The Oregon eugenic movement : Bethenia Angelina Owens-Adair Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/9019s466j

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  • In 1906, applying Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories to the human race, Sir Francis Galton introduced the concept of eugenics, "the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding." The rediscovery in 1900 of Mendel's laws of genetic inheritance and an upsurge in hereditarian thought set the stage for the eugenic movement in America. That movement was organized in 1906 when the American Breeders' Association formed a committee on eugenics to study the heredity of the human race and to evaluate the threat'to society of "inferior blood." Under the leadership of respected biologists, eugenic field workers, themselves amateur social reformers, collected family pedigrees hoping to find a pattern in the inheritance of human defects. These pedigrees, carelessly and inconsistently constructed, formed the basis of "scientific" evidence used by eugenists campaigning for human sterilization legislation. Eugenic reform became a popular movement that by 1915 had attracted the interest and support of the "thinking" members of American society. A model eugenic sterilization law drafted by Henry Laughlin in 1914, proposed sterilization of 10 percent of the population, including the feebleminded, insane, criminal, epileptic, alcoholic, diseased, blind, deaf, deformed, and dependent. By 1931, thirty states had passed similar sterilization laws and 12,145 sterilizations had been performed under auspices of those laws. Eugenic sterilization legislation was codified into the General Laws of Oregon in 1920. The leading advocate for eugenic sterilization legislation in Oregon was that state's first woman doctor, Bethenia Angelina Owens-Adair. She first introduced a sterilization bill into the Oregon legislature in 1907 and reintroduced it in each legislative session until its successful passage in 1917. Owens-Adairts interest in eugenic reform was an outgrowth of her education and professional experience in medicine, coupled with her active involvement in the campaigns for women's suffrage and prohibition. Her ten-year fight to include sterilization legislation in Oregon's laws resulted in the formation of the Oregon State Board of Eugenics, later named the Oregon State Board of Social Protection. During the 68 years of this board's active operation, 2,648 Oregonians were sterilized in the name of eugenics.
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