Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Facing Eugenics

Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization, and the Politics of Choice

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 332
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Facing Eugenics
    Book Description:

    Facing Eugenicsis a social history of sexual sterilization operations in twentieth-century Canada.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9933-5
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    Alberta distinguished itself in Canadian eugenics history as having the longest and most aggressive sexual sterilization policy in the country. Its eugenics program opened with the passage of the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1928, the first such law in Canada. British Columbia followed suit in 1933, but Alberta significantly out-sterilized its western neighbour:¹ over the course of its existence, the Alberta eugenics program recommended sexual sterilization surgeries for 4,725 individuals, and ultimately performed operations on 2,822 people; by comparison, British Columbia operated on nearly 200 individuals. Recommendations for Alberta’s surgeries came from an appointed Eugenics Board and fell into five...

  5. Chapter One Vagrancy, Violence, and Virtue: Nora Powers
    (pp. 27-54)

    On 12 May 1924, according to the Alberta police, Mrs Nora Powers ran away from her farm, leaving behind her husband and five children. A local police officer, Sergeant Hidson, later arrested her in the nearby southern Alberta town of Claresholm. He reported that he had charged Nora because he had caught her engaging in “immoral behaviour,” which he ascertained after following her up an alley where she had been observed accompanying a “strange man” into a “Chinese rooming house.” The man, under police questioning, admitted that he had bought Mrs Powers dinner and ice cream, then proceeded to have...

  6. Chapter Two Race, Intelligence, and Consent: George Pierre
    (pp. 55-83)

    George Pierre was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia and deemed mentally defective when he was admitted to the Provincial Mental Hospital at Ponoka in the early 1930s. The details of his case are limited – there are no records of his own or his family’s views on his condition and no specifics concerning his behaviour leading up to his committal. It is even unclear if this was his first admission to the mental hospital or if his admission on this occasion resulted from serial problems or a chronic health condition. The case file also does not explain whether his hospitalization was voluntary...

  7. Chapter Three Sterilization Redefined: Violet and Irene
    (pp. 84-110)

    One of the leading feminist reformers on the prairies was Saskatchewan’s Violet McNaughton, instrumental in establishing wings of the United Farm Women in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, and the voice behind the women’s pages of theWestern Producer, an agrarian-based newspaper widely read by farm families in the region. An ardent feminist and agrarian socialist, McNaughton’s influence on women’s issues across the prairies was significant.² Her perspective, however, differed from that of some of her contemporaries who connected eugenics and contraception with lower-class and mentally deficient people. For McNaughton, contraception was a matter of health for all women. Its...

  8. Chapter Four Vasectomy, Masculinity, and Hyperactivity: Ken Nelson
    (pp. 111-142)

    In 1998 Ken Nelson stood in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta to watch Premier Ralph Klein respond to public demands to compensate the men and women who had suffered under the eugenics program. Ken had been sterilized in 1960 when he was a boy living at the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Red Deer.¹ As theEdmonton Journalreported, “‘I stood in the legislature gallery today and watched the premier of Alberta take the rights away from 700 people,’ said Nelson, his voice straining with emotion, after the Conservatives tabled legislation to limit the rights of people sterilized...

  9. Chapter Five From Sterilization to Patient Activism: Doreen Ella Befus
    (pp. 143-168)

    These sentences introduced Alberta’sDecisionmagazine’s readers to Doreen Befus’s arduous life journey. Doreen had had an auspicious start as an orphaned twin daughter of immigrant parents, who shortly after birth was placed under the custody of the provincial government. She spent her childhood and teenage years in the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Red Deer. In Doreen’s case, she qualified for institutional care after having been diagnosed with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 55, placing her in the category of moron and making her a candidate for sexual sterilization. Ultimately, Doreen spent forty-two years in public institutions...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter Six Appendectomy to Queen’s Court Settlement: Leilani Muir
    (pp. 169-197)

    In 1996 Leilani Muir successfully sued the Alberta government for wrongful sexual sterilization. As a teenager in the late 1950s Leilani, then living at the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives in Red Deer, had been told that she needed to have her appendix removed. When the surgeon took out her appendix, however, he also cut out her Fallopian tubes, rendering her permanently incapable of bearing children. Under Alberta law at that time, the physicians assigned to this task were not obligated to inform Leilani of this second operation, nor did they need to obtain her consent to the procedure....

  12. Chapter Seven Abortion, Sterilization, and the Eugenics Legacy: Jane Doe
    (pp. 198-225)

    Jane Doe came to the attention of the Therapeutic Abortions and Sterilization Committee at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary on 18 November 1974. Jane was single, pregnant for the first time, and fifteen years old. Her ex-boyfriend, John Smith, was twenty, and had left town shortly after learning about Jane’s pregnancy. By the time Jane arrived at the hospital, John had moved to northern Alberta in search of employment in the oil patch. She explained to the obstetrician that they had not used contraception during their relationship, but that she would begin taking the birth-control pill if she were approved...

  13. Chapter Eight Conclusion
    (pp. 226-234)

    In 1972 the newly elected Conservative government of Peter Lougheed struck down Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act, claiming it no longer served its purpose. During his time as leader of the opposition, Lougheed had received letters encouraging him to make this move once elected. The head of genetics at the University of Alberta, Dr Jan Weijer, for instance, complained that the Eugenics Board no longer had the expertise to make a genetic judgment on cases, and its actions “no longer reflect[ed] our modern genetical [sic] knowledge on these matters.”¹ Weijer’s letter had been prompted by an article in theGlobe and...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 235-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-304)