During the early twentieth century, the United States was enduring significant social and economic changes due to its transformation into a commercial and industrial world power. As the need for labor escalated within many urban areas, millions of Europeans emigrated from Southern and Eastern Europe with the hopes of capitalizing upon these employment opportunities and attaining a better life. Simultaneously, many African-Americans migrated from the rural South into major cities, bearing the same intentions as those of the European immigrants. The presence of these minority groups generated both racial and class fears within white middle and upper class Americans. The fervent ethnocentrism resulting from these fears, coupled with the Social Darwinist concepts of Herbert Spencer, would ultimately spur the American eugenics movement. Originating from the theories of Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, eugenics is the study of human heredity and genetic principles for the purposes of improving the human race by limiting the proliferation of defective gene pools. Charles Davenport, the founding father of the American eugenics movement, was one of many elite Americans advocating for the incorporation of the ideals of this new "science" into society. The work of Davenport, which became known as eugenic principles, would not only have an impact on public education, but a legal impact as well. By 1931, thirty state legislatures had passed involuntary sterilization laws that targeted "defective strains" within the general population, such as the blind, the deaf, the poor, and the feebleminded. Virginia, one of these states, held the position that involuntary sterilization would not only benefit the overal...
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... People With Mental Disabilities: Issues,
Perspectives, and Cases (Westport CT: Auburn House, 1995) 22.
Buck v. Bell. 274 U.S. 200, 205. No. 292 US Supreme Ct. 1927.
Brantlinger, Ellen. Sterilization of People With Mental Disabilities: Issues, Perspectives, and Cases. Westport CT: Auburn House, 1995.
Larson, Edward. Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
Macklin, Ruth. Mental Retardation and Sterilization: A Problem of Competency and Paternalism. New York: Plenum Press, 1981.
Reilly, Phillip. The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Shapiro, Thomas. Population Control Politics: Women, Sterilization, and Reproductive Choice. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985.
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