Published February 18, 2021

On February 18, historians Elizabeth Catte (Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia) and Adam Cohen (Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck) discussed one of America’s great miscarriages of justice, the Supreme Court’s infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell decision, which resulted in more than 8,000 people being involuntarily sterilized in five Virginia state hospitals. The authors explored what this history means today and how eugenics are interconnected with racial, gender, and class prejudices.

Watch the recording of the event here:

Co-hosted by Encyclopedia Virginia

“In this grounded, well-rendered, and highly disturbing account, Catte examines the period from the late 1920s to 1979 at the Western State Lunatic Asylum….A well-told, richly contextualized investigation of an appalling episode in American history.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“In a lacerating analysis of the links between economic policies and eugenicist thought, Catte examines coerced labor at Virginia’s psychiatric institutions, the destruction of a historically-Black neighborhood in Charlottesville under the guise of urban renewal, and the transformation of Western State into an upscale hotel and condominiums. This provocative and impeccably argued history reveals how traumas of the past inform the inequalities of today.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In this detailed and riveting study, Cohen captures the obsession with eugenics in 1920s America… Cohen’s outstanding narrative stands as an exposé of a nearly forgotten chapter in American history.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Imbeciles is a revelatory book. Eye-opening and riveting. In these pages, Adam Cohen brings alive an unsettling, neglected slice of American history, and does so with the verve of a master storyteller.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

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