Oregon's Racial Purity Regime: The Influence of International Scientific Racism on Law Enforcement, Legislation, Public Health, and Incarceration in Portland, Oregon During the Victorian and Progressive Eras (1851-1917)
Portland State University. Department of History
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (vi, 144 pages)
In 1983, the Oregon State legislature repealed the eugenic sterilization law that had been in use for 60 years. Initially passed during the Progressive era, this law epitomized the State's legacy of surveilling, policing, caging, and inflicting brutality on marginalized and racialized communities who were deemed dangerous, threatening, or contagious. Public health leaders, political officials, law enforcement authorities, and private charities worked together as a multivalent system to maintain racial purity in the State. This racial purity regime drew upon a legacy of international pseudo-scientific racism to justify and bolster policies, legislation, and practices that targeted impoverished communities, people of color, and women who exhibited behaviors outside of accepted gender norms. The policies and actions of this regime resulted in the sterilization of over 2,600 individuals at the hands of the State between 1923 when the Oregon legislature passed the final version of its Eugenics law and 1983, when it was repealed. The establishment of discursive rhetoric linking race, gender, and class with disease, contagion, biological inferiority, and danger was vital to the maintenance of white supremacy in the state of Oregon. Nebulous and broadly applicable statutes enabled law enforcement to surveil, police, and cage racialized and marginalized communities who threatened the authority of elite white Oregonians. It was imperative that reproduction was curbed, either through the sterilization, forced removal from the city, or incarceration during reproductive years of populations deemed aberrant. These measures, enacted and enforced through legal means, solidified the hegemony of Oregon's caste system. Despite the repeal of the sterilization law almost forty years ago, the ruinations of eugenics and scientific racism remain prevalent in public health, medicine, and policing today.
© 2021 Katherine N. Bush
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Bush, Katherine N., "Oregon's Racial Purity Regime: The Influence of International Scientific Racism on Law Enforcement, Legislation, Public Health, and Incarceration in Portland, Oregon During the Victorian and Progressive Eras (1851-1917)" (2021). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5677.
Available for download on Friday, April 22, 2022