- From rural Better Baby and Fitter Family contests to forced sterilizations, eugenics found fertile ground among midwestern reformers, scientists, and the general public. In this convening, scholars will reflect on the deeply rooted history of eugenics in the Midwest. The midwest reflection will consist of 2-3 panels organized broadly by theme. In addition to discussing local and state-specific contexts, scholars will explore broad themes such as race, gender, and sexuality. Panelists will also share their research on the ways that specific eugenic practices, including institutionalization and sterilization, played out in midwestern states. Significantly, scholars from the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab will showcase newly collected and analyzed data on sterilizations performed in Michigan and Iowa.
- Despite performing the fourth most eugenic sterilizations in the country, very little has been written about Michigan’s eugenics program and even less is known about its sterilization victims. Last year, I discovered a significant number of the state’s eugenic sterilization records in Lansing, Michigan. These records are inconsistent across institutions, but those from the Kalamazoo State Hospital are nearly complete. The approximately 200 sterilization records from Kalamazoo offer an opportunity to examine the patterns and experiences of sterilization in a Michigan state hospital from the 1920s through the 1950s. Early analysis shows that Kalamazoo is representative of most other mental health hospitals in Michigan; thus, a study of these records will help shed light on eugenics and sterilization in a state characterized by rapid industrialization and anxiety around the influx of both legal and illegal Eastern and Southern European migrants via the Detroit-Windsor border. I argue that these characteristics are reflected in the demographics and justifications for the sterilizations.
- Between 1923 and 1974, more than 3,800 Michiganders were sterilized under the state’s eugenic sterilization law as part of the nationwide campaign to improve the reproductive fitness of the population. Despite performing the fourth most eugenic sterilizations of any state, relatively little is known about the populations and communities in Michigan targeted by these laws.
Recently, a majority of these 3,800 sterilization records were discovered by this author and from these files, I have begun to collect and analyze patients’ demographic data. This project will be the first presentation and discussion of these demographic characteristics. The overwhelming majority of these sterilizations were conducted in state mental hospitals and disproportionately targeted women, immigrants, Native Americans, and the poor.
While sterilization data from western and southern states such as California and North Carolina have been the subject of significant research, the industrialized north has remained largely unstudied. Michigan is a missing but important part of national and international eugenics history due to the large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants that crossed over from Canada, especially following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. Preliminary analysis of these data reflect the xenophobic underpinnings to eugenics in this northern border state.
- On October 18, 1974, the Wayne County Training School for Feeble Minded Children (WCTS), located near Detroit, officially ended its life as a state institution. To the surrounding community, WCTS’ closing wasn’t the end of its story but the beginning of a new place in public memory. In its afterlife, this former youth asylum remained a space of community anxiety related to youth delinquency. However, it also transformed from a space where unruly bodyminds were contained by the state to a space that created delinquents via illegal trespassing.
This paper traces one afterlife of WCTS through Crip Theory and STS lenses. After closing WCTS, the state repurposed the cottages that once held delinquent youth into a for-profit haunted house exhibit. In the surrounding community’s collective consciousness, WCTS transformed from a place where delinquent youths were sent to be contained to a public spectacle where horrors were used to generate profit. While open as the WCTS, taxpayers complained loudly about the public cost of the institution; however, in its afterlife, that same community gladly paid high admission prices to keep it open for their entertainment.
Applying both a Crip and STS lens to the WCTS’ afterlife allows for intersectional analysis of the relationship between the institution and the community, with a particular emphasis on how WCTS, both the state institution and the haunted house, was a site where unruly bodyminds became separated from the general community: either by state coercion and medical authorities or by choice, for their own revelry.
2019 (Powerpoint only) – Coming Over the Detroit River: Eugenics in Michigan, 1920s-1930s
Note: Powerpoint must be downloaded to see the labels on the graphs