- BOSTON (AP) - A doctoral
student has uncovered a dark secret in Vermont's past: Scientists in the
1920s and '30s had an active eugenics plan to eliminate the state's "degenerate"
bloodlines and replenish "old pioneer stock."
- In a book to be published later this year, Nancy Gallagher
details the plan called the "Vermont Eugenics Survey."
- The 12-year survey, developed by an independent team
of social scientists, studied "good" and "bad" families
in the state and listed those which it determined needed to be eliminated,
Gallagher told The Boston Globe for a story in Saturday's editions.
- The report was circulated among policymakers at the time
and led to the passage of a 1931 sterilization law.
- The law resulted in the sterilization of several hundred
poor, rural Vermonters, Abenaki Indians and others deemed unfit to procreate,
the Globe reported.
- Vermont was hardly alone in embracing eugenics, the science
of human breeding that branched off from social Darwinism.
- The concept was to manage the misery of the poor. Studies
had suggested domestic abuse and alcoholism were thought to be caused by
recessive genes and inbreeding. Thus, by reducing the number of babies
born to sick or unwed parents, and by attracting desirable settlers, social
scientists thought they could a build a healthier society, the Globe reported.
- Gallagher said Vermonters seemed willing to accept eugenic
- She said public records of the eugenics project reflect
an abhorrent mindset of scientists. One, Dr. Henry Perkins of the University
of Vermont, came up with "pedigrees of degeneracy," Gallagher
- In 1931, Perkins' work prompted Vermont to become the
31st state to enact a sterilization law for the handicapped or "the
- Records do not show the extent to which the sterilization
policy was enforced or how the option was presented to its subjects. The
laws were rolled back in the 1960s and 70s.
- Gallagher, a 50-year old former biology teacher, said
she initially hesitated pursuing her thesis because she knew some families
would find their relatives among those the scientists considered unfit.
- "Every step of the way, I wondered if I should even
be writing it," she said.