Ethically Defective

Three Generations, No Imbeciles
Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell
Paul A. Lombardo
John Hopkins University Press, $29.95, 384 pp.

 

In Reckless Hands
Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics
Victoria F. Nourse
W. W. Norton, $24.95, 256 pp. 

In 1924, Carrie Buck was seventeen years old, unwed, and pregnant. The man who had raped and impregnated her was the nephew of her foster parents. Fearing the consequences of his actions, both for him and for them, Carrie’s foster parents sought to have her committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded. They testified in court that she had hallucinations, was given to moral delinquency, and had a bad temper. Their family physician testified that Carrie was “feeble-minded within the meaning of the law” and ought to be institutionalized. The court agreed, and Carrie became inmate number 1692 at the Virginia Colony.

Jack Skinner was nineteen years old when he was arrested for stealing chickens in 1926. By the time he was twenty-nine, Jack was serving his third stint in jail, this time for stealing $17 from a gas station. The robbery landed him in McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma.

Carrie Buck and Jack Skinner share the dubious distinction of having...

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