Thousands sterilized in the state for being “unfit” for society

 

MADISON HEIGHTS (WSLS 10) – In the early to mid 1900’s, the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights was filled with hundreds of children and young adults, brought to the hospital deemed “unfit or mentally deficient for society.”

Sadie and Janet Ingram, sisters raised in foster care, were dropped off as children by their social workers.

“All we could do was look out the windows,” says Janet Ingram.

They both described the training center as a jail, and by the time doctors told them they could leave, the sisters had unknowingly undergone surgery.

Janet and Sadie were both sterilized.

“I didn’t know what they were gonna do to us. After it was all over, they took me back to my bedroom. I got into bed and I woke up and my stomach was hurting. I said ‘something is wrong with my stomach,’ and I look down there and there was a long cut and it had staples in it,” Sadie said.

Sterilization was a measure started by the state to prevent people who they classified as the mentally ill from having children. To understand why this happened, we have to go back about 90 years, when the Sterilization Act was signed into law in Virginia.

Under the law, people who were considered mentally ill, had any form of insanity, and even the poor, were sent to state institutions.

As a teenager, Lewis Reynolds was sterilized because doctors say he suffered from epilepsy after suffering temporary seizures when he was accidentally hit in the head with a rock.

“I think it was wrong for them to take my rights away from me to have a family and grandchildren,” says Reynolds. “I live by myself and there’s nobody to help me out whatsoever.”

After leaving the center, Reynolds, a man who state officials labeled “unfit” to have children, served 30 years in the Marine Corps.

However, during his childhood, the eugenics movement spread across the country, and in Virginia, about 8,000 people were sterilized.

Rose Marie Brooks is another victim. She spent 11 years at the center and now wants the state to do something to compensate her and other victims.

Those victims are asking for financial compensation and for their medical records to be opened for family members if they pass away.

North Carolina approved compensation for $50,000 for each of the remaining sterilization victims. In Virginia, a similar compensation bill wasn’t passed in the most recent budget.

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