Friday, July 8, 2011

Quackery, Health Care for Children, Inspection of Restaurants, Outhouses, and Forced Sterilization, 1919

Gov. T.W. Bickett, Governor of North Carolina, presented the following address to the North Carolina Medical Society on April 5, 1919, at that group’s state meeting in Pinehurst.
If there is any class of people in the world with whom I feel perfectly at home, it is the doctors. As said my Dr. Way, I am the son of a country doctor, and I know at first hand something of the heroism and hardships of a doctor’s life….
Becoming Governor of this state, I resolved to show my interest in your profession and in the noble, unselfish work that you are doing, not by words, but in action, and I resolved to strengthen your position and back you up by legislation. And so, in working with both sessions of the General Assembly, I did everything in my power to advance the cause of the true physician and to stamp out quacks and quackery in every form. It was mighty hard to do.
I have noted down here a few of the laws that have been enacted. I shall not read them all nor discuss them all, but I shall run over them very briefly, in order that you may have before you a general comprehension of the work that we have tried to do.
I think the most important act that was passed by the General Assembly of 1917 was the act of making it a crime in North Carolina to sell or offer for sale, or to advertise for sale in any newspaper or magazine circulating in North Carolina, any patented or proprietary medicine purporting to cure an incurable disease, a disease that the American Medical Association had pronounced incurable….
I think the next most important law is the one providing for the examination at stated intervals of all children who attend the public schools in the state, to the end that any incipient defect, mental or physical, in the child may be discovered in time and the proper treatment given. We had to make an entering wedge. We did well to get anywhere with this law two years ago. The appropriate was inadequate, but the law worked so well that the General Assembly of 1919 multiplied the appropriation by five for the purpose of carrying out this law, and there is the added provision, which is absent in the original act, that where a defect is discovered with is deemed to be curable, then the proper treatment shall be given, independent of the wholly collateral fact that the parents of the child may be unable to pay for the medical treatment or the surgical operation necessary in the case. …From the standpoint of humanity and of economy as well, cannot afford to allow a child to stagger through life under the handicap of a physical or mental defect simply because the parent of the child may not be able to pay for the necessary medical or surgical treatment.
The next law was the law providing for the inspection of hotels and restaurants. I think that the law grew out of the suggestion that you have often heard made, that “if you want to enjoy your dinner, do not look at the inn kitchen.” At any rate, it is a very wise and salutary law, and, I am informed, is accomplishing good results.
The next law passed by the General Assembly of 1917 was the law for the prevention of blindness, by providing, without cost, a solution to be applied to the eyes of children as soon as they are born, in order to prevent blindness. That is a most wise and most humane piece of legislation.
The fourth law of 1917 was the act of providing for rural sanitation, cooperative rural sanitation. You know it was astonishing to the people of the United States and of North Carolina when it was brought out that there was so much typhoid fever and other kindred diseases in the wide country, and that it was because the proper sanitary measures were neglected in the country, whereas they are looked after to a certain extent in the centers of population….
We come down to the acts of 1919, and the most important of these acts, in my opinion, is the act that makes it impossible for any incurable mental defectives to perpetuate their own species. When I advanced that proposition before the Conference for Social Service, some two or three years ago, and I believe some of the physicians in the state had advanced it before that time, people lifted up their hands in horror, and there were many members of the General Assembly, when the proposition was made in my biennial message this year, who stood aghast at the thought of such legislation. But I called those members down to my office, and put the question squarely to them, man to man and face to face, as to whether or not the State of North Carolina could justify its position in refusing to issue a marriage license to an incurable mental defective and, at the same time, permit the unlimited and unlawful perpetuation of these infirmities. We cannot build houses fast enough in the United States and in North Carolina to take care of these unfortunate victims, and the only way in which we can hope to arrest the alarming increase is to stop this muddy and murky current at its source.
From Transactions: Medical Society of the State of North Carolina, April 1919
For more information about the Eugenics program in North Carolina, see:
The Winston-Salem Journal’s six-part series “Against Their Will, North Carolina’s Sterilization Program,” online at
NPR also has information about eugenics and North Carolina online at:

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