Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Ann Cooper Hewitt Case

An early case of a mother destroying her daughter's fertility according to the principles of the eugenics movement. From Narratively:
There was something else about this case that raised eyebrows: the unconventional use of sterilization. Ann appeared to have been sterilized because of environmental rather than genetic defects; she was the product of bad parenting, rather than bad genes. Furthermore, the involuntary procedure occurred in a private practice, rather than in an institutional setting. Ann was also wealthy, whereas the usual targets of sterilization (epileptic, intellectually disabled, and unemployed persons) were poor. If the court ruled in favor of Ann’s mother, these details could reinvigorate and redefine a flailing movement that embraced the practice of sterilization: eugenics.
The term “eugenics,” which translates to “well-born” from Greek, originated with English intellectual Sir Francis Galton. In his 1869 book Hereditary Genius, Galton drew on Gregor Mendel’s insights on the reproductive patterns of peas to advocate a selective breeding program among humans. Galton wanted to ensure that the characteristics he associated with the upper classes, such as superior intelligence, were passed down. Galton’s theories significantly shaped policies in the United States, as Edwin Black’s volume, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, demonstrates. According to Black, the Englishman’s ideas inspired Charles Davenport, a prominent American biologist, to establish the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York in 1910. Davenport appointed Harry Laughlin as the first director, and the two hired field workers to collect family pedigrees from the public. These workers were especially eager to identify “defective” traits, such as poverty, intellectual disability, and criminality. With the support of philanthropic organizations, such as the Carnegie Institution, and certain government offices, such as the Department of Agriculture, the ERO campaigned for stringent immigration restrictions and helped to pass legislation in 28 states authorizing the sterilization of persons deemed to be “unfit.” Over 64,000 individuals went under the knife as a result of these laws. (Read more.)

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