Lombardo Book Kindles Interest in Buck v. Bell

Posted On October 17, 2009
Categories CLHS, Faculty

Professor Paul Lombardo never imagined that during his career he would be recognized at an award event alongside best-selling author John Grisham or journalist Roger Mudd.

But that is exactly what happened. Lombardo received honorable mention for his nonfiction book, Three Generations,No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell, during the annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards celebration held last October. Grisham received a lifetime achievement award, and Mudd received the People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction for his book, The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and theGlory Days of Television News.

“Positive reception of the book has been more than I could have expected,” said Lombardo, noting that more than thirty reviews had already appeared. “Being honored along with Pulitzer prize winners like Annette Gordon Reed or writers like John Grisham was icing on the cake,” he added. Lombardo’s book comes out in paperback this fall and is out on Amazon’s Kindle already.

The nonfiction book tells the story of the court decisions surrounding Carrie Buck, a young woman sterilized by the state of Virginia in 1927 in order to prevent her from having more “feebleminded” offspring. Lombardo’s title plays on the inaccuracy of the famous opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., condemning Buck, her baby, and her mother as “three generations of imbeciles.”

In the book, Lombardo presents proof that Buck was not an “unfit” citizen, or “socially inadequate” as the nation’s most famous judge had described her. This December Indiana University Press will publish a book marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first eugenic sterilization law. Lombardo edited the volume and wrote its introductory essay, while also contributing a chapter about Georgia’s eugenics laws. That article shows how the writing of Tobacco Road by native son Erskine Caldwell was connected to public debates about eugenics and had an impact on the eventual passage of Georgia’s 1937 sterilization law.