Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


HIST 460/560, Winter 2007
Reading and Discussion Questions, Week 4

Michael D’Antonio, The State Boys Rebellion

1. What point is D’Antonio making by beginning his story with the claim that American eugenics “contributed directly to the eugenic ideology behind the Nazi Holocaust” (p. 5)? Why does he also write that the many people involved in this history “decided in the early 1900s to perform a great service to humanity” (p. 5)? How do you reconcile these two points?

2. What differentiated “positive” from “negative” eugenics?

3. What role did mental tests and testers play in the history of eugenics? Why?

4. Who was Carrie Buck?

5. What was the relationship between the practice of institutionalization and sterilization?

6. What were the chronological starting and ending points for eugenics during the twentieth century? Did these dates surprise you?

7. How did the nature-nurture debate fit into the history of eugenics? Who was Henry Goddard? Clemens Benda? Harold Skeels? Cyril Burt?

8. According to D’Antonio, how and why did most children end up in “state schools” like Fernald?

9. Why do you think the author makes a point of repeating that Freddie Boyce was mentally normal? Does it strengthen or weaken his critique of eugenics to insist that Freddie was not, in fact, a “defective,” like many of the other children at Fernald?

10. What was “the Science Club”?

11. D’Antonio paints a picture of boys suffering routine physical and sexual abuse at the hands of cruel attendants and suggests that the children placed there had very few advocates before the 1950s, even among their own parents. How does he explain this aspect of Fernald’s history? How do you?

12. What kind of life did the “state boys” have after they left Fernald?

13. In the 1960s, deinstitutionalization began to empty state hospitals and schools like Fernald in order to integrate their residents into a variety of ordinary communities around the country. Based on the experiences of Freddie and his friends, how would you evaluate this dramatic policy shift?

14. What did Fred learn about the Fernald Science Club in 1993? How did he, the other state boys, and Sandra Marlow (the Fernald librarian) explain what had happened to them in the early 1950s? How do you?

15. Who were Wally Cummins and RADLAW?

16. What was the result of the state boys’ lawsuit? Do you believe that justice was done? Why or why not?

Buck v. Bell (1927)

1. What is this case about? What was the Virginia law being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court? What was the constitutional question before the Court? What was the Court’s conclusion in this case?

2. Why does Justice Holmes carefully review the procedures involved in implementing the Virginia statute?

3. Holmes notes that “the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives.” Do you think that this indirect reference to compulsory military service is analogous to policies of compulsory sterilization? Why or why not? He also suggests that vaccination provides a logical rationale for sterilization as a public health measure. What do you think of this argument?

4. Why does Holmes dismiss as irrelevant the fact that sterilizations were performed on the inmates of public institutions rather than on citizens living within ordinary communities? How does this relate to the 14th Amendment issues in the case? What do you think?

Governor John Kitzhaber, Proclamation of Human Rights Day, and apology for Oregon's forced sterilization of institutionalized patients, Salem, Oregon, December 2, 2002

1. Does it surprise you that the state of Oregon waited until 2002 to apologize for its sterilization program?

2. The state body responsible for making sterilization decisions was called the Board of Social Protection. What historical significance does this title have?

3. Governor Kitzhaber, trained as a physician, clearly understands Oregon’s eugenics program as a blatant violation of human rights, based on a history of “widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry.” Many physicians in Oregon during earlier decades clearly did not share this view. Explain what you think changed in medicine and in thinking about rights.