and 'Better Baby' contest were held across USAIMAGE: KANSAS STATE FREE FAIR, 1929. ‘FITTER FAMILIES’ AND ‘BETTER BABY’ CONTESTS WERE RUN ACROSS AMERICA (AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY AND COLD SPRING HARBOUR LABORATORY)

In episodes 1 and 2 we hear the story of Carrie Buck. In 1927, 21 year old Carrie Buck was deemed ‘feeble-minded’ and ordered to be sterilised under the State of Virginia’s fledgling eugenics program. Her case made it the U.S Supreme Court, where Buck vs Bell became a defining test case for the eugenics movement worldwide, capturing the attention of Germany’s Nazis, and triggering the state-sanctioned sterilisation of reportedly over 70,000 people across America. And yet, few of us have heard of her shocking story or what it came to represent.

Who was Carrie Buck, and why must we never forget her legacy?

Better Babies contestsIMAGE: ‘BETTER BABIES’ CONTESTS WERE RUN ACROSS AMERICA TO PROMOTE EUGENIC THINKING (CIRCA 1910. UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, KNOXVILLE; AND EUGENICS RECORD OFFICE )

Carrie Buck's baby VivienIMAGE: CIRCA 1924. CARRIE’S DAUGHTER VIVIEN, WHO DIED AT AGE 8 IN FOSTER CARE.(UNIVERSITY OF ALBANY, SUNY)

You’ll also meet Rosemary Brooks. Born a generation after Carrie Buck, and incarcerated in the same institution in Virginia, Rose’s plight and profound story closely mirrors Carrie’s and thousands of others across America.

Rosemary Brooks with lawyer Mark Bold who set up the Justice for Victims of Sterilization ProjectIMAGE: ROSEMARY BROOKS WITH LAWYER MARK BOLD. MARK SET UP THE JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF STERILIZATION PROJECT. (JORDY YAGER )

The Virginia State Colony of Epileptics and Feebleminded where Carrie Buck and Rose Brooks were incarcerated and sterilisedIMAGE: VIRGINIA STATE COLONY OF EPILEPTICS AND FEEBLEMINDED WHERE CARRIE BUCK AND ROSE BROOKS WERE INCARCERATED AND STERILISED. IT STANDS ON THE SAME SITE TODAY. (JORDY YAGER)