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.

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Vermont Author Under Scrutiny for Ties to Eugenics

dorothy canfield fisher vermont author eugenics supporter

The eugenics movement is a dark chapter of Vermont’s history, and now one local author’s alleged role in that movement is under intense scrutiny.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher was a prolific local writer, and her namesake rests at various institutions in Arlington today including Fisher Elementary School. In 1957 a Vermont children’s literacy program was established in the author’s honor, and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award has recognized outstanding children’s writers over the last 60 years.

Fisher’s reputation has been questioned in recent weeks, as Essex educator and artist Judy Dow has led the fight for the removal of Fisher’s name from the award. Dow, who has both French Canadian and Abenaki roots, claims that Fisher not only stereotyped French Canadians and Native Americans in her extensive works, but played an active role in the eugenics movement as well.

Read the full story in the Bennington Banner.

VPR: Coming To Terms With Vermont’s Dark History Of Eugenics

vpr-vt state hospital waterbury 1900

VPR’s Vermont Edition devoted June 7th’s broadcast to an interview with Dartmouth College senior Mercedes de Guardiola. Mercedes spoke on the State of Vermont’s Eugenics Survey at the State Archives just the week before (see Sokoki Sojourn’s post here). The original 6/7/17 VPR article includes 34 minutes of audio – please listen carefully by clicking here.

Vermont’s prominent role in the American eugenics movement of the early 20th century is an often overlooked part of the state’s history.  The state’s brutal history of sterilization, forced institutionalization, and racist pseudoscience is the focus of a new academic paper by our guest.

We’re joined by Dartmouth College senior Mercedes de Guardiola. Her thesis covering the eugenics movement in Vermont is “Blood has told”: The Eugenical Campaign in the Green Mountain State.

Broadcast was live on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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.

Deb Reger and the Mocassin Tracks Radio Show

Deb-Reger-Mocassin-Tracks

One woman discovered the power of community radio in 2009, when the indigenous people of Vermont were still not recognized at a state level. Some tribes of the Abenaki nation, the people native to the region now known as Vermont, achieved state recognition as late as 2012, according to the state website.

Deb Reger, host of Moccasin Tracks on 90.1 WRUV, felt conversations about these people were held exclusively at state and professional levels. “As a non-native person, I felt like I needed to know the truth,” she said. “I wanted to hear the truth from the people themselves, not be told by privileged white people.”

Reger created Moccasin Tracks to voice the stories and perspectives of Native Americans.

Read the article by Maddy Pimental about Deb and the Show in UVM’s Vermont Cynic online paper.