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 »
Editors Note: This post is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in the former “Virginiana” section of Virginia Memory.
The following story was gleaned from a case book found in the Western State Hospital collection (Accession 41404). Included in this volume are approximately twenty pages of physician’s entries, as well as a copy of the commitment order, a letter to the court, and several Richmond Dispatch newspaper articles relating to Mrs. Anne E. Kirby. Some of the dates and information are conflicting, but I have done my best to present the story as accurately as possible, well aware of the sometimes questionable nature of 19th century journalism and the possibility of human error within the case book entries.
NOVEMBER 21, 1865…
A shot rings out in the middle of a bustling crowd at Richmond’s Second Market. A fish and oyster vendor staggers through Pink Alley, bleeding from the neck, only to die minutes later in the back of a wagon. Several stunned witnesses pounce on the shooter. Holding the gun is the victim’s young wife, Anne, the mother of his three children. What might have driven her to commit such a bold act in a busy public place? Was the murder in retaliation for her husband’s infidelity or was it merely the work of a mad woman? Depending upon what … read more »