The American Eugenics Society was founded in 1926, U.S. eugenicists also supported restriction on immigration from nations with “inferior” stock, such as Italy, Greece, and countries of eastern Europe, and argued for the sterilization of insane, retarded, and epileptic citizens. Sterilization laws were passed in more than half the states, and isolated instances of involuntary sterilization continued in the U.S. into the 1970s. The assumptions of eugenicists came under sharp criticism beginning in the 1930s and were discredited after the German Nazis used eugenics to support the extermination of Jews, blacks, and homosexuals. Nazi doctors, as part of their defense in the Nuremburg Trials, used the following quote from the majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes supporting forced sterilization in the case of Buck vs. Bell in 1927. This case was based on a Virginia law that was not repealed until 1974.
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring
for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who
are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.
Of Better Blood a novel by Susan Moger looks at the movement in the U.S. to promote "Fitter Families." In the summer of 1922, Rowan Collier, actually a victim of polio not a birth defect, finds herself forced to play the part of the lame daughter in a traveling exhibit called The Unfit Family: A Blight on America. The play is being presented under the auspice of the New England Betterment Council. The council is part of a movement in America dedicated to racial purity and good breeding. This movement led to the passage of laws in many states that allowed “forced sterilization on incorrigibles, the feebleminded, and other undesirables.” Then she discovers that even more drastic measures than sterilization are being used in the name of eugenics.
If you are interested in the use of eugenics in Germany, try these two other novels in the TA library:
- T4 by Ann Clare LeZotta
- While Mortals Sleep by Jack Cavanaugh (Book 1 of the Songs in the Night series)