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Cover of book promoting Eugenics

When nurse Dawn Wooten blew the whistle on medical staff at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia last fall, she reported that dozens of female detainees had been involuntarily sterilized at the privately-run immigration prison.

It was a shocking allegation, reminiscent of medical abuses that many of us assumed were relics of a bygone era.

Sadly, however, these abuses have persisted into the twenty-first century, and Wooten’s revelation cast a bright light on the intersection of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

Audrey Clare Farley’s The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt provides the political and historical context for this intersection. It zeroes in on the early- to mid-twentieth century eugenics movement—a once mainstream effort to perfect society by keeping “the unfit” from reproducing—by highlighting the story of Ann Cooper Hewitt, whose mother, Maryon, conspired to have her sterilized after a doctor declared her mentally defective in a bold—some would say unconscionable—attempt to take her daughter’s share of an inheritance.

Farley’s description of Cooper Hewitt’s effort to sue her mother, as well as the... see more