I’ve just finished a book I’m calling “The Incorrigibles: Eugenics and Sterilization in a Juvenile Girls’ Reformatory.”
It offers the first treatment of eugenic sterilization in Kansas, the Sunflower State. We know surprisingly little about why more than a dozen states never passed sterilization laws, and, further, difficult questions remain about why in those that did institutional practice varied so much from state to state. In a related vein, because patient records are so difficult to find, let alone access, the people whose lives were irreparably altered by institutional sterilizations are often absent the historical record.
In late 1935 the current superintendent of a reform school in north-central Kansas (the Beloit Girls’ Industrial School) began an eighteen-month program of sterilizations much more aggressive than ever before, eventually reaching forty-two percent of the girls then incarcerated. This project sheds light on lived experiences of girls incarcerated and sterilized at the GIS. As a window into the politics and practices of sterilization in the mid-twentieth century, their stories help to illustrate the elasticity and longevity of eugenic practices and ideas with respect to a population where the distinction between “fit” and “unfit” cannot be so easily drawn. This social history uses this incident at the GIS as a framework to illustrate the concatenations of class, gender, and race in Kansas’ state welfare institutions, the formidable power of carceral, reform, and medical superintendents, the interplay of the juvenile court and attendant legal apparatuses, and the potency of clinical diagnosis, psychological testing and bureaucratic habituation in Kansas driven by social welfare practice. In doing so, The Incorrigibles tells for the first time the story of eugenics in Kansas from 1894-1955 as it intersected with the populations the state identified as delinquent and defective.