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Eugenics in Virginia - Another Story of Forced Sterilization

Updated on June 8, 2014
Lewis | Source

The story of eugenics in the Commonwealth of Virginia is rising from the darkness.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a hub about Jesse, a gentle man who was wrongfully committed to a state mental hospital, held in conditions that were more prison-like than therapeutic, and sterilized against his will because he wasn't educated.

One persons courage can be all that is needed to help another find their own. After a recent article in our local paper, another victim of the eugenics movement in the Commonwealth of Virginia has come forward. Meet Lewis, a 30 year veteran of the United States Marines.

The Story of Lewis

Lewis was sterilized by the Commonwealth of Virginia at the age of 13 - against his will. He was a resident of The Lynchburg Colony, a state run facility for the mentally infirmed.

Can you imagine the fear and trauma of one so young going through such a procedure? You might ask, why did this happen? Was he "retarded", a "delinquent", a "truant"? Lewis was none of the above. He was simply sick. Lewis had seizures, nothing more.

He began having seizures after being hit in the head with a rock at the age of 3. For about ten years, his family managed his seizures. His official diagnosis was epilepsy caused by an accidental head injury. Lewis occasionally missed school because of his seizures, but no one would ever accuse him of being stupid. Lewis was quite - normal.

While his father was doing some work at the Lynchburg Colony, Dr. George Arnold, the superintendent of The Colony heard the story of Lewis and his seizures and suggested he be brought to The Colony where he could be taken care of. At the age of 12, Lewis became a resident of the Colony. The year was 1941.

His admission evaluation revealed that he was "a fairly normal intelligent boy". Medical records from The Colony showed that Lewis had two seizures in the first few months there. That's it - two seizures.

Six months later, he was sterilized.

Now, here's the catch. Three weeks after being sterilized, Lewis was released to his mother. It seems the Commonwealth of Virginia had indeed "taken care of" Lewis.

Lewis may have been released three weeks after being sterilized but he was listed as "paroled" from The Colony, as if he were a criminal. He would live with families in the community for the next four years.

Like Jesse, Lewis was strong and had a destiny greater than what the Commonwealth of Virginia could steal from him. He served in the United States Marine Corp for 30 years. He fought in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and survived. Perhaps it is safe to say he survived a third war; a war perpetuated by the Commonwealth of Virginia against it's citizens. It was the war of eugenics, sanctioned by Virginia's Eugenics Law of 1924, a law that supported forced sterilization for the purpose of selective breeding and social engineering.

The Commonwealth of Virginia changed Lewis' life forever but it didn't keep him from success. He served his country honorably and has been a successful businessman as well. He is another testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Where Will It End?

The Christian Law Institute says it's time for Virginia to take responsibility for it's sordid actions against the victims of eugenics. They are asking for monetary compensation for the victims of forced sterilization by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ex-Governor Mark Warner (D) has issued a formal apology to the victims but it's time for the State to do the right thing.

© 2012 Linda Crist


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  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Kathryn, it happened many times and in many places and no matter how you look at it, it was just wrong. Thank you for the visit. I really appreciate it.

  • Kathryn Stratford profile image


    5 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

    That is terrible! I never knew that went on.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Alecia, you are so right. If we are to become a better world we have to stop judging people and thinking one is better than the other. We all have our gifts and the right to be who we are. Thank you for the visit.

  • Alecia Murphy profile image

    Alecia Murphy 

    5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

    Similar stories have occurred in North Carolina except to women. These women may have had issues or considered mentally unstable but overall they desired to have families. One woman I remember was sterilized by her mom since she had a baby at 13. This was in the 1960s and while the woman grew up and got married, she couldn't have kids with her husband. That has to be beyond heartbreaking. It's definitely something that should've never had happened. You can't fix someone simply because they don't fit the roles of an acceptable society. Great hub!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi rasta! You're right, it is crazy. If it wasn't so real it would almost seem like fiction. Thank you for sharing my anger over it.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    5 years ago from Central Virginia

    PDXKaraokeGuy - thanks for the visit and for sharing my disgust and horror over the sinister history of the state where I live. It is shameful and I appreciate your sharing it.

  • rasta1 profile image

    Marvin Parke 

    5 years ago from Jamaica

    This is crazy, I am very angry to hear of this. This is the worst crime I have ever heard of.

  • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

    Justin W Price 

    5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

    Hard to believe that this has happened in the United Stats of America rather recently. Tragic. I'm glad you're sharing this with the world. So am I.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi PS! I am so glad to see you this morning. You were on my "to read" list for this morning. I wanted to read your series on Virginia from start to finish but had not found the time until today. When I logged in to HP this morning, your message on this hub was the first I saw so I now I know my plan was the right one. :-)

    Yes, it is scary and I believe it could happen again. That's why I felt we had to talk about it. During the Presidential race here, I thought about this so much, what with all the political babble over abortion, contraception, a woman's right to choose. I wondered if one day we would be like some other places in the world where the government tells you how many children to have and, decides which infant gender is allowed to live. I do not want to liv in a world like that so I think this subject needs to be shared over and over again. Jesse (whose story you are about to read) was my neighbor. Oh, if you could have met him. He was so gentle. His story will break your heart.

    Thank you for reading these stories. And....for sending angels. :-)

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 

    6 years ago from sunny Florida

    It is scary to think that this happened. My thought is this, what is to keep it from happening now? Sometimes we read such articles and shake our heads and think "that's sad" and go on with our lives, thinking this has nothing to do with us. But it could. I would hope this never happens again but am just not certain it won't.

    I am off to read Jesse's story.

    Sending Angels your way. :) ps

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Happy Wednesday MizB! I completely agree with you about. No surprise there I don't suppose. :-) When I read the hub I referenced, I really felt an ambivilence about it. Even though it was quite well written, I could not make myself comment on it because I wasn't confident that I could be anything less than inflammatory. I didn't come here to win friends but I also didn't want to discourage another writer from having an opinion. But, this whole topic is nagging at me a little. You may be right. There may be a hub in the making.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James-MizBejabbers 

    6 years ago from Beautiful South

    Another good point, lrc, I have no qualms about isolating HIV positive inmates. There is too much rape going on among inmates. I also think that there are too many innocent inmates serving time because of overzealous prosecutors and lazy police investigators. Innocent people don't deserve a death sentence, which is what HIV can turn into. You are correct about the legal implications, also. But these people need to remember that a person loses certain rights when he or she is convicted and incarcerated. The ACLU can fight for certain inmate rights and dignities, but there are some challenges that they can't always win. To jeopardize the lives and health of the many for the whims of the few is going too far, in my opinion. That sounds like a good subject for you another hub.

  • u-turn profile image

    Arthur George Rettell jr. ( 

    6 years ago from AZ. STATE

    unbelievable. Not, they should have all been killed. NC State had programs of this sort that just came out in like 2008. Sick minds and they were most likely doing the gene thing and crazy a ss, sick church people. You know that is our ole USA GOVT. Churches burned people at the stake when first arrived and settled they say and i have read litterateur on this.

    The New England States done this, Christians they are and that was their church . . .

    No wonder the holy land wants to kill this country, just certain people. I am for it. Lets get their ancestors and kids. They passed on their great way of thinking i"m sure and if not it is in their genes. They did it ,did they not !

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    MizB - I think Freddy should have a hub. It is an interesting case. Some things are black and white. Others, not. I can't tell you how I feel about Freddy. I need to think about it and wait to read your hub. Life constantly presents us with moral challenges. I read a hub yesterday by a fellow who was angry that his state was segregating inmates who were HIV positive. The ACLU has gotten involved. Now, I understand his view, that the inmates felt stigmatized. But, I also understand the state. If an HIV positive inmate infects an entire pod, is the state liable? Are the civil rights of the non-infected violated if they share housing with known HIV positive inmates who have already demonstrated a disregard for law and other humans? See, it's all quite complicated because we're not a perfect world, are we? Can't wait to see what you do with Freddy's story.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James-MizBejabbers 

    6 years ago from Beautiful South

    These stories are fairly common for the early to mid 20th century. Apparently they happened in other states, too. There was a family in my hometown who were very poor and not too smart. They had at least a half dozen children, and one, I’ll call Freddy, was a functioning mentally disabled person. I say “functioning” because as an adult, Freddy held a job in a warehouse and helped to support his whole family. But Freddy couldn’t discern right from wrong morally and impregnated at least two, maybe three of his sisters. When one sister got pregnant for the second time, a local civic organization funded him a sterilization operation. After that he and his not-so-bright sisters could make whoopee without any more babies. My sister told me that she went to school with two of Freddy’s daughters, and they seemed to be of average intelligence (no higher, though). Everyone in town knew Freddy and liked him. The town’s consensus was that it was better to sterilize him than to lock him up since he couldn’t make an intelligent choice.

    Freddy’s situation was different from those you have written about. Some would say that he was a sex abuser and lock him up, while others would say that his civil rights were violated because he was mentally disabled. Come to think of it, I may do a hub on Freddy. Good job on yours, Irc.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Bill and William - it was a creepy mental hospital but only if you knew what was going on inside. These things happened in the 40's, right here in my state, not 15 minutes from my home. Can you believe it? It makes me sick. The same was done to young Native American women. Did you know that? It's a story for another day but for any government to forcibly take away a human's right to have children is beyond comprehension. Perhaps it is the root of my obstinence about a governent defining right to life, pro-choice, etc. More importantly, I cannot fathom a government that determines a persons value based on illness or education. Some of our most amazing histories were the stories of hard-working folks who weren't eductated. Thank you both for your compassion. You are the civilized in an uncivilized world. Hats off to you both!

  • William Young profile image

    William Young 

    6 years ago from Eaglle Grove, Iowa

    Thank you for calling attention to this problem! This is really disturbing that this can take place in this day and age in the United States. This sounds like the kind of thing that went on 100 years ago in some creepy dingy mental hospital somewhere. The state of Virginia needs to put a stop to this immediately.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    This is such a horrendous attack on human rights! Who says we live in a civilized society? Please tell me why I should trust any government?

    Thank you for bringing this story to our attention. I am appalled and ashamed of this country. Great job Linda!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    6 years ago from Central Virginia

    Oh Georgie, you are so right about the money. My first story, about Jesse, was so personal. He was my neighbor. But when Lewis' story came out, I thought that he deserved for his story to be told too. I can't tell them all but I have to do something. THank you for reading, in spite of how hard they are to read.

  • Georgie Lowery profile image

    GH Price 

    6 years ago from North Florida

    I hate hearing stories like this, but we do need to hear them. Darn right those folks deserve some compensation, but there's no fair price that could be put on the ability to have children. Thank you for telling these stories that need to be told.


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