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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
The following is a thesis containing two separate parts: the background paper and a website. While both parts have been created with the ability to stand alone, they work best in conjunction with one another. The overall project provides a close study of Staunton, Virginia’s Western State Hospital’s Superintendent, Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, who practiced there from 1906-1943, and his involvement with eugenic sterilization. Dr. DeJarnette practiced during the Progressive Era, which influenced him to be a man desiring reform and progress, through science. The goal of this project is to analyze how his reputation as a doctor has been rewritten over time, changing from being a man who was once respected and idolized to one who is now associated with ghost stories and torturous behavior.
Both the background paper and the website utilize the same archive, the Library of Virginia, in order to provide a closer and more intimate look at Dr. DeJarnette’s complicated history. Western State Hospital donated a substantial amount of its documents, letters, and reports, along with many other important artifacts, to the Library of Virginia over the three decades, starting in 1981, decades after Dr. DeJarnette passed away, preventing him from having any role in choosing which documents of his were preserved. The website component of this thesis consists of an online archive of letters of correspondence and reports related to Dr. DeJarnette, making it one of the first and only places where these items are digitized for public use.
This project analyzes websites as sources in order to study how Dr. DeJarnette’s reputation has been transformed. There is a scarcity of secondary academic sources dealing specifically with Dr. DeJarnette, which meant it was necessary to utilize a wider variety of sources. Regardless of the amount of literature available, the primary reason the Internet was examined for this project is because of the rapidly growing interest among historians in the subfield of digital history. This website contributes to the growing availability of historical material that is being shared via digital platform. By providing an online archive along with textual support, it is the hope that the average person as well as an academic researcher can gain a better understanding of Dr. DeJarnette, why he participated in eugenic sterilization, and how his reputation has been transformed.
Melchione, Brianna, "An appointment with Dr. Joseph DeJarnette: An analysis of a leading eugenics advocate and how his legacy has been rewritten, 1906-1943" (2016). Masters Theses. 119.