"Buck v. Bell: Brainchild of American Eugenists"
Graduate Center for Social and Public Policy
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Richard A. Colignon
eugenics, history of science, political science, sterilization, United States history
Between 1927 and 1974, over 50,000 Americans deemed socially inadequate were involuntarily sterilized under the Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell (1927). Advocated in the name of social progress by American eugenists, compulsory sterilization is a regression from democratic ideals. So, why did eugenists advocate sterilization? Employing historical analyses and Robert Merton's concept of unanticipated consequences, this study shows that eugenists promoted compulsory sterilization to restore the social power of upper-class, Anglo-Saxon elites adapting to the demographic changes triggered by rapid industrialization. Driven by a belief in Social Darwinism, an overzealous faith in science, and a fear of race decadence, eugenists defined the goals of the sterilization program through a limited conception of social problems and solutions; justified the policy using unreliable and, at times, fraudulent research; and, endorsed it through corrupt court proceedings. Buck v. Bell reminds policymakers that science is a social institution guided by relations and interests.
Vulgaris-Brehm, C. (2004). "Buck v. Bell: Brainchild of American Eugenists" (Master's thesis, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1552