The Reform Imagination: Gender, Eugenics, and the Welfare State in North Carolina, 1900-1940 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Krome-Lukens, Anna L.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation provides a grassroots social and intellectual history of how a modern social welfare state emerged in tandem with a southern eugenics movement in the early twentieth century. In so doing, it demonstrates the lasting influence of eugenics in shaping welfare policies: by dividing the fit from the unfit, eugenics ideology helped rationalize decisions about who deserves the full benefits of the welfare state and whose reproduction must be regulated to protect the greater good. North Carolina stands out for its social welfare innovation and its long history of eugenic sterilization. Examining its eugenics and social welfare programs side by side reveals overlaps in personnel, assumptions, methods, and goals. A coalition of powerful, white, Progressive reformers (including clubwomen, doctors, middle-class businessmen, and social welfare professionals) embedded principles of eugenics in the welfare programs they built on local and state levels before the New Deal. Although eugenics never became the coalition's primary focus, many of these reformers embraced eugenics as a tool of social policy, shaped by and shaping their other strategies for social change. Reformers at the vanguard encountered eugenics ideology in the first decade of the twentieth century as they sought ways to improve the state's social welfare programs. Through efforts to create a school for the feeble-minded, they spread knowledge about eugenics to a wider circle of Progressives. When reformers succeeded in restructuring the state's welfare bureaucracy, a new corps of social workers, mostly women, learned eugenics principles as part of their professional training. Throughout their campaigns, reformers' gender and professional status shaped their understanding of and strategies for promoting welfare and eugenics. The passage of a series of sterilization laws from 1919 to 1933 reflected the success of earlier educational campaigns as well as the fact that many North Carolinians saw eugenics initiatives as efficient, affordable strategies in a state woefully lacking in meaningful social services. In linking eugenics and welfare, this dissertation offers new ways to think about southern Progressivism, gendered reform strategies, and the politics of state-building.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

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