Interesting eugenics history site from Regents’ University in UK

This site might be of interest to those concerned with eugenic history. It’s done in an accessible and powerful format…make sure you turn off your pop-up blocker, and then enter the site through the left-hand side of this web entry page….

11 thoughts on “Interesting eugenics history site from Regents’ University in UK

  1. One minor criticism, Carrie Buck was not intellectually disabled at all, she was raped by the nephew of the people who raised her and became pregnant and was sent to the Epileptic Colony–still in Virginia and under investigation by the DOJ–as the Central Virginia Training Center. She was sterilized to protect the reputation of the family that raised her. Her lawyer knew about it and did not present a defense–but then they don’t nowadays in Virginia either when folks are given hearings for involuntary “treatment”.

  2. documentation of my above comment: A new book by legal historian Paul Lombardo explores, in depth, the 1927 U.S. Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declared “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” This was the case that legalized involuntary sterilization of the “feeble-minded” and gave great credibility to the American eugenics movement.

    Lombardo details not only the needless cruelty of Holmes’ statement, but also it’s utter inaccuracy. As described by USA Today science columnist Dan Vergano:

    The three generations in the case, Carrie Buck, her mother, Emma, and daughter, Vivian, it turns out weren’t imbeciles; Carrie was an average student and Vivian, taken from her mother and placed in the home of the family whose nephew had fathered her, made the honor role once in her short life.
    “Buck earns a place in the legal hall of shame not only because Holmes’ opinion was unnecessarily callous but also because it was based on deceit and betrayal,” writes legal historian Paul Lombardo of Georgia State University in Atlanta, in his just-released book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. Scientists and lawyers, including Carrie Buck’s defense attorney, conspired against her, Lombardo finds in old records.

    The inaccuracy wasn’t an accident. Carrie Buck was used and betrayed at every turn:

    In reality, Buck was at the [Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded] because she had been raped and impregnated by the nephew of her foster family the year before. The family sent her to the colony, where her mother resided, to escape scandal. [Physician superintendent of the colony, Albert] Priddy “quickly began collecting information to demonstrate the hereditary defects he was certain linked Emma and Carrie,” writes Lombardo.

  3. My own research is on the eugenics movement in Alberta, Canada during the last century. Here, too, considerable latitude was used in defining/categorizing who was ‘mentally defective’ (not my terminology, but history’s), so that many people who were ‘normal’ found themselves both institutionalized and eugenicized. Often, these categorizations fell along lines of race, gender, immigration status, and poverty; in Alberta, women, First Nation and Metis people, and Eastern Europeans were disproportionately among the ranks of those sterilized. Thus, and seemingly as typically occurs, marginalized people were (and are) more likely to fall under the net of social policies to limit reproduction, citizenship and freedom. The connections between sloppy science and opportunistic politics/policies are a recurring theme in the history of social control of the body.

    That being said, however, I also am careful to caution against a response to these occurrences that can be misconstrued as reading only that ‘they weren’t even disabled’. The problem with such arguments is that, while it does highlihgt the politics and problems of process attached to eugenic ideas, there is also a risk that one might think that mis-identity, rather than the control of difference is the real cuprit. I often hear such things from my students, who are horrified to hear that ‘perfectly normal’ people got caught in the net of eugenics policy, and the students’ responses sometimes occur to the detriment of understanding the horror of the situation for ALL people targeted by these actions. Of course, in my classes, and in my current writing and thinking about this, I am struggling to convey an understanding that while there were indeed terrible mistakes or specific abuses of these policies, the main point remains that attempting to control difference or contain undersireable traits of any kind is, at its core, a problematic social project.

    Does Lombardo unpack these ideas in his analysis?

  4. I must confess I just have the excerpt but I have his book on my holiday wish list and have hopes of getting it. So I don’t know. I would bet that he does. He used to be at UVA and he was instrumental in getting the official statement of regret from the state of Virginia for eugenics against people with disabilities in this state along with Keith Kessler and others.

    I agree that pointing out that the original case was someone without a disability is problematic, I had just learned this fact so was eager to share but yes, that is not the real issue at hand.

  5. I’ve been looking into how “problematic” reproduction was managed in Alberta in the last century, and have come across some of the files from the Beulah Home (for unmarried mothers) in Edmonton in the early 20th cent. They referred a few repeat clients to the Sterilization Committee, and the comments attached to these clients suggests a circular definition of “feeble-minded” – a woman (or girl) who gets pregnant out of wedlock more than once is feeble-minded because only a feeble-minded woman would fail to learn her lesson and get herself knocked up/be taken advantage of more than once. These repeat clients were understood differently from the naive and innocent “child-mothers” who had made terrible mistakes, which was the way most of the Beulah Home clients were construed in the surviving documents. At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, I do understand the position the Beulah Home people were in with some of the repeat clients, esp. quite young women who had three or more unplanned pregnancies and were obviously being victimized at home or elsewhere. Beulah Home had no way of offering any meaningful help to these women; the only thing they could offer was a trip to the Sterilization Committee as a weak form of damage control. No information as to whether these clients were actually sterilized (although I assume they were) or whether the sterilization happened without their consent.

  6. Thanks for this comment – it stirred some things up for me, both personally and as a researcher. In terms of “..a weak form of damage control”, I realize that people and systems operate within their historical and political constraints, but still I do feel it is reasonable to stand judgment on these actions and on the actors who performed them. Sterilizing young ‘wayward’ women rather than protecting them, educating them or serving their need for reproductive control seems more than just a mistake in judgment or the best solution to a bad problem. Making victims of abuse sterile doesn’t stop the abuse, it just makes it invisible, and removes its outcomes from the public purse. I suspect that in Michener Center, sterilization occurred for at least some long-term residents because it saved a few staff and ‘higher-grade’ (not my term, but the insitutional lingo) residents from getting caught as sexual predators.

    I’m guessing the records at Beulah indicate some compassion on the part of administrators and social workers whilst making these determinations about these ‘troubled’ young women. I’ve interviewed ex-workers at Michener, and read documents in the archives written by them, and they often indicate fondness or at least a sense of high responsibility toward their charges and a seemingly compassionate view about their care. That being said, when I’ve spoken with survivors, their memories seem quite different, and they rarely (there are exceptions, I know) have maintained anything like a relationship to the institution or its workers once they got outside the doors. In other words, there are separate realities going on here – and this is probably why subaltern studies are necessary!

    The concept of following the path of least harm by sterilizing or insitutionalizing in these situations brings to mind my dear mother’s (seemingly constant) admonition that the road to hell is pave with good intentions.

  7. I am very interested in the comments regarding Beulah Home in Alberta and would love to hear more about the location of records as I am starting a group for people adopted from there. I have to say that I was quite surprised to see these comments as the information I have been able to obtain so far would indicate that the staff were much more considerate of the birth mothers than this would indicate.

  8. I am also interested in the comments about the Beulah Home, I was born there, my mother had a daughter before me lost to adoption, not born in the home, and a son after me, lost to adoption, not born in the home. She was 24 when she had me. I wish I could find someone who would have been in the home at the same time she was, Jan 1955, so I could find out how she may have been treated, how all of the mothers were treated, and if she looked after me for the 16 days before I was placed with my adoptive family. My mother remained in the home for an additional 2 days after I left.

  9. Hello beulahbabies,

    I’ve dug through the existing archival work on the Beulah Home – some of this information may be of interest to you. The BH’s records, including names and dates of women who were clients, is in the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton (file GR1978.0050), but all identifying information is protected under FOIPP, so it would be very difficult to track down a specific individual. If you want more general information, you can ask archive staff for files PR1993.0359 and PR 1971.0047.

    From my reading of the general files, which contain no identifying information on the women, I can tell you a few things:

    Beulah Home was founded in 1912, as one branch of the Beulah Rescue Mission, which operated three other sites in what was then downtown Edmonton. The whole operation was run by the Edmonton Evangelical Association, an EXTREMELY religious Protestant organization. The Home was founded in response to concerns that young women who found themselves “in trouble” would be rejected by family and polite society and would turn to prostitution. BH was located on what was then the very outskirts of the city, on what I believe is now 137th Ave, in order to keep these women away from the “temptations” of downtown.

    Records from the early years describe the women as “lost souls” and as “no more than children themselves”. The staff placed a tremendous emphasis on “saving” their clients and “rescuing” them from the path they were on, but the general tone of these statements is more of pity and maternal compassion than of punitive judgment, as was the case in many other homes for unwed mothers of the time. The clients were portrayed as victims of unscrupulous men, who strayed from the path of virtue because they did not have enough spiritual strength to withstand temptation. The literature produced at Beulah stresses the importance of setting girls on the right path, so that they could move on from the unplanned pregnancy which brought them to Beulah, and have a chance to someday become “legitimate” wives and mothers. Marriageability was the ultimate goal, and the newsletters and fundraising materials contain pictures and stories of former clients who returned with their husband and (legitimate) babies to visit the home, as well as copies of wedding invitations sent by former clients.

    The majority of the clients in the early years were young unmarried women who were working in Edmonton, with a few younger woman from outlying rural areas. Although Beulah Home literature describes them as “child-mothers”, from the one record of ages I was able to find, only 20-25% appear to be under 18. In the early years, they were mainly white, Protestant and English-speaking, although in later years more women from non-English backgrounds turned up. The Catholic church operated a similar home run by the Misericordia Sisters, which I assume is where most Catholic women went. The Beulah Home was supported initially by donations from wealthy upper-class women of Edmonton, who created the Dorcas Society to co-ordinate fundraising for the home; and later by a combination of private donation and government grant.

    The Beulah Home was staffed by a matron (who was expected to fill the role of mother-substitute to the clients), one or two housekeepers, and one or two nurses. One matron, Mary Findley, stayed for nearly 50 years and appeares to have been regarded very affectionately by the women who passed through Beulah. There are reports of some women staying on at

    In the early years (through 1930s), the home also operated as a sort of boarding house for babies, where women who had given birth there could board their babies until they were able to take the babies home with them, if they chose not to place the babies for adoption. Some babies were boarded for as long as two years, for a monthly payment. In later decades, however, much more emphasis was placed on adoption, with babies boarded only until adoptive families were found. The Beulah Home staff and donors advertised aggressively for adoption, including advertisements in the Edmonton Journal encouraging families to “adopt a baby for Christmas” in the 1940s. I have no evidence that women were actually coerced to place their babies for adoption, but I imagine the covert pressure to place the babies was pretty strong. A woman who was raising a child born outside marriage would not be as marriagable as one who had no child and no evidence that she had “fallen from grace” in the past.

    I didn’t find evidence of much oversight or screening of adoptive families – it appeared to be quite a casual process. News reports from the time speak of a tremendous demand for “Alberta babies”, from Alberta farm families who wanted extra children and from Americans, who came up and took babies back home. There was a scandal in 1948 concerning Alberta babies being “sold” to American families, with payments going to the provincial officials in charge of children’s services, and although the Beulah Home was not directly mentioned in any of the materials, from that point onwards the administration appears to have tightened up its scrutiny of prospective parents, giving priority to Canadian parents who had been screened and put on a waiting list.

    The religious element diminished markedly in the 1950s, with more emphasis placed on providing educational opportunities for the women in the home, such as high school correspondence courses and other forms of training, rather than (or in addition to) endless religious services. Marriageability also receives much less attention than general preparation for adult life.

    I don’t have much material from the 1950s, the decade of interest to you, but I do know that over the course of the 1950s fewer and fewer babies were boarded in the homes for extended periods, and more and more were adopted right at birth, and pregnant women stayed for shorter and shorter periods. In 1960, the old Beulah Home closed and a smaller one opened where women could come right around the time of birth. Sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s (exact date is not clear), the Beulah Home ceased operation altogether.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s