From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Law professor and historian Lombardo does a superb job of revealing, for the first time, all the facts in the infamous Buck
case of the 1920s, the Supreme Court decision ratifying Virginia's compulsory sterilization of feebleminded people. In the majority decision, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called the plaintiffs manifestly unfit both mentally and morally, and insisted that three generations of imbeciles are enough. This decision—which has never been overturned—led to tens of thousands of involuntary sterilizations. Lombardo interviewed the last survivor of the three Buck women who were plaintiffs; turned up indisputable evidence that there was no feeblemindedness in that family; unearthed previously unknown correspondence of Carrie Buck's attorney, who, believing the law to be necessary, mounted a deliberately insufficient defense; and documented the private family tragedy (an incestuous rape and resulting pregnancy) that lay behind the Bucks' encounter with doctors bent on exploring eugenics. His book is a testament to injustice and to ignorance—not that of the Buck women, but rather of powerful doctors, attorneys and Supreme Court justices. 17 b&w photos. (Oct.)
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A 1927 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Buck v. Bell, approved laws allowing states to sterilize the “feebleminded” to keep them from having children. The case involved Carrie Buck, whose mother and daughter—like Carrie—had been adjudged “feebleminded.” At a time of growing debate about the practice of eugenics, feebleminded was a label freely and frequently given to prostitutes, illegitimate children, and epileptics, as well as the mentally deficient. For a period, Carrie and her mother were both residents of the Colony, a facility that practiced the segregation and sterilization policies prevalent at the time. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in writing the decision, declared that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The decision set in motion more than 60,000 sterilizations. Law professor Lombardo draws on 25 years of research, including interviews with Buck before she died, her medical and school records, correspondence with her attorneys, and other documents to support the claim that the case was a fraud against a poor girl who had been raped. An engrossing look at a shameful case. --Vanessa Bush