Sarah Milov, Department of History

 “Haunting Virginia: Rediscovering Eugenics in the State”

From Jefferson’s writings on race in Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) to the landmark case of Buck v. Bell (1926), which legalized forced sterilization (a practice that continued in Virginia until 1976), the history of eugenics is intimately bound up with the history of the state of Virginia and of the University.  

Yet, this history is generally unknown. State history textbooks do not mention extent to which Virginia was an international leader in categorizing human difference, and compelling the sterilization of those deemed “unfit.” It was only in 2015 that the state of Virginia agreed to pay reparations to a small handful of remaining survivors of forced sterilization. These survivors are fewer by the day. Their stories may not be accessible, but the places that institutionalized eugenics still are.  

My dream project is to haunt the places where eugenics was practiced, and to document this haunting in a website that can begin to serve as a public monument to the more than 7500 Virginians sterilized between 1924 and 1976.  This project requires travel, photography, and archival work at in the UVA Special Collections. This project will be executed in conjunction with a Fall semester history seminar on Eugenics (HIUS 4501).

Site Visits

Specific sites will be worked out in consultation with participating students, but we will travel to places key to understanding eugenics in Virginia. These may include Central State Hospital (Petersburg, VA), Western State Hospital (Staunton, VA), Amherst County Courthouse (Lynchburg, VA), Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds (Williamsburg, VA), Southwestern Lunatic Asylum (Marion, VA), and the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond.

Web Expertise

The ultimate goal of this project is to build a website that contains student photography of sites we visit and narration based on archival materials we find. Much of this we can do ourselves using the StoryMap technology and modeling our work on the “Illusion of Progress” website created by the Woodson Institute ( However, technical issues may arise necessitating help from digital humanities specialists at the Scholars Lab. 

Budget for up to 12 Students:

Pizza dinner discussion: $150*4= $600

Van rental for site visits $80+$60 (gas)=$140 * 5 (Five site visits)= $700

Food expenses for site visits $100*5 = $500

Web consulting honorarium: $500

Digital camera for class photography: $700


Total: $3000