National issues require careful consideration

Carrie Buck was born in 1906. Birthed by Emma Buck, who the state of Virginia deemed feebleminded, Carrie was placed with foster parents, John and Alice Dobbs, at her birth.

At 17, Carrie was raped by one of the Dobbs’ nephews. The resulting pregnancy led her community to view Carrie as promiscuous; her school teacher confirming this by mentioning that she passed notes to boys in class.

Shortly after the pregnancy became apparent, the Dobbs placed Carrie in the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded for reasons with little correlation to familial shame. On March 28, 1924, Carrie gave birth to Vivian Buck. Carrie was deemed mentally incapable of raising her child, and the Dobbs family adopted Vivian.

On Oct. 19, 1927, Carrie became the first person in the state of Virginia to be forcibly sterilized under the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924, which sought to rid the state of “defective” persons, a human breeding process known as negative eugenics.

This was not before Carrie’s case against James Hendren Bell, Superintendent of State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded, reached the Supreme Court. In an 8-1 decision for the sterilization, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

“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. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Holmes’ decision led to the forced sterilization of over 8,000 Virginians, including Carrie’s sister Doris when she was hospitalized for appendicitis. Doris did not know of her sterilization until 1980 after numerous failed pregnancy attempts with her husband.

In total, approximately 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized under similar statutes across the nation. Most of these statutes were abolished by the mid-20th century.

Carrie went on to marry a man named William Eagle and lived with her husband for 25 years before his death. Her daughter, Vivian, lived with the Dobbs family until she died of an intestinal disease at the age of 8. She performed well in school and was deemed a normal student.

Years later, journalists, lawyers and scientists remarked that Carrie seemed to be of average intelligence after meeting her. She eventually died in a nursing home in 1983.

Hysteria can best be understood when coupled with understanding of the time’s social ills. The United States’ era of forced sterilization took place during a period of rapid change.

Metropolitan populations grew at alarming rates. The country feared overpopulation. Xenophobia mixed with steadfast faith in science created a behavioristic cocktail Big Brother would take in a double shot.

Today, we continue to face immigration fears. But Carrie’s case can also be an example to others of our nation’s challenges. The logic that led to today’s problems will not get us out. Sometimes the whole system needs reframing.

While we are no longer forcibly sterilizing people like Carrie Buck, the legacy of eugenics remains pertinent. It wasn’t just that Carrie shouldn’t have been forcibly sterilized, damn near no one should be.

The idea of improving the nation through the destruction of its people only benefits the top. The power brokers of our nation will always attempt to raise themselves through the lowering of others. Whether it is in the form of tax breaks under the false auspice of job creation or bailouts for the big boys while the average are left stranded, it is time for our nation to develop a new frame of reference.

_Phil is a senior in Media._