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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6 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. 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.

  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?

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