Eugenics was a movement that took place from the early to mid 20th century throughout the United States. Eugenics was a term that was coined around 1883 by Sir Francis Galton and was considered to be based on scientific and philosophical beliefs for creating better or more pure humans.1 This idea was widespread across several platforms including treatments within Mental Institutions. The author Shelby Pumphrey talks about how medical professionals were lending their expert knowledge and were trying to figure out efficient solutions to mental disability, while many were trying to find controls on the outcome of offspring which included tests on sterilization and racist marriage restrictions.2 With this talk in the air there was a development in the 1920s in the state of Virginia involving the Eugenics Movement. Some of Virginia’s new laws included the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and the Pocahontas Exception. Both of these state laws went hand and hand with the ideas from the State Legislators influences with the Eugenics Movement.

The Racial Integrity Act of 1924

The Racial Integrity Act of 1924, was an act created in correlation with Eugenics laws that were becoming popular in the state of Virginia at this time. In the book Virginia Reconsidered, the authors Kevin R. Hardwick and Warren R. Hofstra state that “Eugenicists throughout the United States argued that the superiority of white northern European peoples—particularly Anglo-Saxons—was threatened by intermarriage with other parts of the world.”3 Southerners especially in Virginia took this one step further my banning the intermarriage between anyone who was considered to be not white with someone who was white. The authors also state “The Racial Integrity Acts of 1924 and 1930 imposed the ‘one drop rule,’ which defined as black any Virginian who had even a single black ancestor.”4 This was a way for Virginian officials and Legislators to enforce aspects of the Eugenics movement into everyone’s personal life and to enforce the idea of White being considered the superior race for the time.

The Pocahontas Exception:

The Pocahontas Exception was another form of legislation that correlated with the idea of Eugenics and provided essentially another layer with the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. This exception was a way of allowing certain white families to keep their ancestorial connection without affecting their white identity like what was the case for many others. The author Kevin Maillard states that “a person with 1/16th Indian ancestry and 15/16th White ancestry would not be categorically denied the privileges and protections of Whiteness, despite the damaging taint that would otherwise disqualify a clear assertion of racial purity.”5 This was essentially a loop whole within the Racial Integrity Act that would allow white citizens to remain with their social status, while oppressing everyone who they felt was socially, economically, and culturally below them.

  1. Catte, Elizabeth. Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia. First edition. Cleveland, Ohio: Belt Publishing, 2021, 29. []
  2. Pumphrey, Shelby. “Curiously Cured by Sterilization: Charles Carrington and the Sterilization of African American Men in Virginia, 1902–1910.” 78. []
  3. Hardwick, Kevin R., and Warren R. Hofstra. Virginia Reconsidered: New Histories of the Old Dominion. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003, 353 []
  4. Hardwick, Kevin R., and Warren R. Hofstra. Virginia Reconsidered: New Histories of the Old Dominion. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003, 354 []
  5. Maillard, Kevin Noble. “The Pocahontas Exception: The Exception of American Indian Ancestry from Racial Purity Law.” Michigan Journal of Race & Law 12, no. 2 (2007). []
  6. https://edu.lva.virginia.gov/dbva/items/show/226 []