Vermont House unanimously supports eugenics apology

April 1, 2021 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Legislators in the Vermont House have unanimously supported a resolution apologizing to all Vermonters and their families and descendants who were harmed by state-sanctioned eugenics policies and practices that led to sterilizations.

Under the eugenics movement, some Vermonters of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, as well as poor, rural white people, were placed on a state-sanctioned list of “mental defectives” and degenerates and sent to state institutions.

Some had surgery after Vermont in 1931 became one of more than two dozen states to pass a law allowing voluntary sterilizations for “human betterment.”

“We acknowledge that these policies of separation, institutionalization and sterilization were driven by social and ideological imperatives, based on racial, ethnic, class and gender biases and prejudice,” Rep. Thomas Stevens, D-Washington-Chittenden, said on Wednesday, according to the Bennington Banner.

“By apologizing now, we are saying that policies we undertake in the future, including many bills that we have considered already this session, will be considered in the spirit of correcting those harms.”

The passage of the apology, following years of effort, is a reminder to the General Assembly to have “the humility to recognize we can err,” said Rep. Anne B. Donahue, R-Washington.

In 2019, then-University of Vermont President Thomas Sullivan apologized for the school’s involvement in eugenics research in the 1920s and 1930s, calling it “unethical and regrettable.” The university also removed a former school president’s name from the school library because of his support of the Eugenics Survey of Vermont and its leader, a UVM professor.

The legislative resolution was up for a final reading in the House on Thursday, before it’s expected to go the Senate.