On this day in 1927, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Buck v. Bell. If you’re not familiar, here are the basic facts:
Emma Buck of Charlottesville was considered by authorities to be a “low grade moron.” When she gave birth out of wedlock to Carrie Buck, she was committed. Later, Carrie was raped by a member of her foster family and became pregnant. To cover their tracks, the family committed her, too. And when Carrie gave birth, her daughter was declared “not quite normal.”
This situation was perfect for lovers of eugenics and advocates of sterilization, who then held sway then in Virginia. They declared that the Bucks’s supposed disabilities were hereditary and the only solution was forced sterilization. Their court case intended to prove the constitutionality of that action, and as it happens, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes agreed, famously declaring, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
If you’ve read this far, you win a prize. Now go wash yourself off.
A version of this post was originally published on April 22, 2011.
IN ADDITION: An interview with Carrie Buck at the end of her life
IMAGE: Carrie and Emma Buck, 1924