Segregation's science: the American eugenics movement and Virginia, 1900-1980

Dorr, Gregory Michael, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Kett, Joseph F., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Lombardo, Paul A., College of Law, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace Elizabeth, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Perhaps no state adopted eugenics--the science of human hereditary improvement--as fully as Virginia. "Segregation's Science: the American Eugenics Movement and Virginia, 1900-1980" melds social, intellectual, and cultural history in analyzing Virginia's eugenics movement. Tracing the institutionalization of eugenics in Virginia's high schools, colleges, and medical schools, this dissertation illuminates how formal education inculcated ideas of racial, class, and gender superiority and inferiority. Close examination of the ideas, speeches, publications, and personal papers of Virginia educators reveals both their eugenic orthodoxy and their intimate relationships with important national-level eugenicists. Reconstructing the network among Virginia's eugenicists, eugenic institutions, and national-level eugenicists explains how and why Virginia law-makers passed and enforced eugenic marriage, segregation, and sterilization statutes. Thus, this dissertation evinces the reflexive relationship between scientific ideas and social context. It explains the rhetorical movement of white elites away from the splenetic racism of "Redemption" and toward the "scientific" and "managerial" racism of the Progressive Era. This shift allowed Virginia elites to solve the "crisis of modernity" posed by the rise of the New South. Using scientific education as the warrant for their "expert" authority, they emphasized empiricism and rationalism, portraying their eugenic society as a "modem" model for the entire nation. This modem eugenic stance permitted southern racists to bond with northern nativists and xenophobes in extolling white supremacy. Thus, adopting eugenic public policy engendered sectional rapprochement by harmonizing racism and science. The power and persistence of eugenic theory helps to explain the rise of "Massive Resistance" in Virginia - the only upper-South state to adopt such a reactionary stance - and elsewhere. While some whites and most Native and African Americans rejected eugenic ideology, some members of the black community advanced modified forms of eugenics. Denying the racial hierarchies posited by most white eugenicists, African-American eugenicists embraced the notion of a eugenically "pure" black race within Virginia. Accepting many of the class and gender biases of their white counterparts, black eugenicists nevertheless coopted white hereditarianism, reshaping it to comport with notions of racial "uplift.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
eugenics, segregation science, Virginia

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-04-22 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:40.

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