Senior Honors Projects, 2020-current
“For the best interest of the patient and of society;” Sterilization in Virginia’s mental institutions in the 20th century
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Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Department of History
Raymond M. Hyser
The science of eugenics, or classifying and grouping people into the categories of genetically “inferior” and “superior” for the purpose of better breeding, thrived during the first decades of the 20th century in Virginia. The first recorded instance of eugenic sterilization in a Virginia Mental Institution occurred in 1915 by Dr. Albert Priddy. In 1924, the combined efforts of Dr. Joseph DeJarnette and Dr. Albert Priddy resulted in the passage of a state-sanctioned eugenic sterilization law that was later deemed constitutional in 1927 by Buck v. Bell. The 1924 law gave Western State Hospital, Central State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, Southwestern State Hospital, the Virginia State Colony, and later the Petersburg Colony the authority to sexually sterilize patients with hereditary forms of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, feeble- mindedness, or epilepsy. This thesis focuses specifically on Western State Hospital, Central State Hospital, and the Virginia State Colony and how these mental institutions acted with regard to sterilization before and after it was legalized. These three institutions were chosen because they performed the overwhelming majority of sterilizations within the state. The number of sterilizations conducted annually at each institution is recorded and cataloged. Gaps and discrepancies in sterilization numbers are analyzed and possible explanations for these discrepancies are given. However, the actual number of sterilizations in Virginia will never be truly known due to inconsistent record keeping.
Gordon, Grace M., "“For the best interest of the patient and of society;” Sterilization in Virginia’s mental institutions in the 20th century" (2022). Senior Honors Projects, 2020-current. 142.