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Prejudiced Accounts of Sexual Abuse in the Pedigrees


In 1919, the Vermont State School for Feeble-Minded Children began admitting not only children but "feeble-minded" women of childbearing age. Its reasons for doing so are evident in the pages that follow.  At the height of the Vermont eugenics movement in the 1910s and 20s, vulnerable Vermonters were targeted for institutionalization in order to prevent them from reproducing "defective" offspring. The eugenic social workers who completed the pedigree forms featured in this exhibit particularly feared poor girls and young women who did not conform to eugenicists' own cultural beliefs and practices.  Eugenicists in this era particularly targeted girls and young women because of their potential to bear children and thus add to the "menace of the feeble-minded."

In the "special pedigrees" that follow, girls and young women who had survived incest or rape were deemed sexually "immoral" or "vicious" and were placed in the Vermont State School for Feeble-Minded Children.  Other vulnerable young women and girls were labeled "sex offenders" to justify their commitment. 

Though articulated dispassionately by eugenic field workers, the pedigrees reveal horrific stories of privation and abuse made exponentially worse by eugenic intervention: Many mothers who were deemed eugenically "unfit" had sons and daughters torn away from them, while they themselves were confined to the Vermont State School. Poor children were removed from vulnerable families to be "trained" out of habits of immorality and vice within the confines of the institution.