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Fixing the Poor: Eugenic Sterilization and Child Welfare in the Twentieth Century

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Between 1907 and 1937, thirty-two states legalized the sterilization of more than 63,000 Americans. In Fixing the Poor, Molly Ladd-Taylor tells the story of these state-run eugenic sterilization programs. She focuses on one such program in Minnesota, where surgical sterilization was legally voluntary and administered within a progressive child welfare system. Tracing Between 1907 and 1937, thirty-two states legalized the sterilization of more than 63,000 Americans. In Fixing the Poor, Molly Ladd-Taylor tells the story of these state-run eugenic sterilization programs. She focuses on one such program in Minnesota, where surgical sterilization was legally voluntary and administered within a progressive child welfare system. Tracing Minnesota's eugenics program from its conceptual origins in the 1880s to its official end in the 1970s, Ladd-Taylor argues that state sterilization policies reflected a wider variety of worldviews and political agendas than previously understood. She describes how, after 1920, people endorsed sterilization and its alternative, institutionalization, as the best way to aid dependent children without helping the "undeserving" poor. She also sheds new light on how the policy gained acceptance and why coerced sterilizations persisted long after eugenics lost its prestige. In Ladd-Taylor's provocative study, eugenic sterilization appears less like a deliberate effort to improve the gene pool than a complicated but sadly familiar tale of troubled families, fiscal and administrative politics, and deep-felt cultural attitudes about disability, dependency, sexuality, and gender. Drawing on institutional and medical records, court cases, newspapers, and professional journals, Ladd-Taylor reconstructs the tragic stories of the welfare-dependent, sexually delinquent, and disabled people who were labeled "feebleminded" and targeted for sterilization. She chronicles the routine operation of Minnesota's three-step policy of eugenic commitment, institutionalization, and sterilization in the 1920s and 1930s and shows how surgery became the "price of freedom" from a state institution. Combining innovative political analysis with a compelling social history of those caught up in Minnesota's welfare system, Fixing the Poor is a powerful reinterpretation of eugenic sterilization.


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Between 1907 and 1937, thirty-two states legalized the sterilization of more than 63,000 Americans. In Fixing the Poor, Molly Ladd-Taylor tells the story of these state-run eugenic sterilization programs. She focuses on one such program in Minnesota, where surgical sterilization was legally voluntary and administered within a progressive child welfare system. Tracing Between 1907 and 1937, thirty-two states legalized the sterilization of more than 63,000 Americans. In Fixing the Poor, Molly Ladd-Taylor tells the story of these state-run eugenic sterilization programs. She focuses on one such program in Minnesota, where surgical sterilization was legally voluntary and administered within a progressive child welfare system. Tracing Minnesota's eugenics program from its conceptual origins in the 1880s to its official end in the 1970s, Ladd-Taylor argues that state sterilization policies reflected a wider variety of worldviews and political agendas than previously understood. She describes how, after 1920, people endorsed sterilization and its alternative, institutionalization, as the best way to aid dependent children without helping the "undeserving" poor. She also sheds new light on how the policy gained acceptance and why coerced sterilizations persisted long after eugenics lost its prestige. In Ladd-Taylor's provocative study, eugenic sterilization appears less like a deliberate effort to improve the gene pool than a complicated but sadly familiar tale of troubled families, fiscal and administrative politics, and deep-felt cultural attitudes about disability, dependency, sexuality, and gender. Drawing on institutional and medical records, court cases, newspapers, and professional journals, Ladd-Taylor reconstructs the tragic stories of the welfare-dependent, sexually delinquent, and disabled people who were labeled "feebleminded" and targeted for sterilization. She chronicles the routine operation of Minnesota's three-step policy of eugenic commitment, institutionalization, and sterilization in the 1920s and 1930s and shows how surgery became the "price of freedom" from a state institution. Combining innovative political analysis with a compelling social history of those caught up in Minnesota's welfare system, Fixing the Poor is a powerful reinterpretation of eugenic sterilization.

31 review for Fixing the Poor: Eugenic Sterilization and Child Welfare in the Twentieth Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The thesis at the beginning was that welfare state policies are invasive and expensive so people in need are dehumanized by the very bureaucracy that's supposed to help them. By the end, the author seems to have expanded her thinking to acknowledge that sexism combined with welfare state approaches are dehumanizing, and also racism exists. But never really acknowledged that ableism against people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities also exists and isn't great? I don't know, I learned The thesis at the beginning was that welfare state policies are invasive and expensive so people in need are dehumanized by the very bureaucracy that's supposed to help them. By the end, the author seems to have expanded her thinking to acknowledge that sexism combined with welfare state approaches are dehumanizing, and also racism exists. But never really acknowledged that ableism against people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities also exists and isn't great? I don't know, I learned stuff, but the social analysis was really lacking. If you're going to read this I'd recommend pairing it with Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class and maybe No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1840s-1930s. Unless you're specifically interested in Minnesota's history of eugenic practices against disabled and poor people, I'd probably skip it though.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ash Shalvey-Phelan

  3. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    363.97 L154 2017

  5. 5 out of 5

    Inventory

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    Melissa

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    Kara Zelasko

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    DG

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    ♥ Sandi ❣

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