Eugenics: Miller vs. Smith

Eileen Faderan                                                                                                              December 19, 2019
Professor Fraad                                                                                                                        English LC58

Eugenics: Miller vs. Smith

        In the state of Virginia, Eugenics laws were passed, allowing social workers and doctors to sterilize whoever they believed were feebleminded and/or mentally deficient. On August 4, 1927, 18-year old Elizabeth Miller was the first person to be sterilized in the state of Virginia under this new law. But Elizabeth was not feebleminded at all. Although her mother was diagnosed as feebleminded and “sexually promiscuous” by the doctor’s distaste, Elizabeth showed no sign of those inherited traits from her mother. Elizabeth was able to attend public schools and proceeded to portray the typical behavior of a normal kid, despite being placed in foster care at the age of 4. Elizabeth was no problem to the foster family that she’s been with for 14 years; the Smith Family. She always stayed on top of her work and was overall obedient towards the Smiths. Her foster parents; Margaret and Frank Smith watched Elizabeth grow into an independent, respectful girl despite the status of her mother.

        However, one night in the summer of 1923, Elizabeth Miller faced the start of a life-long, traumatic experience. As her foster parents were away from home, their 16-year old nephew; Nathaniel Smith took advantage of Elizabeth being home alone that night. Miller being in a vulnerable state, Nathaniel was persistent in attempting to force himself on her. The nephew continued to violate her and therefore, raped Elizabeth leaving her scarred for life. Nathaniel had no shame or guilt from what he did whereas, Elizabeth felt invaded and manipulated. Living in the household for about 14 years, she’d never thought something like this would occur, especially by someone who was related to her foster family. After Miller gave birth to her daughter as a result of getting raped by the Smiths’ relative, the Smith family turned their back on her in support of their nephew. Though, as you would expect the rapist to undergo punishment for their crime, the Smith family was determined to protect their family’s name from any embarrassment or shame. As a high-class family, they had the power to do this, unlike the Millers who could not afford to defend themselves. The Smiths took advantage of the Eugenics law and involuntarily committed Elizabeth to an asylum in Virginia. She was then asserted as “feebleminded and sexually promiscuous” by social workers at Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, who then stated she inherited these traits from her mother. 

        As news spread in the state about Miller’s case, a vast amount of people in Virginia supported Elizabeth, believing she should not be sterilized. Elizabeth went through many courts in hopes of collecting and/or gaining more support against her being sterilization. However the state and her own lawyers continued to fail her, being in favor of the Eugenics movement and supporters of it. The state and doctors of the institution continued to argue their reasons decision of sterilizing Elizabeth. They strongly believed that the procedure would hinder the reproduction of more abnormal offsprings, that can potentially lessen Miller’s chance of having a feebleminded baby. Though, the various lawyers Miller had, did no justice in defending her side and providing evidence that Elizabeth was completely mentally stable and far from feebleminded. Miller’s lawyers constantly were in contact with the opposing side’s lawyers, which were unethical collaborations that possibly sabotage her case to lose. Her lawyers also failed to mention in court that she was an unproblematic student in all local schools she attended, and was clearly religious since she attended church daily. Therefore, she had no voice nor, a just defense system to help her win the case and get justice. Later, the court decided that Miller would be filed for sterilization and hopefully make it less possible for her to reproduce again. Without Elizabeth Miller’s consent, doctors performed sterilization surgery on her consisting of also removing one inch from each fallopian tube. The tubes were ligated and the ends were cauterized by carbolic acid, which was then followed by alcohol. Later, Elizabeth Miller was then released after undergoing sterilization surgery. All in all, there was no justice for Miller in the case of her being a rape victim, and a victim of the Eugenics law and movement. 

        When Elizabeth’s daughter; Anne, reached around 6 months, social workers wanted to examine her to see if she was considered “fit” or contained any undesired traits they believed Elizabeth and her mother had. Social workers then determined in their belief that Anne was not a normal baby in relation to being related to the Millers. Social workers stated that Anne came out to looking not quite normal, therefore she automatically seen as another product baby of a feeble minded or mentally deficient mother. Although, Elizabeth went through these traumatic experience in her life, she was able to seek resilience from the adversities she and her family faced. Her family continued to live life, proving the state, social workers, doctors, and her foster family wrong by proceeding to have a basic standard of living. Elizabeth got married twice, and continued to go back to school and work even harder than before for her and her family. Anne and Elizabeth both succeeded in making it to the honor roll in their schools and attend church together every week. Both memorable human beings continued to live their normal lives proving others wrong. Although, Miller felt betrayed by her foster family and has a baby as a product of getting raped, it helped her appreciate being able to be there for her daughter growing up and love her the way she should be. After Elizabeth’s case story spread, it has become aware that over 65,000 Americans have been involuntarily sterilized and diagnosed as feeble minded or mentally deficient. Elizabeth Miller lived a long time helping to help and care others. The ideology of Eugenics making a better world and improving the quality of humanity was bound to come to an end, however majority victims like Miller are not always fortunate to find the resilience out of this. 

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