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The Eugenics Survey of Vermont: An Overview

1928-1931 The Vermont Commission on Country Life: "Pride in Place & Ancestry" 

In 1927, Professor Perkins obtained funds to organize a comprehensive rural survey, which became the Vermont Commission on Country Life. Between 1928 to 1931, the Eugenics Survey conducted research for the Commission's "Committee on the Human Factor" and promoted eugenics objectives in the VCCL final report, Rural Vermont: A Program for the Future (1931). During this period, Professor Perkins suspended the campaign for sterilization to avoid controversy or arouse suspicion of the Country Life Commission's state-wide survey of rural conditions and needs. Vermont's "dependent, deliquent, and deficient" families, whose problems Perkins had attributed to "bad heredity," were recast by the VCCL as "The Handicapped" and studied by a special sub-committee of the Committee on the Human Factor. The Eugenics Survey conducted studies of women at the Rutland Reformatory and the "Brandon Waiting List" for this committee.

The Human Factor studies of the "People of Vermont," in contrast, focused on the social forces that had contributed to the rural exodus and discouraged large families among the "good old Vermont stock." The Eugenics Survey's Key Family Study and Migration Study presented family profiles of pride and celebrated the achievements, community spirit and endurance of Vermonters in the face of a changing economy. The eugenic core of the VCCL emerges in their recommendations:

It is clear that if the valuable characteristics of our old Vermont stock are to be conserved and passed on to future generations for the good of the state and the nation, conditions must be brought about which will favor the maintenance of that stock as far as possible. . . To promote the best future citizenry in the state, this Commission makes the following recommendations:

1. That Vermonters be encouraged to keep and study their own family records with a view to arousing their pride in the achievements and high qualities of their ancestral stock so that this pride may in turn stimulate their better efforts and guide them in their choice of mates.

2. That the doctrine be spread that it is the patriotic duty of every normal couple to have children in sufficient number to keep up to par the "good old Vermont stock."

VCCL, Rural Vermont: A Program for the Future, "The People"
For "Handicapped" Vermonters, whose family records and ancestral stock had already been studied and stigmatized by the Eugenics Survey, the Commission advocated an expansion of state programs in child health, education and welfare and prevention of marriage and reproduction of "feeble-minded" persons. In 1931, the Vermont legislature became the 27th state to enact a sterilization law. As Secretary of the Commission until 1931 and Executive Vice President after 1931, Prof. Perkins used the VCCL as a venue to promote eugenics in Vermont.

The VCCL records reveal the growing tension between genetic explanations for social problems advanced by eugenicists and the preference for social explanations of country life activists, educators, and social workers. Perkins tried to reconcile the two, through classifying their studies as "eugenical-sociological." Despite differences of opinion over the role of nature or nurture, a consensus prevailed that the "handicapped" were unfit to conceive and raise children.

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