... 'eugenics is everywhere and nowhere at the same time'; Ms. Catte’s determination to pin it down propels the narrative ... Pure America is a slim but capacious volume. Ms. Catte, the author of 2018’s 'What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,' a forceful rebuttal to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy centers the narrative around Western State, but she also tells the wrenching story of Carrie Buck, the young plaintiff in Buck v. Bell, and of the removal in the 1930s of hundreds of mountain families labeled as defective to make way for the creation of Shenandoah National Park. The book is tightly argued and impatient ... One reason to face up to the past is that it has a way of infringing on the present whether or not we want it to. Echoes of eugenicist thought have appeared in arguments, made throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, that expendable members of society should be sacrificed to preserve the economy. As for the inn, its morbid history asserts itself in a more physical way. An intrepid guest exploring the grounds could come upon a neglected cemetery with the remains of several thousand unidentified patients. This smart, scrupulous book might lead readers to wonder what their own surroundings would reveal, were they to investigate them.
[A] history of Virginia’s eugenics movement and its interconnections with racial, gender, and class prejudices ... [a] grounded, well-rendered, and highly disturbing account ... With justified outrage backed by copious archival evidence, Catte describes the process by which Virginia made eugenic sterilization legal. Importantly, the author also demonstrates how practitioners of eugenics did more than just sterilize the mentally ill and those who were not considered 'pure.' ... The author closes by examining the suppression of memory as it pertains to the thousands of sterilizations that occurred as well as Western State’s use of patients for free labor. A well-told, richly contextualized investigation of an appalling episode in American history.
a concise and deeply unsettling study of the eugenics movement in Virginia ... In a lacerating analysis of the links between economic policies and eugenicist thought, Catte examines coerced labor at Virginia’s psychiatric institutions, the destruction of a historically-Black neighborhood in Charlottesville under the guise of urban renewal, and the transformation of Western State into an upscale hotel and condominiums. This provocative and impeccably argued history reveals how traumas of the past inform the inequalities of today.