Carrie Buck

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Carrie Buck
Carrie Buck.jpg
Buck was a patient who was compulsorily sterilized.
Born Carrie E. Buck
(1906-07-03)July 3, 1906
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Died January 28, 1983(1983-01-28) (aged 76)
Waynesboro, Virginia, U.S.
Resting place
Oakwood Cemetery, Charlottesville, Virginia
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Charlie Dentamore (?-1983)
Children Vivian Buck (1924-1932)

Carrie E. Buck (July 3, 1906 – January 28, 1983)[1] was the plaintiff in the United States Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, after having been ordered to undergo compulsory sterilization for purportedly being "feeble-minded." The surgery, carried out while Buck was an inmate of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, took place under the authority of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, part of the state of Virginia's eugenics program.[2]

Early life[edit]

Carrie Buck was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, the first of three children born to Emma Buck; she was soon joined by a sister, Doris Buck, and a brother, Roy Smith. Little is known about Emma Buck other than that she was poor and married to Frederick Buck, who shortly into their marriage abandoned her. Emma was committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded after being accused of immorality, prostitution, and having syphilis.

After her birth, Buck was placed with foster parents, John and Alice Dobbs. She attended public school until the sixth grade and then continued to live with the Dobbs, helping out with chores around the house.[3]

At 17, Buck became pregnant as a result of being raped.[4] Subsequently, on January 23, 1924, Buck’s foster parents had committed her to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded on the grounds of feeblemindedness, incorrigible behavior and promiscuity. On March 28, 1924, she gave birth to a daughter, Vivian.[1] Since Buck had been declared mentally incompetent to raise her child, her former foster parents adopted the baby. Her commitment may have been due to the family's embarrassment since Carrie's pregnancy was the result of being raped by the Dobbs’s nephew.[3]

Vivian was adopted by the Dobbs family, who had also raised Carrie, for a time. Under the name "Vivian Alice Elaine Dobbs," she attended the Venable Public Elementary School of Charlottesville for four terms, from September 1930 until May 1932. Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

She was an [average student], neither particularly outstanding nor much troubled. In those days before grade inflation, when C meant "good, 81-87" (as defined on her report card) rather than barely scraping by, Vivian Dobbs received As and Bs for deportment and Cs for all academic subjects but mathematics (which was always difficult for her, and where she scored a D) during her first term in Grade 1A, from September 1930 to January 1931. She improved during her second term in 1B, meriting an A in deportment, C in mathematics, and B in all other academic subjects; she was on the honor roll in April 1931. Promoted to 2A, she had trouble during the fall term of 1931, failing mathematics and spelling but receiving an A in deportment, B in reading, and C in writing and English. She was "retained in 2A" for the next term -- or "left back" as was formerly said, and scarcely a sign of imbecility as I remember all my buddies who suffered a similar fate. In any case, she again did well in her final term, with B in deportment, reading, and spelling, and C in writing, English, and mathematics during her last month in school. This offspring of "lewd and immoral" women excelled in deportment and performed adequately, although not brilliantly, in her academic subjects.[3]

By all accounts Vivian was of average intelligence, far above feeblemindedness. She died a month later at age eight of "enteric colitis", an intestinal disease.[3]

Supreme Court case[edit]

The legal challenge was consciously collusive, brought on behalf of the state to test the legality of the statute.[5] John H. Bell, the surgeon who operated on Buck on 19 October 1927, wrote in his surgical report:

This is the first case operated on under the sterilization law, and the case was carried through the courts of the State and the United States Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of the Virginia act, and an appeal before the Supreme Court for a rehearing recently having been denied.[6]

In an eight to one decision the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes made clear that the challenge was not upon the medical procedure involved but on the process of the substantive law. The court was satisfied that the Virginia Sterilization Act complied with the requirements of due process since sterilization could not occur until a proper hearing had occurred at which the patient and a guardian could be present and the patient had the right to appeal the decision. They also found that since the procedure was limited to people housed in state institutions it did not deny the patient equal protection of the law. And finally, since the Virginia Sterilization Act was not a penal statute, the Court held that it did not violate the Eighth Amendment since it is not intended to be punitive. Citing the best interests of the state, Justice Holmes affirmed the value of a law like Virginia's in order to prevent the nation from being "swamped with incompetence." The Court accepted, without evidence, that Carrie and her mother were promiscuous and that the three generations of Bucks’ shared the genetic trait of feeblemindedness. Thus, it was in the state's best interest to have Carrie Buck sterilized.[2] The decision was seen as a major victory for eugenicists.[5]

Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1927:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.[2]

Noted Virginia eugenicist Joseph DeJarnette testified against Buck in the original trial.[7]

Later years and death[edit]

In order to ensure that the family could not reproduce, Carrie Buck’s sister Doris was also sterilized when she was hospitalized for appendicitis, although she was never told that sterilization had been performed. In later years she married and she and her husband attempted to have children; she did not discover the reason for their lack of success until 1980.[3]

Buck was paroled shortly after her sterilization was performed. She eventually married Charlie Dentamore to whom she remained married until her death.[1] Reporters and researchers that visited Buck later in life claimed she was a woman of normal intelligence. Later in life, she expressed regret that she had been unable to have additional children.

Buck died in a nursing home in 1983;[1] she was buried in Charlottesville near her only child, Vivian, who had died at age eight.[3]

Legacy[edit]

Paul A. Lombardo, a Professor of Law at Georgia State University, spent almost 25 years researching the Buck v. Bell case. He dug through case records and the papers of the lawyers involved in the case. Lombardo eventually found Carrie Buck and was able to interview her shortly before her death. Lombardo has alleged that several people had manufactured evidence to make the state’s case against Carrie Buck, and that Buck was actually of normal intelligence. Professor Lombardo was one of the few people who attended Carrie Buck's funeral.[3]

A historical marker was erected on May 2, 2002, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Carrie Buck was born. At that time, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner offered the “Commonwealth's sincere apology for Virginia's participation in eugenics.”[8]

In media[edit]

Television[edit]

The story of Carrie Buck's sterilization and subsequent court case was made into a television drama in 1994, Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story with actress Marlee Matlin portraying Buck as a mentally retarded woman.

Music[edit]

The song "Virginia State Epileptic Colony," by the Manic Street Preachers on the 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers, addresses the state's program of eugenics.

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Dorr, Gregory Michael. "Buck v. Bell (1927)". Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c 274 U.S. 200 (Buck v. Bell), Justia.com U.S. Supreme Court Center.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Stephen Jay Gould (July–August 2002). "Carrie Buck's Daughter". Natural History. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  4. ^ See The Lynchburg Project Directed by Steven Trombley, Video Cassette 1993
  5. ^ a b Bruinius, Harry (2007). Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-375-71305-7. 
  6. ^ From the microfilmed records of Carrie Buck, kept at the Central Virginia Training Center. Cited in Bruinius, Harry (2007). Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-375-71305-7. 
  7. ^ "Eugenics: Eugenics in Virginia". Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Eugenics: Carrie Buck Revisited". Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 

External links[edit]