Pure America

ebook Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

By Elizabeth Catte

cover image of Pure America

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Between 1927 and 1979, more than 8,000 people were involuntarily sterilized in five hospitals across the state of Virginia. From this plain and terrible fact springs Elizabeth Catte's Pure America, a sweeping, unsparing history of eugenics in Virginia, and by extension the United States. Virginia's twentieth-century eugenics program was not the misguided initiative of well-meaning men of the day, writes Catte, with clarity and ferocity. It was a manifestation of white supremacy. It was a form of employment insurance. It was a means of controlling "troublesome" women and a philosophy that helped remove poor people from valuable land. It was cruel and it was wrong, and yet today sites where it was practiced like Western State Hospital, in Staunton, VA, are rehabilitated as luxury housing, their histories hushed up in the service of capital. As was amply evidenced by her acclaimed 2018 book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Catte has no room for excuses; no patience for equivocation. What does it mean for modern America, she asks here, that such buildings are given the second chance that 8,000 citizens never got? And what possible interventions can be made now, repair their damage?|

Longlisted for the 2022 PEN America John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, a "riveting and tightly argued" history of eugenics and its ripple effects, by acclaimed historian Elizabeth Catte.

Between 1927 and 1979, more than 8,000 people were involuntarily sterilized in five hospitals across the state of Virginia. From this plain and terrible fact springs Elizabeth Catte's Pure America, a sweeping, unsparing history of eugenics in Virginia, and by extension the United States. Virginia's eugenics program was not the misguided initiative of well-meaning men of the day, writes Catte, it was a manifestation of white supremacy. It was a form of employment insurance. It was a means of controlling "troublesome" women and a philosophy that helped remove poor people from valuable land. It was cruel and it was wrong. As was amply evidenced by her acclaimed 2018 book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Catte has no room for excuses; no patience for equivocation. What does it mean for modern America, she asks here, that such buildings are given the second chance that 8,000 citizens never got?

"Grounded, well-rendered, and highly disturbing," Pure America is another necessary corrective to the historical record, a must-read for anyone concerned with how to repair its damage.

Pure America