How NC kept troubled girls ‘in line’ at Samarcand

“From 1929 to the mid-1970s, North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people in the nation’s most aggressive program of its kind. It was all in the name of eugenics, a coin termed by Francis Galton to describe efforts to ‘improve or impair the racial quality of future generations.’ The program stopped as opinions began to shift surrounding eugenics — and lawsuits were filed against North Carolina’s Eugenics Board on behalf of those who had been sterilized….

“Seventy-seven percent of all those sterilized in North Carolina were women…. Before the 1960s — when Black people became the majority of those sterilized — poor, rural white girls were the primary targets of authorities and women reformers. Girls were punished for engaging in ‘deviant’ behaviors, such as sexual activity or crossing racial lines in their romantic interests. Poor white girls who were sexually abused were also criminalized, labeled ‘feeble-minded,’ and institutionalized.

“Samarcand Manor, North Carolina’s ‘industrial school’ for girls, was a juvenile facility designed to keep troubled girls ‘in line.’ In reality, this whites-only institution in the town of Eagle Springs was a violent place where courts, social workers, and parents committed young white girls for not adhering to social norms or the rules of white supremacy….”

— From “White Southern Girlhood and Eugenics: A Talk With Historian Karin Zipf” by Tina Vasquez at Rewired (May 27)

Zipf, who teaches history at East Carolina, is the author of “Bad Girls at Samarcand: Sexuality and Sterilization in a Southern Juvenile Reformatory” (2016).


36 thoughts on “How NC kept troubled girls ‘in line’ at Samarcand”

    1. I completely agree, the house parents were abusive to the girls, talked to us as if we were below them, there was not reform cwhat so ever, we were treated as the scum of the earth

      1. I was there from 1968 to May 1969.
        I didn’t have too much trouble. Yes the house ladies were some times assholes for sure. I remember the girls that slept in the bedroom , and exit doors at night.
        How you had to wait 3 mo’s think it was. To be able to go to canteen. Then after 3 mo’s without any trouble you’d get a Honor Girl button . Then another 3 mo’s you could walk other girls that didn’t have there pins or are were new girls.
        I had no pin and was going to able to go off campus with my parents. I was working on a Tuesday in the kitchen, and every so 9ften I get a spoon full of sugar out of the pantry. One day the lady over us caught me, told the house mother I lost my Honor Button from Tuesday til thrusday and of course I couldn’t go off campus that Wednesday.
        I remember when I first got there I was in the 2 story building . I forget the name now. But it seemed like all you had to do was just think about running away. And you’d get locked in your pj’s for at least a week. Have to time I hadnt been thinking about running away. Not to say a couple times I stared out the windows with those really thick wire screens looking to see how I would go had I. We used to have visiting day in the big with our family and if they brought snacks we had to eat all we could before we had to leave cause we couldn’t take it back to the dorms. And I hated having to drink cows milk we got from the farm cows. And hated having to clean dead chickens, I’d never had to do that before I came there. And also the girls had to wear those below the knee pleated dresses. Had to cut there hair if it was past there shoulders. I got out in 69. Missing sadly Woodstock festival.
        But I lasted once out about 3 mo’s back with my parents, I left and at 18 started hitch hiking to Texas a couple times from Charlotte,n.c. And couple times down to Florida. I traveled with the fair for a couple yrs. Finally ending up on the strip in Atlanta doing heroin .But then I learn I was having a baby and stopped and hadn’t touch it since. But I grew up with getting into trouble. But never got locked up. Except for being behind locked doors at Samarcand.
        I even made my daughter think cause she was giving my mom problems about age 14 8 took from Dunn,n.c. To Samarcand all the way there I was telling her we were going to drop her off. By the time we got there she was begging us to not take her there. But I did go inside and ask them if they could show her around a little bit. But they said no
        But I really think she change after the honor stories I told her about that place. She is now 49 yrs old and I have 2 great children none that has ever been on drugs. There in college, one sells new cars, the other Waits tables. And both girls help with my daughter’s business making money. So I think my time at Samarcand and my stories I told them over the yrs had them a little scare straight. So I learn there, and Ive learned to rest on the streets in life, I’m 69 yrs old just lost my husband of 34 yrs this past March 14,2022 from a heart attack. So I’m alone now and I know I’ll make it by myself, not looking to have another relationship.

        1. I was there in 67 68 and 69. Was one of worst experiences of my life. Last cottage I was at New cottage before I went home.

          1. so true. you were treated like you were their maid too.I got sent there in 1969.Me and another girl.We got sent for skipping school and running away from home. I was at Ireland cottage where I spent most of my “time” there then got moved to New Cottage a little while before coming home.I was there for 2 years and 3 months. Some of it wasn’t too bad as we did have cook outs and got to see movies ,stuff like that but others were hard like cutting grass with a sling blade til you had blisters on your hands.We did a lot of stuff like that. But I would have rather been at Samarkand than prison.

          2. My name was Deborah Hooker and I was at Samarkand from February 1969 – June 1970, when I graduated from there, I was in Gardner Hall, I remember Ms Britt , if you were there contact me at please

        2. Hi Claudia, I’m Betty Lanier, I too was there at Samarcand from 1962-1965. I have a better story than you, my home life was abusive and my mom had married a man that sexually abused me and she wouldn’t do anything about it and took his side and moved away and left me because I started telling people about him and my mom, I didn’t mind plucking chickens or drinking cow milk because I about starved at home, my mom would eat in front of me and would not even give me a bite so living there was a step up in life and as soon as I got out I went into a foster home and it was horrible and they had their favorite children and some of us were left out of a lot of things, my case worker arranged for me to go to Cosmetology school and I am 72 years old and I am about to retire after all this time, I Thank God for Samarcand Manor, I don’t know if I would ever be alive if I had not gone there, God Bless you and I’m so glad you had a wonderful adult life and for your children 🙏🥰🙏

  1. This is not true. There were many types of races there. I know I was there for years. I was Mrs. Mitchell’s assistant and was a gold metalist. I know very much about Samarkand. If you would like to speak to meet I will be happy to talk to you . I was there in the 60’s. I also led a group of 100 girls to clear the landscape at the lake for an amphitheater . Ro

    1. You were one of the lucky ones. I was sent there for running away from abusive foster homes. Samarcand was one of the worst experiences of my life.

    2. Do you remember a lady named Miss Parks? She worked there in the 60’s and was a childhood friend of my grandmother. She would occasionally visit her. I don’t think she ever married.

      1. I was at Tuft Hall and there was a housemother named Miss Parks, she was an older lady and overweight, she was good to me but not to some of the other girls, she would pinch out skin and twist it while she gritted her teeth, but later on she warned up to me and help me learn a lot in cooking 2 class at the cottage , I was moved into the new cottage down near the lake before I left and I loved it there, I thank God for Samarcand Manor and I didn’t mind doing all the chores, it was the first time I slept with sheets on my bed and pillowcases on my pillow and clothes of my own and a structured life, thank you for listening to my story 🙏

        1. Miss Parks big and fat. Had a little head with red hair. She would spit when she yelled at you. ” I’m gonna stomp you to a grease spot” I remember her too

        2. My name is Luray Lawson I was there in 71 or 72 I only spent 10 months there for running away from home,I had Rowe and ushers as 2 different counselors I was so blessed to be there I was taught to clean ,cook yeast rolls my favorite,! Laundry I honestly wish that they were still there for children who are runaways! But then again you know some people are good hearted and some not so nice,there was nice council and mean ones! Needless to say I feel blessed to have been there!

    3. I know people who were there in the 70s and 80s and they had nothing good to say about the place. Really from the 20s until the 50s is the time that it was really F***ED UP. They raped, molested and tortured those children. They were giving them lobotomies and other extremely painful procedures for “mental health ” issues as they called it. I was out there in 2014 remodeling the place for the State to have a training program for the Police and we found alot of old, old pictures and letters and a bunch of creepy shit. So…just because you didn’t experience anything bad doesn’t mean that nothing went on out there in the 100 plus years that you weren’t there. So, you have NO RIGHT TO CALL ANYONE A LIAR ABOUT THE FACTS THEY EXPERIENCED IN THEIR LIVES. YOU

  2. I was a teacher at Samarkand from 1985-1994. To judge it’s history based entirely on eugenics is a grave historic injustice. Samarkand was a juvenile alternative to the horrors of adult prisons. Many of the girls were from the crime infested urban mill villages. I remember looking at the medical reports from the 1920s and 1930s being shocked at the high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. These leaders were considered progressive for their time. To judge them by today’s standards is a moot point. Great good came out of Samarkand and untold generations were given other visions of what life could be like.

    1. Eddie Russell,you said you were a teacher there in the early 70’s I was just wondering if the had yearbooks there?

  3. My Mother attended there around 1960. She said she didn’t want to leave after a year of learning to sew and other skills she learned at age 16. I wonder how I could find her name on a roster of attendees?

    1. My grandmother had a friend that worked at Samarkand in the 60’s, I can only refer her last name was Parks. Did you ever know her?

  4. I was there between 1967 through 1970 no fault of my own attitude was sent there because of abusive foster homes and refused to return to one…was given the option to go to Samarcand if I did not return to foster care. I remember Miss Mitchell she took me under her wing and explain to me that I was just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and that she was going to show me how to make the best of the situation. She put me in the choir I traveled all over North Carolina got exposed to the arts such as life plays the opera and it showed me life from a different view. I went straight from The receiving dorm to the new cottage which was considered a privilege. I worked in the kitchen I learned how to cook for some great cooks I also remember working the chickens that they were talking about pulling the feathers it was very hot but it was to provide us I thought at the time food. I was also an honor girl until one night I was awakened by a strange noise …I heard by third party some girls had raped a young lady with a broomstick for Snitchin. I was supposed to be in charge because the house mother was sleeping. Honor badge was taken from me because I would not tail or snitch who I thought it might would’ve been from the rumors. I had enough sense to know that was only going to get the same thing for me, so I said take the badge. There was no one to take me so when I aged out at 15 1/2 my grandmother came to get me from South Carolina. The rest is history… I learned a lot about survival, how to get along with people of all nationalities, how to have compassion, how to have empathy and I have carried that with me in life. I have been back to visit Samarcand and used Black Gospel music As a testimony to how divine intervention can intervene in your life at any given time…you have to take the opportunity to make the best of every situation.

    1. I think you just told my story at Samarcand except for the traveling part but I was in the choir. I didn’t experience the rapping part but I was involved in catching the run aways , Mrs. Mitchell was a jewel to me too and I learned so much there that has been invaluable to me in my life, God had a hand in my life when I was sent there, my home life was horrific, that’s where I was raped and abused, my mom married a man who sexually abused me and my oldest sister and took his side and gave us up

    2. I like your post. I was there and worked with Ms Mitchell. I fed her cats and was in her house doing things. I rode in her car. I looked for runaways with her in the woods with flashlights with other men in trucks. A very scary scene.

    3. Yes I worked with Ms Mitchell. I was in the choir. I may know some of you girls here. Do you remember the red headed girl in the choir who was so good. Was her name Carol?

  5. I was in 17 in 1968 and 69. I was in Leonard hall my cottage mother was Connie Brewer she was so sweet I continued to see her after I left. This place for young girls was no cake walk by far you learned a lot and had to keep your eyes open at all times. I have to give it credit for one thing … You grow up fast and strong.

    1. I agree, I was there in 1962-65 and it was good for me, I learned so much and learned things I wouldn’t have learned at home , I lived in a sexually. abusive home and Samarcand was the only stability I had ever had as a child, I would go to the beauty salon and help them once I got my Honor pin and my caseworker arranged for me to start Cosmetology school when I got out, I was only 15 and I am now 72 and I am retiring the last day of this year, I thank God for Samarcand and all that I learned good in life, some guy was putting Samarcand down like it was a place where children were raped and tortured, it may have been some time in life but not when I was there, if you saw a man on campus it was far and few between

  6. Best thing that ever me. I was there in 65 …when I was about 10. I was never abused or anything. I did see girls that came out of seclusion. They looked awful. as there almost 3 years.

  7. My grandmother was sent there in the late 40s. She said she loved it there. She had come from a dirt floor shack in the mountains. I guess your view of things depends on how comfortable you are. The more comfortable you are, the more you find fault with imperfection. The more of a trust fund baby you are, the more you get to write nonsense about times past and judge it all by today’s standards.

  8. I was sent there twice. I stayed in Gardner hall mostly. Was put in solitary 16 times. I skipped school and was sent there. I had a good time. Met a lot of good girls in there. My nickname was WaterMelon. Miss Mitchell was mean,yea she had her little asskissing favorites. I bet they all ended up lesbians like her.

  9. It’s funny .I was there in the 60s. When I write stuff it’s never approved and published. The coverup goes on

  10. I was there in the mid 70’s… I was there cause I wouldn’t go to school.. I hated that place.. They treated bad and made you work like a dog.. I didn’t learn a thing from that place …

  11. I was there in the 1950 loves it ran away from carroll hall and end up going to Gardner Hall when I was released i 1956 i cried and did not want to return home. I was STUDENT COUNCIL for over a year, Ms MCKINNON was the house mother loved her.Went there because my mothers boyfriend raped me at 11 yrs old so I ran away from home I sure did learn a lot from MS MOrgan in weaving.

  12. I was there in 1969-70. I have vague memories .. I remember when I first got there having to sew my name on labels for all my clothes. The first cottage .. I don’t remember the name but it was newer.. I worked in the kitchen and the house mother .. I think her name was Kennedy ? Not sure but she was very mean .. made me cry .. I was always quiet .. soon I was moved to a brand new cottage and had the job of delivering the mail .. and did the concession stand … so I walked all over the campus alone. I do remember sneaking candy while I worked in the main building. The house mother in the new cottage was so nice .. I don’t remember her name .. she was older .. for me it wasn’t that bad … I just missed home and was there for cutting school … a lot… came home finished school and went to college. .. it all seems like a bad memory ..

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