"Saturated with Vice": Angelic White Children, Incorrigible Youth, and Reformable Subjects

  • Hannah Anneliese Bailey


This article looks at the eugenic sterilization in the United States in the twentieth century through the lens of race and property ownership. In Kansas specifically, sterilization was sensationalized in the media amidst two events that showcased contradictory understandings of white girlhood in the liberal eugenic era. Sterilization was championed in 1917 after a young white girl was raped and murdered, and then decried two decades later in 1937 when a senator uncovered a (legal) sterilization campaign at a girls' reformatory. I argue that these competing representations of white girlhood resulted from larger-scale societal anxieties about womens' expanding property ownership and voting rights in the twentieth century. Further, I analyze representations of race in the Girls' Industrial School in Beloit, Kansas to show how Black girls in the institution were understood as inherently criminal in a way that validated the ultimate "reformability" of white girls from eugenecist understandings of class and sexuality amongst white youth.