In 1934, aided by a California eugenics law, the socialite Maryon Cooper Hewitt had her 'promiscuous' daughter declared feebleminded and sterilized without her knowledge. She did this to deprive Ann of millions of dollars from her father's estate, which contained a child-bearing stipulation. When a sensational court case ensued, the American public was captivated. So were eugenicists, who saw an opportunity to restrict reproductive rights in America for decades to come.
Farley takes creative license to set the scene and craft conversations, a method that creates an extremely readable narrative. She goes beyond Ann’s story to include the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latina, and poor white women forcibly sterilized throughout modern history—segments that very well could have been expanded into their own book. Given the allegations of forced sterilization at ICE detention centers in 2020, this book is as timely as ever. A gripping tale about the atrocity of systematic reproductive control.
Expertly blending biography and history, and using the life of Ann Cooper Hewitt as a backdrop, Farley has created an absorbing biography effectively explaining how the legacy of eugenics still persists today. Hewitt’s story will engage anyone interested in women’s history.
... intriguing ... Farley sketches the history of the eugenics movement and fears over the emergence of the 'New Woman' in early 20th-century America, but the narrative is at its most immersive when delving into the exploits of Cooper Hewitt’s mother, Maryon, who got rich by marrying well and often ... Later chapters covering more recent cases of women sterilized without their informed consent feel more obligatory than essential, but Farley sets a brisk pace and persuasively reimagines the dynamic between Ann and Maryon. This is an eye-opening portrait of an obscure yet fascinating case.