read: 19 November 2002
Mention the term Eugenics nowadays and most people think of the horros of Nazi Germany and their creepy master race ideas. People don’t remember, or choose to forget, that Eugenics was in many ways the predecessor to much of biological and evolutionary science education at the turn of the century. This book traces the Eugenics movement in Vermont, particularly the work of Harry Perkins who got into the field of Eugenics early and left it a bit late. Vermont hung on to many ideas about Eugenics even after it was thought ot be passe or tacky or just errant in the rest of the country. Sterilization laws -- allegedly voluntary -- were passed as late as 1931 in Vermont. The combination of pseudosientific declarations of “unfitness to breed” and the possible threat of sterilization caused the Abenaki nationals -- Vermont’s only Native Americans -- to go underground for the next few decades
Gallagher tries to undo some of the simplistic “eugenicists were Nazis” argument on favor of a more fleshed out history explaining the motives and ideals of this group of people. Though not an apologist by any means, she tries to instill some humanity and sense of purpose into the people who were basically trying to set up a system in which they would decide who should and should not be able to bear and raise offspring, supposedly all in their best interests. Through it all, the problems faced by the borderline “unfit” seem to be more those of poverty than any sort of genetic traits of insanity or other bad inborn habits. Gallagher paints a lot of the genetic battlefield as more of a class war, the rich trying to monitor and control the poor, immigrants and asocial people of Vermont.
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