By Dave Gram
Many Vermonters of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, like Stevens’ grandmother, as well as poor, rural whites, were placed on a state-sanctioned list of “mental defectives” and degenerates in the 1930s and placed in state institutions like the Home for the Feeble Minded in Brandon.
Some had surgery after Gov. Stanley Wilson in 1931 won enactment of a sterilization law. It was designed to reduce the number of people seen as placing demands on public services, and to purify what University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins, a national leader of the so-called “eugenics” movement, called “the fine old stock of original settlers in Vermont.”
Now the Vermont Legislature, which once endorsed breeding people like cattle, is considering a resolution expressing regret. It vows never to repeat “this dark chapter in Vermont’s history” and expresses the Legislature’s “profound sorrow and sincere regret that such a program of sterilization was sanctioned.”