1927: Buck v. Bell

Case of Buck v. Bell: In 1927, Carrie Buck, a poor white woman, was the first person to be sterilized in Virginia under a new law. Carrie’s mother had been involuntarily institutionalized for being “feebleminded” and “promiscuous.” Carrie was assumed to have inherited these traits, and was sterilized after giving birth. This Supreme Court case led to the sterilization of 65,000 Americans with mental illness or developmental disabilities from the 1920s to the ’70s. The court ruling still stands today.
The ruling was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. In support of his argument that the interest of “public welfare” outweighed the interest of individuals in their bodily integrity, he argued:

In 2002, the Virginia Legislature passed a resolution specifically recognizing the mistreatment of Carrie Buck. That year Lombardo paid more than $1,200 for the posting of a historical marker in front of a Charlottesville community center to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Buck v. Bell.

Photo by Paul A. Lombardo, circa July, 2002

Excerpt from the documentary Fixed to Fail: Buck vs. Bell:


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