State, Society, and “Correcting the Body”

Solicited by the OAH Committee on Community Colleges

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Disability Studies; Science and Technology; Social Welfare and Public Health


This panel examines how state and society use various methods of “correcting” the body to achieve a stronger citizenry. It delves into themes such as lack of consent, disability, criminality, and sexuality. This panel asks what is the difference in correcting and perfecting the body? What happens when the body goes through these various methods and do not become “corrected”? This panel discusses underrepresented groups, people forced into mental facilities and people confronting the modern medical system.

Papers Presented

Alabama Values: The 1935 Dominick Sterilization Bill and Southern Resistance to Eugenics

The American eugenics movement reached its pinnacle during the Great Depression. The 1927 Buck v. Bell ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court gave Virginia the authority to sterilize its residents. In its wake state capitals across the union were inundated with similar prosterilization legislation. Compulsory sterilization rates climbed to record-breaking heights, and eugenics was widely accepted as a “scientific theory” among progressive policy makers, as well as a large portion of the general public. By 1935 eighteen states had passed eugenics laws, and roughly twenty thousand people had been forcibly sterilized due to a mental illness or criminal conviction. The American South was the most hesitant to adopt eugenic policies. Many people felt them to be in direct contradiction with southern values that emphasize family and parental rights. The Catholic Church led the chief opposition to such laws, but it was quickly joined in fierce resistance by various sects of Baptists and Methodists. This paper seeks to contextualize southern resistance to the eugenics movement within depression-era Alabama, where attempts to pass eugenics legislation led to mass political mobilization from the state’s religious citizenry. In doing so, it attempts to provide new insights into how southerners understood progress and state power, as well as how they attempted to reconcile such notions with the traditional values that dominate southern culture.

Presented By
Andrew Scott Barbero, Pensacola State College

Chewing the FAT: Women and Size in Modern America

This presentation examines the medicalization of fatness, with a focus on how women negotiated and/or rejected the linkage of slenderness with “wellness.” Using case studies of what I term “communities of size” for women, I insert fatness into the historical understanding of women’s movements, and historicize current fat activism and the “health at every size” movement. This understudied phenomenon of the twentieth century—women organizing around body size—further illuminates the linkages of “wellness” and citizenship in modern America.

Presented By
Amelia Earhart Serafine, San Antonio College

Accessing Healthcare: Women in Rhode Island, 1870–1920

My research will examine issues of health and wellness as experienced by women (ages 16 to 45) who sought medical care in Rhode Island from approximately 1870–1920. I specifically examine the hospitalizations of poor women in Rhode Island’s State Hospital for the Insane and the State’s Almshouse (a poor house that admitted people with seemingly incurable diseases). While my primary focus is on care of the mentally ill, numerous women’s health challenges intersect this topic including pregnancy, abortion, child birth, and postpartum complications.

Presented By
Suzanne Kelley McCormack, Community College of Rhode Island

Session Participants

Chair: Marjorie Denise Brown, Houston Community College

Panelist: Andrew Scott Barbero, Pensacola State College

Panelist: Suzanne Kelley McCormack, Community College of Rhode Island

Panelist: Amelia Earhart Serafine, San Antonio College

Commentator: Courtney Q. Shah, Lower Columbia College