Joseph Spencer DeJarnette (September 29, 1866 – September 3, 1957) was the director of Western State Hospital (located in Staunton, Virginia) from 1905 to November 15, 1943. He was a vocal proponent of eugenics, specifically, the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill.
Joseph DeJarnette was born in Caroline County, Virginia.
In 1906, DeJarnette worked with Aubrey Strode and Albert Priddy to establish the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.
In the early 1920s, DeJarnette lobbied intensively for the commonwealth of Virginia to pass a compulsory sterilization law. He became so frustrated with his opponents in the Virginia assembly that he said "When they voted against it, I really felt they ought to have been sterilized as unfit." He testified against Carrie Buck as an expert witness in the important eugenics case Buck v. Bell, in which the United States Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of Virginia's eugenics law (in a case questioned but never expressly overruled).
In 1938, DeJarnette compared the progress of eugenics in the United States unfavorably with that in Nazi Germany, stating "Germany in six years has sterilized about 80,000 of her unfit while the United States with approximately twice the population has only sterilized about 27,869 to January 1, 1938 in the past 20 years... The fact that there are 12,000,000 defectives in the US should arouse our best endeavors to push this procedure to the maximum.".
DeJarnette was also a poet of sorts. He wrote a poem entitled Mendel's Law: A Plea for a Better Race of Men, which he read in public on a number of occasions. An excerpt follows:
- This is the law of Mendel,
- And often he maken it plain,
- Defectives will breed defectives,
- And the insane breed insane.
- Oh why do we allow these people
- To breed back to the monkey's nest,
- To increase our country's burdens
- When we should only breed the best?
- This is the law of Mendel,
The DeJarnette Sanitorium, opened in 1932, was named for him. In the 1960s the name was changed to The DeJarnette Center for Human Development. It was converted to a children's mental hospital in 1975, at which time it ceased to be a private enterprise, and the state of Virginia took over operation of the facility. In 1996, a new complex was constructed, and the Virginia Assembly renamed it the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents due to Dr. DeJarnette's support of eugenics.
The DeJarnette family cemetery is private, and the collective grave marker visible from the Richmond Highway is often subjected to vandalism.
- 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.
- "Eugenics in Virginia". Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
- Joseph DeJarnette. "Mendel's Law". Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
- Western State Hospital
- Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents
- Photos of the abandoned DeJarnette Sanitorium
- Video Presentations about the former DeJarnette Sanitorium
- Two Faces: The Personal Files of Dr. Joseph E. DeJarnette, at Virginia Memory
- Joseph Spencer DeJarnette on Encyclopedia Virginia