#31

Don Quixote was somebody once. Now he’s middle-aged with too much time on his hands, so he reads.

Books seem to speak to him—fairytales of chivalrous adventures color a landscape of whimsy and romance—a stark contrast to his own surroundings and the glim memory of glory once up a time.

Don reads so much that it consumes his life. No time for family or friends. Sleep dissolves into another few chapters and then a few more, and rather than food, he gorges on tales of knights slaying giants. He continues on this self-sabotaging crash course until one day, his fiction becomes his reality. Although not faring well when it comes to windmills, he sets out on a delusional adventure.

I worry I’ve gone all Don Quixote lately. I feel I’ve entered an enormous rabbit hole and have no way of escape. All I do is research and research, checking out any possible connection to my Great-aunt Glenna and her life.

I can’t tell if my hunch about Glenna and her family is something real or if I’ve read too many conspiracies and listened to too many true crime podcasts?

However, the more I read, the more I realize that my aunt, along with nearly three-hundred women listed on State Hospital South’s 1940 Federal Census record, were caught in a trap. These women are still caught, hidden behind closed mouths and steel doors, lost to time, and buried deep in a hole of dark American history.

I suspect my Great-aunt was a target of something hidden within the momentum of the Progressive Era (1896-1932). This era was a time of enlightenment, social crusading, and a demand for political reforms following the giant industrial feats of the 1800s.

Progress! Progress! Progress ruled all sensibility and made any moral compass spin out of control. Look at all the progress—Railroads crisscrossing the county as well as highways, cars, Psychology, Women’s Suffrage, Jazz music, Coed-education, Flappers (short haircuts, shorter hemlines, sex, as well as smoking and drinking for all–as long as you went underground, that is). Progress! Oh yeah, and then there was that other thing…

At first glance, one might not even know it was there. I’d never heard about it before, or at least, I couldn’t remember if I had, let alone understood what it was. It was called Eugenics, and the true believers were Eugenicists (I suppose Elitist-racist-assholes was taken?).

Eugenics was the idea that all social ills could be solved by getting rid of people deemed “unfit.” To certain influential people, academia, and politicians, the great White hope was diminishing swiftly.

Immigration (specifically from southern and eastern Europe, oh, and Asia, and most of the United Kingdom, like Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, but for some reason, not England) was muddying the waters of the “Nordic” aka Caucasian gene pool. And the influencers, academic institutions, and Congress, even Supreme Court Justices were refusing to swim.

What’s worse, they made up rules and spread falsehoods so that everyone might be hesitant to take a dip or two or to even question the powerful.

Eugenicists were a cunning group, packaging their ill-will as a kindness to people who didn’t know what was best for them and targeting immigrants, Indigenous people, epileptics, the handicapped, the uneducated, and the poor, making it criminal to be so.

The first plan of attack was to gain supporters beyond psychologists and physicians. People like Alexander Graham Bell, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Herbert Hoover, Charles Lindbergh, and John Harvey Kellogg (as in, the inventor of Corn Flakes created as a tool to stop masturbation—isn’t that food for thought?).

These wealthy elitists believed extremes such as segregation, euthanasia, and compulsory sterilizations equaled preventing a civilization collapse. These people were hard not to listen to because they were so prominent.

Other big wigs and eugenics fans included Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller Jr. oh, and Adolf Hitler.

The second prong of attack was spreading the word in every conceivable way like newspapers, radio, movies, elaborate conventions, carnival-like atmospheres, and in prominent schools like Harvard and Stanford.

At one time, about three hundred eugenic principled classes were part of the curriculum for schools having twenty-thousand students enrolled. How was the poor farming community supposed to combat all of that?

What’s worse, once laws were created, laws like the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924, more than thirty American States jumped on board.

I’ve got to hand it to those eugenic bastards though, to create a law and get it passed and then get the Supreme Court to back you is quite a feat. The Sterilization Act of 1924 meant that any state could force someone (or a group) they deemed “unfit” to be sterilized without getting any kind of consent from the victim or the victim’s family. Each state then allowed superintendents of State-funded hospitals to do the dirty work of figuring out who was “fit” and who was not and taking care of it.

This brings us to my Great-aunt Glenna. Even though she was put in State Hospital South in 1940 after the E.R.O. (Eugenics Records Office) closed, data gathered about her, and her family was already in the system. The negative attitudes towards them culminating over more than a decade sealed their fate.

And because everything I suspect was done to Glenna and other “inmates” was tidy and legal, iron-clad, just like it is today, I can’t get any more information to confirm my suspicions.

I also can’t find out more information by grouping these women together and leaving out any personal identifiers (which is supposed to be a legal way to get information and the way other writers and journalists do it) because the state of Idaho will not allow it and won’t tell me why. It’s so frustrating, running so hard only to realize I haven’t gotten anywhere.

Surprisingly, I recently discovered that Don Quixote has become a noun meaning someone who is compelled to make changes but does it in a silly and impractical way. I worry that that’s me.

As always, I feel I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no way of gathering people who do know how to navigate around legalities and search for loopholes in HIPAA laws (most litigators I’ve asked aren’t eager to fight HIPAA, or don’t have jurisdiction in Idaho, or aren’t interested because getting this information doesn’t equal a large payout).

I don’t know. Maybe I am just some silly, middle-aged idiot riding around the world wide web trying to slay windmills.

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