Date Presented

Spring 4-2011

Document Type


Access Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Kirt von Daacke

Second Advisor

Prof. Barbara Rothermel

Third Advisor

Dr. Lindsay Eades


During the early twentieth century, a movement influenced by the tenets of Social Darwinism took root in the United States. Members of the movement used its principles to “improve the American race” through selective breeding. The leaders of the movement adopted the name eugenics and the participants worked at strengthening genetics in two major ways: the sterilization of persons with so-called genetic defects and an effort to eliminate miscegenation. The Commonwealth of Virginia pursued both aspects of eugenics with great fervor. Under the leadership of Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, Virginia took a radical stance against racial amalgamation through legislation defining race. The process of instituting the laws was fraught with successes and failures, but eventually created the most drastic race legislation of its time which attracted the attention of national eugenicists, like Harry Hamilton Laughlin. The effectiveness of the laws passed in Virginia led to interest in the greater American eugenics community, including efforts in other state legislatures and the national government, but eventually failed to create change in the policies outside of Virginia.