Between 1931 and 1941, thanks to an act of their Legislature, more than 200 Vermonters were sterilized — many of them Abenakis and French Canadians — for the perceived social crime of being “idiots,” “imbeciles,” “feeble-minded” or “insane.” With the hindsight of history, it’s hard for many people — especially school children — to believe an official eugenics policy was written into law in the Green Mountain State.
“It’s been really powerful hearing about this,” said Rose Stone, a student at Guilford Central School. “My dad’s part Indian, so I am learning his history.”
“As a French American … my own history could be in that,” said Cooper Cooper LaFlam.
“It’s a really important thing for us to learn,” said Emily Matthew Muller, one of Stone’s classmates. “A lot of people would just tell history as Christopher Columbus came to America and everything was fine and nothing happened. But it wasn’t that way at all”
With the help of Judy Dow, an Abenaki basketmaker, Amy Skolnick and Cory Sorensen are leading Guilford’s fourth- and fifth-graders through an exploration of the story of eugenics in Vermont.
Read the full article by Bob Audette in the Brattleboro Reformer. Photography by Kristopher Radder.
A powerful commentary piece in Vermont Digger April 2, 2018 (read full article):
While doing research on my family genealogy, I learned that my late grandfather, a child of German Jews, was born with the middle name Adolph. I knew that his family had changed their last name from Slawitsky as his father, my great-grandfather, faced insurmountable anti-Semitism while serving in the U.S. military against the German Nazis due to his surname. What I didn’t know was that when making the anglicized legal switch from Slawitsky to Lawton, the family had also changed my grandfather’s middle name from Adolph to Tilden, defiantly distancing him from a dangerous oppressor while assimilating to avoid discrimination. While I do grieve the loss that my family suffered through the assimilation of our last name, I also celebrate the agency that allowed my grandfather to feel liberation from one of the most despicable practitioners of violence and hate. The name Tilden was passed on to his own son, and just a month ago my cousin gave the name to her newborn son, his great-grandson who he did not live to meet.
Here in Vermont we have an unfortunate history of refusing individuals their agency that has played out from the first time that European settlers arrived, simultaneously and paradoxically denying both the presence and the humanity of the Western Abenaki. Since that relatively recent arrival, the Abenaki have survived genocide taking the forms of land theft, property destruction, mass murder, scalping and more – insult after injury after insult after injury. The forced sterilization of Abenaki en mass in the 1930s and early ‘40s via the Vermont Eugenics Survey is only one of the more recent manifestations of this genocide… (see link above for balance)
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.
August 11, 2017 at the Root Social Justice Center, 28 Williams St., Brattleboro, VT
In the larger struggle against racism, we invite Judy Dow, an Abenaki educator, artist, and researcher to discuss the VT Eugenics Survey and it’s connection to the Dorthy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. She will be joined by local librarians and teachers to reflect on the legacy of colonialism in our society today.
Join Brattleboro Solidarity in supporting the struggle led by Judy Dow to change the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. This last minute event is very time sensitive as the Vermont Department of Libraries will be deciding any day now whether or not to change the name. Please come to show your support.
Following the talk there will be light refreshments and actions steps to be taken.
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’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.
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.