Midnight notes #1

Despite my manic posting of eugenics related materials via my increasingly pointless Twitter account, my mind is quite clear as to where my feeble-minded inquiries are leading me.  I have not a lot of interest in individuals who were *for* (politicians, archbishops etc.)  eugenic sterilizations in the first half dozen decades of the twentieth century. I want to know about those who are *against* the eugenical ideas. I am well aware of G K Chesterton. I have struggled through much of his book about Eugenics once before. I found it hard going, I seem to be allergic to much of his humour and “wit” etc… But since then I have enjoyed ‘The Man who was Thursday’, maybe now it will not be so much of a slog to absorb his thoughts on the evils of eugenics.

After reading an article by John Gray I have become aware of a politician called Josiah Wedgewood:

‘…In May 1912 a private members’ “Feeble-Minded Control Bill” was presented to the House of Commons. The bill aimed to implement the findings of a royal commission, published in the British Medical Journal in 1908, which recommended that “lunatics or persons of unsound mind, idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or otherwise should be afforded by the state such special protection as may be suited to their needs”. The recommended measures included segregating hundreds of thousands of people in asylums and making marrying any of them a criminal offence. Curiously, the commission specified the number of people requiring this “protection” as being exactly 271,607.

The bill failed, partly as a result of intensive lobbying by the writer and Catholic apologist GK Chesterton of the Liberal MP Josiah Wedgewood. Despite continuing agitation by eugenicists, no law enabling involuntary sterilisation was ever passed in Britain. In 1913, however, parliament passed the Mental Deficiency Act, which meant “a defective” could be isolated in an institution under the authority of a Board of Control. The act remained in force until 1959.’




I have little interest in Winston Churchill. But the article contains a lot of useful information.

I haven’t got time on my break to dissect the whole article… Below are the beginnings, most mentions of Churchill are removed in these quotes of the article:

‘The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913…

The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.” If they were children of school age, their condition was “so pronounced that they by reason of such defectiveness appear to be personally incapable of receiving proper benefit from instruction in ordinary schools.” “Moral defectives” were people who, from an early age, displayed “some permanent mental defect coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities on which punishment had little or no effect.” ‘

[1. The text of the Medical Deficiency Act 1913 was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 16 November 1912, 1397-99.]

‘In 1904… A J Balfour’s Conservative government set up a Royal Commission “On the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded.” When the commission reported in 1908 to the Liberal Government which had come into office at the end of 1905…it recommended compulsory detention of the mentally “inadequate,” as well as sterilisation of the “unfit,” so that it would be impossible to have children and thus perpetuate what were then seen as inherited characteristics. Until that time only the criminally insane, whom the courts had judged to be a danger to themselves and others, were sent to mental asylums. Detention of the “feeble-minded”—for life—was considered by the Royal Commission to be vital to the health of the wider society.

Such detention, as well as sterilisation, were at that time the two main “cures” to “feeble-mindedness.” They were put forward by the eugenicists, those who believed in “the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).” ‘

[2. “Eugenics“: Random House Dictionary: Dictionary.com unabridged (v 1.1), 21 March 2009.]

‘In introducing its recommendations in 1908, the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded—one of whose eight members was the chairman of the eugenics-influenced National Association for Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-Minded—expressed its concern about “the numbers of mentally defective persons” in Britain “whose training is neglected, over whom no sufficient control is exercised and whose wayward and irresponsible lives are productive of crime and misery…and of much continuous expenditure wasteful to the community.” The Royal Commission suggested that permanent institutional care was the means to establish control over the feeble-minded. It also advocated the establishment of industrial “colonies” with schools.’

[3. Report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded, 1908. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, Command Paper 4202, 1908.]

‘In 1910… a booklet by Dr. H.C. Sharp, The Sterilization of Degenerates. Dr. Sharp was a member of the Indiana Reformatory. In 1907, the state of Indiana had passed a Eugenics Law making sterilisation mandatory for those individuals in state custody who were judged mentally unfit. They were also refused the right to marry.[4] Other states passed similar laws. Between 1907 and 1981, more than 65,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in the United States.[5]’

[4. Sterilisations were halted in Indiana in 1909 by Governor Thomas R. Marshall, but it was not until 1921 that the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the 1907 law was unconstitutional, as it was a denial of due process under the 14th Amendment. A 1927 law provided for appeals in the courts. In all, approximately 2500 people were sterilised while in state custody. Governor Otis R. Bowen approved repeal of all sterilisation laws in 1974. By 1977 the related restrictive marriage laws were repealed.

[5. Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have at different times used sterilisation for the mentally ill. The number of sterilisations in Sweden alone was 62,000. The most notorious sterilisation legislation was promulgated in Nazi Germany in July 1933, under which more than 150,000 Germans, including many children and babies judged “mentally unfit,” were sterilised. An equal number were killed by gas or lethal injection between 1933 and 1940.]

‘Using a thick blue pencil, Churchill marked in Sharp’s pamphlet the sections about the Indiana legislation and the operations that had been carried out on both men and women to sterilise them. In September 1910, Churchill wrote to his Home Office officials asking them to investigate putting into practice the “Indiana Law”—dominated by sterilisation, and the prevention of the marriage of the “Feeble-Minded.” Churchill wrote: “I am drawn to this subject in spite of many Parliamentary misgivings….Of course it is bound to come some day.” Despite the misgivings, “It must be examined.” He wanted to know “what is the best surgical operation?” and what new legal powers would be needed to carry out sterilisation.

Churchill was answered by Chief Medical Adviser of Prisons Dr. Horatio Donkin, who described the Indiana laws as “The outcome of an arrogation of scientific knowledge by those who had no claim to it….It is a monument of ignorance and hopeless mental confusion.’

My midnight lunch break has almost come to an end. Nearly time to vacate the work canteen and reoccupy the treadmill.

I remember reading about a doctor who was tricking women, grossly misleading, evilly manipulating young mothers to be sterilized. His excuse? Well, the excuse was something along the lines of the ‘Nixon administration neglected to send me their voluntary sterilisation guidelines’. The person writing the article seemed to buy this. And the article was about how it was the governments’ fault that many Native American women were evilly interfered with in the 1960s and 1970s.

Does a supposedly highly educated doctor who has taken an oath to…etc.. really need a government guideline to know the difference between good and evil, wrong and right?

This week my favourite two hip hop songs have been.. (From an album I used to listen to a lot when heavily depressed 20 or so years ago)

Lost Ones

by Lauryn Hill



The Zion

by Lauryn Hill



That’ll do.


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