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Hist 548 Eugenics and Sterilization

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Nguyen1
Brian Nguyen
Hist 548
Dr. Yeh
5 May 2016
Sterilization in the Promotion of the White Race
Throughout history, civi...
Nguyen2
depravity”.2 In 1913, California amended its law allowing the sterilization of patients committed
to a state hospi...
Nguyen3
offspring for crime, or… imbecility, society can prevent… continuing their kind… Three
generations of imbeciles ar...
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Hist 548 Eugenics and Sterilization

  1. 1. Nguyen1 Brian Nguyen Hist 548 Dr. Yeh 5 May 2016 Sterilization in the Promotion of the White Race Throughout history, civilizations have utilized various means to ensure their progress and advancement. An important factor to look into these trends was who was in power and how was their power used. For the United States, eugenics was a common practice and belief that would ensure its population progressed over time. Examining its influence in the early to mid 20th century, eugenics was seen as a scientific way to maintain progress, while also being a common façade to maintain a prominent Anglo-Saxon population and control the allocation of resources as well. Looking into the legal aspects of American eugenics, sterilization was portrayed as a means to protect civilization’s gene pool from traits that promote feeblemindedness, over sexuality, and delinquency. In 1907, The Unites States passed its first sterilization law in Indiana permitting the “involuntary sterilization” of anyone in a state institution that has been deemed as “unfit for procreation”.1 Also in 1907, California passed a sterilization law authorizing the “asexualization of inmates of state hospital and the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-minded Children, and of convicts in the state prisons”; the law warranted the sterilization for the treatment for patients’ “physical, mental or moral condition”, prisoners who had been convicted and imprisoned of sexual crimes, and those who exhibited “moral and sexual 1 California Legislature,Senate, California’s Compulsory Sterilization Policies 1909- 1979:Background Paper, (Sacramento: Senate Select Committee on Genetics, Generic Technologies,and Public Policy,2003), iv-v.
  2. 2. Nguyen2 depravity”.2 In 1913, California amended its law allowing the sterilization of patients committed to a state hospital with or without their consent, prisoners convicted of sexual charges with the approval of physicians and state officials, and minors considered an “idiot or fool” with the written consent from a parent or guardian.3 While these laws are not ethical by today’s medical standards, there are still no racial tones in the language of the laws. In theory, it should apply to anyone who was considered to belong under these categories. A big impact on the sterilization movement dealt with the care for those in state hospitals or homes. After the 1850s “philanthropists who had initially viewed the less fortunate as worthy objects of assistance came to understand the poor, diseased, and physically infirm as… undeserving of charity”.4 With the idea that these “undesirable traits” were actual genes transmitted from parent to child, it is clear to see why many prominent members of society backed eugenic ideals. Through sterilization, it could be seen as a form of treatment to alleviate what people saw as symptoms of feeblemindedness or criminality. To enforce this, states that passed sterilization laws actually made the procedure mandatory for release from the hospitals.5 At the very least, they would ensure these people would not have the ability to procreate. By ending the cycle of undesirable traits and utilizing sterilization, eugenicists saw a possibility to alleviate the number of those they had to care for while also ensuring there would be less to tend to in the future. This attitude is further cemented when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes Jr. expressed that, “It is better for all the world, instead of waiting to execute degenerate 2 California,General Laws of California, as Amended up to the End of the Session of 1909, by James Henry, (San Francisco:Bancroft-Whitney,1909), 84-84. 3 California,CaliforniaStateAssembly, The Statues of California and Amendments to the Codes Passed at the Fortieth Session of the Legislature, Ed. Friend Wm. Richardson,(Sacramento:CaliforniaLegislature,1913), 775-776. 4Paul Lombardo, A Century of Eugenics in America, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,2011),12. 5 Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, (Los Angeles: University of California Press,2001),85.
  3. 3. Nguyen3 offspring for crime, or… imbecility, society can prevent… continuing their kind… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” It was clear, however, that leaders in this field were more concerned about race in terms of how to preserve and promote society. One prominent figure in the American eugenics movement was Madison Grant; with his book, The Passing of the Great Race, Grant expresses his attitudes that the race that had founded the United States was being diluted with mixed blood. With the American Revolution and the removal of Loyalists, Grant saw that their lands were opened to immigrants “of far lower type”.6 Racial science at this time often obsessed itself with trying to categorize races into a set hierarchy and even placing a hierarchy within the white ethnicities. This sentiment was clearly expressed when Robert DeCourcey Ward, a eugenicist key in passing legislature, wrote that “days of Anglo-Saxon immigration are over… Southern and Eastern European immigration has increased”.7 Grant agreed and declares that the upper- class was responsible and negligent for instigating the influx of cheap and slave labor, instead of focusing on trying to bring in more Northern European immigrants.8 From the creation of the United States, Grant and other likeminded eugenicists believe that the once “Great Race” that built America was going into race suicide and being weakened through immigration and mixed race children. Mourning for the “watering down of our nation’s life blood” through the admission and procreation of “alien defectives”, there was an urgency to find a means to “put forth an ideologically purified America- purged of past sins and guarded against future menaces”.9 Many felt like society was “allowing race mixture to proceed without… having a knowledge” of the effects “undesirable physical or psychic characters of other races” had on the 6 Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons,1921), 6. 7 Nancy Ordover, American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,2003), 7. 8 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 10. 9 Ordover, American Eugenics7.
  4. 4. Nguyen4 Anglo-Americans.10 From the beginning of the United States to the release of Grant’s book, there had already been a span of about 140 years of this race suicide. More immigrants coming into the country and mixed race children being born resulted in less political control held by Anglo-Americans. Grant mentioned his fears that universal suffrage would equate to the loss of political efficiency.11 In order to ensure that the upper white-class maintained their power, eugenicists were keen to pass restrictions on immigration and anti- miscegenation laws.12 A further look at the immigration quotas from the National Origins Act of 1924 reveals an obvious outlook on what ethnicities its supporters favored. The top three countries given the highest quotas were Germany, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Irish Free State, all being allowed over twenty thousand, while excluding any immigrant “native of… Asia and the islands adjacent”.13 While this helped patrol what type of people were allowed into the United States, there was also the issue with people of color within the United States. Through anti-miscegenation laws, there was a way to try and prevent white Americans from marrying people from other races. While these laws did not prevent other people of color from marrying each other, eugenicists’ main concern at the time was the prosperity of the white race. While laws such as these were seen as a path towards stopping race suicide through mixing blood and maintaining white constituencies, but there was still the issue of racial degeneration. As a result of the racial hierarchy, even within the white race, prominent figures needed to ensure that the “right” white members of society would continue to procreate. For many, eugenics was a breakthrough in creating a path for the “prevention of the breeding of the unfit 10 Ordover, American Eugenics, 39. 11 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 5. 12 California’s Compulsory Sterilization Policies, 3-4. 13 Congress, House, Correspondence with Executive Departments: Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Sixty-eighth Congress, First Session, on the Immigration Act of 1924, (Washington: G.P.O., 1924), 167.
  5. 5. Nguyen5 native… the breeding… of the unfit alien”.14 An issue that Grant saw was the lowering birth rate of the “most valuable classes”, with an unchanged birth rate from the “lower classes”.15 Through practices such as sterilization, medical officials in state hospitals and prisons could ensure that only those they saw fit to reproduce would be allowed to do so. Whiteness was not a guarantee against sterilization for inmates or patients. If they were still seen as feebleminded or a sexual pervert by medical and state officials, sterilization would most likely be the action to take in guise of the protection of society. While Grant and others may have been content with caring for those in state care, it was only with the condition of sterilization; Grant’s attitude was summarized with the feeling that “a great injustice is done to the community by the perpetuation of worthless types”.16 Following the language of the laws and attitudes of eugenicists, sterilization being applied to people of color should also fall in line with their aims. Sterilizing lower class people of color would deal with the issue Grant presented about the contrasting birth rates between upper and lower class society. Yet while many eugenicists held racist views, their efforts were not “a racist attempt to eliminate other races; the motivation was to improve the lot of white North Americans”.17 People of color were often not a high priority and seen as “exhibiting the usual morals”.18 Eugenicists’ goal of bettering society while maintaining the white elites’ racial hygiene were essentially viewed as the same thing. It is clear that they saw it as their responsibility to save society or the white race and not worthwhile to deal people of color. 14 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 8. 15 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 47. 16 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 50. 17 Randall Hansen and Desmond King, Sterilized by the State: Eugenics, Race, and the Population in Twentieth- Century North America, (New York: Cambridge University Press,2013),10. 18 Kline,Building a Better Race, 59.
  6. 6. Nguyen6 While it is evident that both males and females were sterilized by state institutions and prisons, there was still a drastic difference in the reasoning why each gender was sterilized. The sterilization of men was often performed as a treatment for masturbators, passive sodomites, or exposers and seen as done for their benefit; men in state institutions were usually also seen as “low-grade individuals” sent there for their own protection.19 Women, however, were often treated or sterilized for the protection of society; categorized as high-grade individuals, they are able to blend in more with average society, but their sexual delinquency posed a threat to racial degeneration.20 The polarization between the reasoning for male and female treatment can reveal what role eugenicists saw men and women playing in the advancement and protection of society. Eugenicists created a female dichotomy to delineate who would be considered positive and negative eugenics mothers had pertaining to the betterment of society. There was the “mother of tomorrow” who represented all the good qualities in a mother who would promote more conservative and traditional family-oriented qualities; on the other side, the “moron” was the woman who were seen as feebleminded, promiscuous, and generally unfit to even raise children.21 To them, women were a “tool in the hands of those seeking to construct and preserve the Anglo-Saxon nation”.22 There was a complex attitude towards women in where they had the potential to advance the white race, yet still have the ability to bring forth race suicide and degeneracy. It falls on personal characteristics of the woman that would determine the wellbeing of her children and fate of white society. While not too much could be done to promote the “mothers of tomorrow” in reproducing faster, the sterilization laws were means to ensure the “morons” were not able to pass down their own unfavorable traits. 19 Kline,Building a Better Race, 53-55. 20 Kline,Building a Better Race, 53-55. 21 Kline,Building a Better Race, 16-20. 22 Ordover, American Eugenics, 6.
  7. 7. Nguyen7 For many, there was the notion that feebleminded women were more susceptible to sexual aggression from men with superior or equal intellect; with women being the carrier of children, many female eugenicists felt the need to facilitate the reproduction of the “fit” and “unfit”, often participating in eugenic societies and mental hygiene campaigns to discourage rural and urban women from reproducing.23 There was a clear emphasis on quality over quantity, stating that the “business of the female is not only the reproduction but the improvement of the species”.24 By sterilizing the feebleminded “moron,” the only women left to bare children would be the “mother of tomorrow”. Through focusing on domestic duties and child rearing, women would be pushing the advancement of society while sterilization ensured negative, “inheritable” traits be stamped out. While the “mother of tomorrow” allowed women to be painted in a positive light, Grant’s approach on the regulation of women had a more cynical reasoning. Grant defends his stance when he stated women “tend to exhibit the older more primitive traits of the past… The male… indicates the direction in which the race is tending”.25 There is a clear gender based divide in who he entrusts in the betterment of society. Grant may still see that women are still responsible for childbearing and rearing, but the men are the ones who are modern thinkers and improving the future of society; without guidance from men, women could cause society to digress or remain stagnant. There was no way for each and every eugenicist to hold the exact same attitudes on every issue within the movement. The main purpose of early 20th century eugenics was still preserving upper-class whites, despite how it was carried out. In the end, Grant 23 Hansen, Sterilized by the State, 13-14. 24 Kline,Building a Better Race, 19. 25 Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 27.
  8. 8. Nguyen8 and others like Ward were not concerned over “actual children,” but focused on the “potential offspring” and the influence of negative eugenics on “once race proud families”.26 Yet, eugenicists could not be able to just go out and pick out lower class white women to be sterilized to stop the passing on of undesirable traits. According to California’s law, sterilization was only justified in cases of criminals convicted of sexual charges and those in care of state hospitals.27 Eugenicists worked to link sexual immorality to criminality and feeblemindedness, expressing that “prostitutes, criminals, and tramps” lacked the genes that allowed modern humans to control their “primitive and antisocial instincts”.28 Through naming unattractive characteristics as symptoms of feeblemindedness and criminality, they created a reason to institutionalize and sterilize those they did not see capable of advancing society. When looking at the people they see as a danger to the gene pool there is an obvious connotation that these people are belonging to the lower class. With the trend of many philanthropists seeing the lower class as more of a burden than those in need of help, eugenics and sterilization were ways they saw to solve this problem. Degenerate and dependent classes were seen as consuming too many resources and would eventually bring forth the destruction of American civilization; calling back to the idea of inheriting negative traits, eugenicists saw that these people had no chance of escaping their “eugenic destiny” and the only solution was to prevent the “unfit” from procreating.29 Just like lower class women, eugenicists did not have complete freedom to sterilize anyone and needed a reason to warrant their decisions. A way to get around this was to qualify those not able to “compete economically” with others as feebleminded; socioeconomic status became grounds for 26 Ordover, American Eugenics, 6. 27 The Statues of California and Amendments, 775-776. 28 Johanna Schoen, Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare, (Chapel Hill,University of North CarolinaPress,2005),93. 29 Lombardo, A Century of Eugenics in America, 27-28.
  9. 9. Nguyen9 sterilization for many rural and working class women, often those with little education and low standards of living.30 For eugenicists, if they could not currently work and take care of themselves, there would be no chance for them to raise a family to the white elites’ standards. Since eugenicists viewed sterilization as an actual treatment to those in state hospitals, it meant patients required less time and care within the facilities. Dr. Harry Sharp, a supporter of eugenics, argued asexualization acts would be a safeguard to society as well as a means to save money by finding a way to release patients and “halt the transmission of ‘mental as well as physical defects’” to future generations.31 Through sterilization, eugenicists saw themselves as not only eliminating negative traits from the white gene pool, but also taking care of white poverty. Yet, this idea seems to only to apply to young, single women. While sterilization focused on potential, “unfit’ mothers would cut down on state spending, eugenics would also find a way in dealing with lower class, established families. With the Great Depression many found it hard to find employment and more had to lean on social welfare programs.32 In April 1932, Mary Brewer, a white married mother of five, was targeted by a North Carolinian county to be sterilized; the justification being for their best interest and that of society. Her low intelligence, poor housekeeping, and parenting were called into attention and seen as the foundation that her current and potential children “would undoubtedly become public charges”.33 To take this matter further, in 1934, another county in North Carolina pushed for the sterilization of Emily Bodwin and two of her six children; after months of trying to evade the state’s efforts for sterilization, Emily eventually passed away and four of her children, all deemed feebleminded, were sterilized 30 Schoen, Choice and Coercion, 89-90. 31 Lombardo, A Century of Eugenics in America, 98. 32 Schoen, Choice and Coercion, 90-91. 33 Schoen, Choice and Coercion, 81.
  10. 10. Nguyen10 over time.34 This event shows the level of determination states were willing to exhibit in trying to sterilize those they did not deem necessary to be reproducing. What was shocking in this case was the fact that the state filed a petition for one of the daughters who was ten at the time; ultimately, the family was able to postpone the procedure for five years.35 While these cases occurred in North Carolina, 30 other states had also come to pass sterilization laws for similar reasons. States already having to deal with more and more social dependents saw eugenics as a way to prevent the white lower class families from having more children the state would have to help support. In tune with eugenic ideals, states also rationalized that by sterilizing parents “unfit” of raising children, they could not produce more children who would end up in the same situation. Many people may envision forced sterilization mainly on young, sexually active women, but families and sometimes children of the families were targets of these practices. While eugenics would later focus on the forced sterilization of African-American, Latina, and Native American women, prior to World War II, it was an effort to control the white race and the allocation of resources. Many eugenicists saw sterilization as a practice that would ensure only the “fit” whites could procreate while also eliminating any possibility of undesirable traits from being passed on to future generations. It is now known that these traits are not caused by genetics, but at the time, numerous people believed in this pseudoscience; eugenics was a means for white elites to deem other whites they looked down upon as feebleminded and try to maintain control over power and resources. 34 Schoen, Choice and Coercion, 86-87. 35 Schoen, Choice and Coercion, 86-87.
  11. 11. Nguyen11 Works Cited California. California State Assembly. Office of the Chief Clerk. The Statues of California and Amendments to the Codes Passed at the Fortieth Session of the Legislature. Ed. Friend Wm. Richardson. Sacramento: California Legislature, 1913. Http://clerk.assembly.ca.gov/.Web. 2 May 2016. California. General Laws of California,as Amended up to the End of the Session of 1909 Containing the Laws That Are in Common Use in Full, with Reference to Other General Laws in Force, and Also to Other Special Laws, with Statutory History and Citationsup to and including Volume 154 California Reports and Volume 9 California Appellate Reports. By James Henry. Deering. San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1909. Print. California. Legislature. Senate. California'sCompulsory Sterilization Policies 1909-1979:Background Paper.Sacramento: California Legislature, Senate Select Committee on Genetics, Genetic Technologies and Public Policy, 2003. Print. Grant, Madison. The Passing of the Great Race, Or, The Racial Basis of European History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916. Print. Hansen, Randall, and Desmond King. Sterilized by the State:Eugenics, Race, and the Population Scare in Twentieth- Century North America. New York: Cambridge UP, 2013. Print. Kline, Wendy.Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality,and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. Berkeley: U of California, 2001. Print. Lombardo, Paul A. A Century of Eugenicsin America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Ordover, Nancy. American Eugenics:Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism.Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2003. Print. Schoen, Johanna. Choice & Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization,and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2005. Print. United States.Congress.House. Correspondence with Executive Departments: Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization,House of Representatives,Sixty-eighth Congress,First Session,on the Immigration Act of 1924 (H.R. 7995).April 17, 1924.Washington:G.P.O., 1924. Legisworks.org. Web.3 May 2016.

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