This Day (Bad Luck, Bad Law, Bad People Edition)

Published:June 4, 2015 by Brendan Wolfe


On this day in 1924, Carrie E. Buck, of Charlottesville, arrived at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, in Madison Heights, near Lynchburg. What brought her there? Bad luck, bad law, and bad people.

Born in 1906, Buck was raised by foster parents from the age of three because her mother, Emma Buck, had been deemed by the state to be both a “low grade moron” and promiscuous (for having had her daughter out of wedlock). Then, in 1923, Carrie Buck became pregnant, having been raped by the nephew of her foster parents. Such circumstances, though, were not important to the state. She, too, was deemed promiscuous and “feebleminded,” and after she arrived in Lynchburg was forcibly sterilized.

In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, gave its thumbs-up to the procedure, suggesting—wrongly, as it turns out—that Carrie Buck’s daughter was also “feebleminded,” and declaring, in the famous words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., that “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

IMAGE: Carrie Buck and her mother, Emma Buck, at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in November 1924 (Courtesy of Arthur Estabrook Papers, Special Collections & Archives, University at Albany, SUNY)