Our discussion will focus on Isidro González’s paper and another piece of scholarship. González’s research focuses on Sonoma State Home for the Feebleminded in Eldridge, California, and how eugenics field workers—those involved in observing and notating nonnormative (“dysgenic”) phenotypic, familial, and lifestyle attributes of institutionalized people—crafted individualized clinical narratives of “inmates” to not only legitimize their profession, the state employer, and the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), but also to surveil, pathologize, and medicalize “unfit” human beings. In so doing, they worked to demarcate the line between idealized white, able-bodied, middle- and upper-class citizens and poor, racialized, disabled, and dispensable individuals in the United States. The result was the loss of personal freedom, the inability to engender children, and the state and medical establishment’s attempt to halt the propagation of those with lower IQ scores, poor folks, non-Protestants, and those who strayed in body and mind from an exalted whiteness. What this study contributes to the histories of institutionalization, disability, race, gender, and eugenics is that it highlights the on-the-ground data collection practices of a single field worker at Sonoma State Home to see how the logics of racism, classism, ableism, and sexism functioned to explain the supposed dysgenic traits of institutionalized people and their social networks. Central questions framing this research are: which qualities, attributes, and markers did field workers seek in “inmates” and families in order to qualify them as inferior humans, and how did field workers quantify these markers? Also, what was the human standard, in body and mind, and could “inmates” be fixed or engineered to fit the standard (or fit a standard)?
Isidro González is a doctoral student in the Department of History, working at the intersection of race, disability, mental illness, and science in U.S. history.