Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"And the North Carolina Morons Lived | Happily Ever After": The Human Betterment League of North Carolina, 1947-1988
by Wilds, Sarah V., M.A., The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2019, 83; 13877435
Abstract (Summary)

Following World War II, eugenics became associated with Nazis abuses, leading many States to end their eugenics programs. North Carolina was a rare exception to this trend. Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized over 7,600 people, the majority after 1945. The continued enthusiasm for eugenics in the state was caused by the Human Betterment League of North Carolina (HBL). The HBL was founded in 1947 by the white, professional class of Winston-Salem, centering on such figures as James G. Hanes, Alice Sheldon Gray, and C. Nash Herndon, as well as birth control advocate Clarence J. Gamble of Massachusetts. HBL members were concerned about what they saw as an epidemic of “feeblemindedness,” a catch-all diagnosis for the cause of all social ills that tended to befall lower socio-economic groups and minorities. Through brochures, lectures, conferences, lobbying, films, and the financial support of its well-to-do membership, the HBL resuscitated the dying eugenics program of North Carolina for another three decades.

This paper draws heavily from the HBL, Gamble, and Herndon’s papers, as well as contemporary newspapers, to demonstrate the organization’s widespread impact. The focus on the HBL offers an alternative argument for why North Carolina continued and even accelerated its eugenic sterilization campaign following World War II. This thesis fits in with the numerous state case studies within eugenics historiography, using North Carolina as both typical of states that continued operation after World War II and unique in the latitudes granted to the Eugenics Board.

Hundreds of sterilization victims are still alive and after decades of legal battles, finally received reparations from North Carolina in 2013. Since then, only Virginia, out of thirty states, has granted reparations to its sterilization victims. This is an ongoing issue as well as a warning against future abuses.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wilson, Mark R.
Commitee: Marks, Jonathan, Thorsheim, Peter
School: The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Department: History
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: MAI 58/05M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, History
Keywords: Eugenics, Human Betterment League, North Carolina, Sterilization
Publication Number: 13877435
ISBN: 978-1-392-13944-8
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