In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario

The just-published book, In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario, may interest AHP readers. Written by C. Elizabeth Koester, the book is described as follows:

In the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement won many supporters with its promise that social ills such as venereal disease, alcoholism, and so-called feeble-mindedness, along with many other conditions, could be eliminated by selective human breeding and other measures. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia passed legislation requiring that certain “unfit” individuals undergo reproductive sterilization. Ontario, being home to many leading proponents of eugenics, came close to doing the same.

In the Public Good examines three legal processes that were used to advance eugenic ideas in Ontario between 1910 and 1938: legislative bills, provincial royal commissions, and the criminal trial of a young woman accused of distributing birth control information. Taken together, they reveal who in the province supported these ideas, how they were understood in relation to the public good, and how they were debated. Elizabeth Koester shows the ways in which the law was used both to promote and to deflect eugenics, and how the concept of the public good was used by supporters to add power to their cause.

With eugenic thinking finding new footholds in the possibilities offered by reproductive technologies, proposals to link welfare entitlement to “voluntary” sterilization, and concerns about immigration, In the Public Good adds depth to our understanding. Its exploration of the historical relationship between eugenics and law in Ontario prepares us to face the implications of “newgenics” today.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.