Tag Archives: eugenics

- Mug Shot Monday: Sterilization Edition


Dr. Charles V. Carrington, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1 November 1911, page one.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary.   The genesis of this post came from reading Paul Lombardo’s 2009 book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles:  Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell.  My curiosity about Virginia’s eugenics program (1924-1979) was sparked by legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to compensate victims of this policy, and the Library of Virginia’s collections of archival records from Central Virginia Training Center and Western State Hospital, both including sterilization records.

While reading Lombardo’s book, I was surprised to learn that Dr. Charles Carrington, surgeon to the Virginia State Penitentiary from 1900 to 1911, involuntarily sterilized 12 inmates between 1902 and 1910.  Carrington revealed his “work” in a series of articles in the Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly in 1908, 1909, and 1910.  Carrington’s actions occurred over a decade prior to the passage of the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924.  While Carrington’s articles did not include the names of the prisoners he sterilized, I was able to identify 10 of the 12 using the penitentiary medical records.[1]  Nine of the 10 were black; seven of 10 were admitted to mental hospital while incarcerated.  In 1910 Dr. Carrington asserted that ten of the twelve were “insane, consistent … read more »

- Two Faces: The Personal Files of Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette


Photo of Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette, undated, Records of Western State Hosptial, 1825-2000, Box 114, Folder 7, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Processing the records of a state agency director can often be unsatisfying.  While the folders of historically important correspondence, reports, and meeting minutes describe the inner workings of an agency, they usually reveal very little about the individuals running it.  However, that is not always the case.  While processing what initially appeared to be unremarkable 20th century Western State Hospital (WSH) superintendent’s records, I discovered a treasure trove of personal material related to one of Virginia’s most (in)famous physicians, Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette.

A celebrated physician and psychiatrist during the early decades of the 20th century, Dr. DeJarnette is most famous for his support and involvement in the eugenics movement, which included support for sterilization of the “feeble minded,” alcoholics, drug addicts, and those suffering from other mental illnesses.  He penned the pro-eugenics poem “Mendel’s Law” and lobbied prominently in favor of Virginia’s 1924 compulsory sterilization law.  Dr. DeJarnette also served as an expert witness in the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell (1927), which upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s sterilization legislation.  Though his deeds were revered during his lifetime, Dr. DeJarnette’s legacy is something most find rather repugnant today.  Due to DeJarnette’s eugenics advocacy, the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services in 2001 changed the name of the DeJarnette Center for Human Development (formerly DeJarnette State … read more »