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Eugenics... Would you have been good enough to reproduce?

Sandy C. Freese


Are you a blonde haired, blue eyed, White American Citizen? If so, you're a step ahead of those who aren't. If you are a blonde haired, blue eyed, White American Citizen, do you have a mental or physical disability that is obvious to others? Oops, you just took a step back. Are you indigent? Another step back. You would have been found not worthy enough to reproduce during the Eugenics Era.

In the late 1900's Charles Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton of Brittan, studied the British elite and came to the conclusion that if we can breed animals to our liking, why not people? Before Galton made it known that creating a better class of people was possible, Plato promoted a better class of people in his literary work, The Republic.

My home state of Indiana was the first to enact a sterilization law in 1907. Indiana would soon be joined by California, then 28 other states. The Race Betterment Foundation, formed by John Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg cereal fame, hosted national conferences on eugenics in 1914, 1915, and 1928. Before long, prominent citizens, scientists, and socialists established the Eugenics Records Office. They tracked the genetic traits of families. Those who were indigent, uneducated, minorities, or immigrants were found to be unfit. These individuals had bad genes and many were not to procreate; they simply didn't measure up to society's standards.

For some of us 1979 is a year that we remember; but do we know that between the years of 1909 and 1979 there were as many as 20,000 forced sterilizations in California's mental facilities? The feeble minded would serve to bring more feeble minded people into the world...not acceptable. 33 states would allow forced sterilizations to take place on whomever lawmakers deemed unworthy.

"...three generations of imbeciles are enough." This is what Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes had to say shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court voted that forced sterilization of the handicapped population was not unconstitutional. In the mid 1920's Carrie Buck lived with her foster parents, J. T. and Alice Dobbs. Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs had her committed to Lynchburg State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded. Why? She had been raped by her step brother and was shaming the family. In several 1980's interviews with Carrie Buck, conducted by various news agencies , there we no signs that Buck had struggled with physical or mental health. Yet, she was sterilized, as well as 4000 other patients of this hospital.

Between 25 and 50% of Native Americans were sterilized between 1970 and 1976. It has been said that some of the sterilizations were forced; other's were performed under the guise of appendectomies. Children of unsterilized parents who were not good enough to procreate were not treated unless their parents agreed to sterilization. Alexander Graham Bell had the belief that deaf people should never marry, as they would only perpetuate the deaf population.

Contests, such as the Better Baby Contest were held across the nation at state fairs. Children between the ages of 6 and 48 months were judged; the highest points given were based on appearance alone. The babies were also judged on mental and psychological status, followed by being measured to see if they fit the norm. One lucky baby would go on the win a Better Baby trophy.

Not to be overlooked was the Fitter Family Contests. There were three categories within this competition, small, medium, and large families. Those competing would offer an "Abridged Record of Family Traits". A team of doctors would perform physical and psychological exams on the family members. The winner would go on the receive a silver trophy, those with a high average were given bronze trophies inscribed with "Yea, I have a goodly heritage". Not surprising is that most winners were White citizens of western or northern European heritage.

Our incarcerated citizens have not been spared of unwanted sterilizations. In the early 1900's, hundreds of men in Indiana State Prisons were forced into having vasectomies. According to Henry Sharp, who performed these procedures, "We owe it not only to ourselves, but to the future of our race and nation, to see that the defective and diseased do not multiply." Erika Cohn's documentary, Belly of the Beast, exposes that unwanted sterilizations of women within our nations correctional facilities have taken place in recent years. Her team calculated that 1400 were carried out between 1997 and 2013. Most sterilizations, as noted by Cohn, were performed on women of color.

What does this expose about our society? Why did no many jump on the sterilization bandwagon? One of my daughters was 19.5" at birth; the other was measured at 21.5". I wonder which would have taken home the Better Baby trophy? Actually, I would not have been able to enter them in the contest anyway, as I have Celiac Disease. I would likely have been one who was forced into sterilization. Both of my daughters are assets to society and my Celiac Disease in under control...I just had to change my eating habits. What if I wasn't found to be normal? How many have paid the price of sterilization who have lost their ability to parent, solely based of the opinions of others?

It is time, my friends, for us to stand firm on our convictions and not be swayed by the leader's of our society. If someone tells you to jump off a cliff, say no!

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