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).

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4 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. 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

  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.

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