Chronicling Historical Butchery

How Audrey Clare Farley turned a story about eugenics into a book.

Living in an alternate reality between 2016 and 2021 caused me to fear that American social justice, and our democracy, was moving backward, not forward. But history is cyclical; we’ve been here before.

In years past, our nation participated in deplorable and shameful practices — the plundering of Indigenous people, slavery, internment camps, secret medical experiments on people of color, and systemic racism, among others.

America was also responsible for a “selective breeding” program, called eugenics, developed in the early 20th century. Believe it or not, Hitler used the American program as a blueprint for building his Aryan master race.

In The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt, author Audrey Clare Farley tells the story of the wealthy young Hewitt, whose socialite mother, Maryon, considered her daughter feebleminded, sexually devious, and unfit for motherhood. Under false pretenses, Maryon had Ann sterilized — without her consent — just before Ann’s 21st birthday. In 1936, Ann filed a lawsuit against her mother; subsequently, Maryon and the doctors who performed the procedure were charged with criminal mayhem.

Farley’s book not only illuminates Ann Cooper Hewitt’s tragic life but also explains the “selective breeding” practices which resulted in the permanent sterilization of tens of thousands of American women and men without their consent.

The creators of the eugenics movement believed that social conditions like poverty and promiscuity were inherited genetically. The goal of the movement was to ensure racial and social integrity by identifying and eliminating these undesirable traits and others, including intellectual disability, criminality, and hyper-breeding by lower-income, non-white people.

Read the rest of my article at Washington Independent Review of Books.

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