cover image Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

Elizabeth Catte. Belt, $26 (176p) ISBN 978-1-948742-73-3

Historian Catte (What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia) delivers a concise and deeply unsettling study of the eugenics movement in Virginia. According to Catte, Virginia elites in the early 20th-century strove to maintain old racial and class hierarchies under the veneer of scientific and humanitarian progress. She contends that the state’s 1924 Sterilization Act, which allowed doctors to sterilize institutionalized patients without their consent, was intended to protect white racial purity from internal contamination by culling those deemed “unfit,” and that the 1924 Racial Integrity Act buttressed whiteness by preventing interracial marriage and redefining those with more than one-sixteenth Native American heritage as “colored.” Catte also delves into the history of Western State Hospital in Staunton, Va., where 1,700 individuals were sterilized between 1927 and 1964, and the displacement of 500 “mountain families” to create Shenandoah National Park in the 1930s. 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. (Feb.)