Filmmakers Explore Vermont’s Uncomfortable Eugenics History

A former U-32 student is back in Vermont to make a movie about the state’s infamous eugenics era.

Luke Becker-Lowe, fellow film students from Emerson College in Boston and a cast of 20 were at the Center for Arts and Learning on Barre Street Saturday and Sunday, filming scenes that staged the sterilization of subjects.

The film is based on the Vermont Eugenics Program that followed a 1931 law legalizing the sterilization of “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons residing in state institutions.” Vermont’s eugenics program, headed by University of Vermont Prof. Harry F. Perkins, led to the sterilization of 253 people, mostly women, between 1931 and 1957, according to UVM’s website.

Becker-Lowe said growing up on dirt roads in central Vermont gave him an appreciation of backwoods life, unique characters and the challenges they face. He is also a fan of 20th century period films that reflect social and cultural shifts over time. Their project, “Dormancy,” was a response to and a reflection of a new era of political and social intolerance in America that serves as a sobering lesson, he said.

Read the full article by Stephen Mills in the Rutland Herald.

Link to the GoFundMe site for this production.

VPR: Dartmouth Student Researches Vermont’s History Of Eugenics

Click here for the audio on VPR News’ The Frequency.

In the early 20th century, Vermont was among a group of states that had policies on the books based on eugenics — the idea that the human population could be controlled to bring out what were considered “desirable” characteristics.

Mercedes de Guardiola, a student at Dartmouth College, wrote her senior thesis on the history of eugenics in Vermont. Though the study of eugenics has since been discredited, when the policies were in effect, they resulted in the sterilization of some Vermonters.

De Guardiola is presenting her work Wednesday evening at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex. [Note: this took place last night, 5/31/2017]

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with de Guardiola about the origins of Vermont’s eugenics policy, its lasting effect on the state and what’s been done in the years since to reckon with this period in Vermont’s history.

Vermont State Eugenics Survey Presentation May 31, 2017

vt eugenics survey presentation

Link to pdf for event announcement: eugenicspresentation_20170531

“Eugenics and the Vermont State Hospital are subjects with which we, as a state, continue to wrestle,” says Secretary of State Jim Condos. “Archival records provide context for these chapters of our government’s past, some of which are dark. We are pleased to have the opportunity to host two presentations that illustrate how these and other historical records help shed light on these matters.”

May 31 — “Blood has told:” The Push for a “Eugenical Solution” in the Green Mountain State. Scholarship on Vermont’s eugenics movement has largely focused on the Eugenics Survey of Vermont of the 1920s, even though state officials proposed eugenical policies as early as 1912. Mercedes de Guardiola, a senior at Dartmouth College majoring in history, examines why eugenics emerged in Vermont and its impact on Vermont’s eugenical policies over the course of the twentieth century.

From the press release from the VT Secretary of State’s office, which is hosting the event. Full copy here.