Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Baby Eugenics Tests...Grand Success" in 1919

100 years ago on October 30th, 1919, Salem held its first "eugenics tests" for babies.

October 30th, 1919

After six clinics, "Salem's only perfect baby" - June 20th, 1920
The clinics and tests were an unsettling mixture of what we would today recognize as health screenings and wellness fairs on the one hand, and unsavory support for "scientific" racism, nativism, and "sex hygiene" on the other.

"Blood will tell" October 29th, 1919
Infant mortality was a real concern, but so was "loyalty," "right living," and the right "blood." The scorecards included evaluations of the nationality and jobs of the mother and father, and it is clear that class and whiteness were privileged.

"Save the Salem Babies" October 28th, 1919

First of several pages on the Eugenics Tests,
the Children's Bureau, and
the Salemites who run the tests - June 20th, 1920
The late Progressive Era here embraced eugenics with an enthusiasm that today is clearly unseemly and immoral, and sentiments to "save the babies" went together with efforts for compulsory sterilization. The entry in the Oregon Encyclopedia for Bethenia Owens-Adair, an important figure in the sterilization movement, says she
overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to become a social reformer and one of Oregon's first women doctors with a medical degree....

and inspired by friend Abigail Scott Duniway, she argued for woman suffrage as well as women's education, employment, and health.
But waits until the very end to note
Owens-Adair was a "crusader" in the eugenics movement...[and] advocated and led campaigns for sterilization of the "unfit."
This jumble of the noble and base is characteristic of the movement. (The State Library has digitized a number of contemporary documents and notes "There was a total of 2,648 individuals sterilized in Oregon.")

The Legislature passed a Sterilization bill in 1917
February 17th, 1917
Eugenics board calls for sterilizing
prisoners (a few notes on Merithew here)
February 6th, 1918
This is a fascinating time, and as it unfolds 100 years ago we will return to it.

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

The Oregon eugenics program continued to sterilize people on occasion until the 1960s, with the law not being repealed fully until 1983.