Home News A Vermont eugenics historian repeatedly hears ‘What is the relevance today?’ A new book offers an answer.

A Vermont eugenics historian repeatedly hears ‘What is the relevance today?’ A new book offers an answer.

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New book, “‘Vermont for Vermonters’: A History of Eugenics in the Green Mountain State,” available on Everyone’s Book Shelf in Brattleboro. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

When Mercedes de Guardiola tells people about his new book “‘Vermont for Vermonters’: A History of Eugenics in the Green Mountain State.” She often has to explain that the subject refers to a century of pseudoscientific efforts to selectively breed humans.

But that answer only raises more questions.

Many people in Vermont believe that in the early 1900s, the state began targeting certain people for family separation, institutionalization, and permanent contraceptive measures such as tubal blocks and sterilization. Not knowing that it was one of the states aimed at alleviating perceived problems such as “weakness” and “decadence”. Vasectomy.

“The story of eugenics in Vermont often goes like this,” de Guardiola says in the book’s introduction. “In 1925, University of Vermont professor Henry F. Perkins founded the Vermont Eugenics Survey to conduct research on Vermont families and advocate for eugenic public policies. Although it successfully lobbied for the legalization of sterilization, it closed in 1936 and eugenics gradually disappeared in the state.

But de Guardiola knows the reality was “much longer and more complex”, especially for those targeted. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2017 and researched this topic for her award-winning thesis and published her findings in a journal. academic journal And a 238 page history of her.

“One of the things I asked when I was pitching this book was, ‘What’s the relevance today?'” she said in a recent interview.

As headlines about mental health, substance use disorders and homelessness mount, de Guardiola has an answer at hand.

“It’s about what happens when a country’s social support system collapses and how people react,” she says. “It’s a familiar story to us by now.”

De Guardiola will work with the Vermont Historical Society to publish the book and make it available to the public. virtual program This Thursday.

“Despite growing scholarship, there remains limited knowledge about the scope of eugenics,” wrote de Guardiola, who testified before state parliament in 2021. formally apologized Regarding past practices. “Forgetting or ignoring eugenics will thwart any attempt to address its effects and further exacerbate the work of eugenicists.”

The author first learned about the subject in 1999’s Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, in which fellow historian Nancy Gallagher focused on Perkins and his research.

“It became clear,” De Guardiola recalled. “There was more to be said about the broader history of why and how eugenics came about in Vermont.”

The new book begins with then-Gov. In his 1912 Farewell Address, John Meade warned of the growing number of “perverts” and “defectives” who were draining local and state services with “little or no hope of permanent recovery.” .

Mead proposed three courses of action. Restrictive laws regarding marriage. 2. Isolation of defective products. 3. A surgical procedure known as a vasectomy. ”

Such a proposal would be shocking today. But a century ago, many Vermonters saw their public welfare system overwhelmed and underfunded after a major disaster. Influenza epidemic in 1918 and statewide Flood of 1927 — De Guardiola saw the measure as a potential “humanitarian solution”.

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to the Great Depression, Perkins founded the Vermont Eugenics Survey.

“Will the stallions of the future be as male as they have been in the past?” a University of Vermont professor asked in 1930. “If not, either the quality of the seeds is deteriorating, or Vermonters are neglecting to keep the soil in the nursery, the physical and social environment of the children, rich, well-rounded, and weed-free. Is it?”

State leaders debated and rejected bills on the subject in 1912 and 1927, and in 1931 passed the Voluntary Sterilization Act for the Advancement of Mankind.

This new book details the rise and fall of the nation’s eugenics movement through public and private records and reports. After examining a large amount of documents, de Guardiola realized there was one thing missing.

“Victim voices are the one area that is missing,” she said. “They were people’s friends, family, neighbors. What was it like to be confined to an institution? What were the consequences of marriage restrictions? Sterilization?”

This new book is the latest in the Vermont Historical Society series on related topics, including: “Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers of Hinesburg, 1790-1890.” with Elise Guyette “Recreating Vermont: The paradox of development in the 20th century.” Written by Paul Searles.

Society president Steve Perkins said of the Eugenics title: “Although emotionally challenging, this story is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand community, exclusion and belonging.”

The book comes as the nation establishes a truth and reconciliation commission to address past and present “institutional, structural and systemic discrimination” caused by state policies, according to a new report. It is said that it was published in. law.

“There are still many things we don’t know,” De Guardiola said. “We hope this history will help us understand what worked and what didn’t in the past and build a brighter future.”

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