The Public History of Eugenics in Washington. Joanne Woiak, Ph.D. Disability Studies Program University of Washington. University of Washington Disability Studies Program presents. Eugenics and Disability: History and Legacy in Washington. Friday, October 9, 2009 One-day public symposium
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Joanne Woiak, Ph.D.
Disability Studies Program
University of Washington
Eugenics and Disability:History and Legacy in Washington
Friday, October 9, 2009
One-day public symposium
and poster exhibit
Eugenics and Disability website:
What was eugenics and who studies its history?
Where does “disability” appear in these histories and why is it important?
What sources do we have and what can we learn about eugenics in Washington state?
Why tell a public history of local eugenics and how can public history be done in meaningful ways?
“It is a reproach to our intelligence that we as a people should have to support about half a million insane, feebleminded, epileptic, blind and deaf; 80,000 prisoners and 100,000 paupers at a cost of over 100 million dollars per year.”
-Charles Davenport, founder of the Eugenics Record Office, 1910
Eugenics Record Office pedigree showing transmission of feeblemindedness over several generations. Such evidence supported state-mandated, coerced sterilization of at least 62,000 Americans in over 30 states, beginning in 1907.
“The US is undertaking to regulate and control the great problem of the commingling of races. Our hope is in a homogeneous nation. At one time we welcomed all and all helped to build the nation. But now asylum ends. This nation must be as completely unified as any nation in Europe or Asia. Self-preservation demands it.”
Carl Brigham, A Study of American Intelligence (1923)
“There can be no doubt that so far as procedure is concerned the rights of the patient are most carefully considered. We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better 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.”
Better Babies at the Puyallup Fair, 1910s “defective” classes
Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair
“We are obliged to turn them
[the disabled] out at the most
dangerous period of their
existence when many of
them marry and reproduce in
kind” (State Institution for the
Feeble Minded, 1908).
Total number of sterilizations by state, from Mark Largent, Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the US.
CA 20,108 DE 945
VA 7,325 NB 902
NC 5,993 SD 789
MI 3,786 UT 764
GA 3,284 WA 685
IN 2,424 MI 683
MN 2,350 NH 679
OR 2,269 OK 626
WI 1,796 DE 557
in 1930, had 1,900 patients
(Sedro-Woolley, now closed)
(Medical Lake, now called Lakeland Village)
(Buckley, now called Rainier School)
Female inmate examined at the Western State Custodial School by IBH, Aug. 30, 1940. All identifying information omitted. From the Washington State Archives.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s eugenics apology, Dec. 2, 2002
To those who suffered, I say, The people of Oregon are sorry. Our hearts are heavy for the pain you endured. And, it is in honor of you that I declare December 10 hereafter to be Human Rights Day in Oregon—a day on which we will affirm our commitment to the value of every human being. On this day, we will renew our determination to protect the rights of all people, regardless of their color, their religious or philosophical beliefs, their sexual preference, their economic status, their illnesses or disabilities. We value them all, for they are our brothers and sisters.
Virginia 2001 on the centennial of the first sterilization law
North Carolina 2002
Criticism: What lessons are we teaching and learning? Avoid close examination of who sanctioned eugenics and why. Does the public still believe disabled people “deserve” sterilization? Where are the voices of PWD in the apology movement?Government apologies for sterilizations