"In 1909, the Oregon legislature passed a eugenic sterilization law by a wide margin, but it was vetoed by the Governor. However, a new law was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in 1917, establishing the Oregon State Board of Eugenics, the nation’s first eugenical organization. The duty of the Board, which was comprised mainly of superintendents of mental and penal institutions, was to authorize, in the words of the law, the compulsory sterilization of “all feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual pervert, who are persons potential to producing offspring who, because of inheritance of inferior or antisocial traits, would probably become a social menace, or a ward of the state.”
And far from being a little known or discussed statute, leading newspapers championed its cause and published summaries of eugenic lectures and statements by pro-sterilization authorities. According to a 1935 article in the Oregon Journal, “Taking a tip from Nazi Germany, Oregon today considered embarking on a far-reaching program of sterilization of its unfit citizens."
Jay Joseph delves into Oregon’s dark past in his book The Gene Illusion: Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope.
The context? In 1966, while Oregon’s sterilization laws were still in place in state institutions, Leonard Heston conducted a study that helped to turn the tide towards acceptance of genetic influence on schizophrenia. However, Joseph points out that the prevailing social conditions in Oregon leads one to suspect that the schizophrenic children were more likely made that way by circumstance than by genetics. He continues,
[O]ffspring of institutionalized women diagnosed with schizophrenia were viewed as the carriers of an inherited predisposition for “insanity” and “degeneracy.” As Kringlen commented, “Because the adoptive parents evidently received information about the child’s biological parents, one might wonder who would adopt such a child.” In Oregon circa 1915-1945 it was unlikely that such children would have been placed into, or would have been accepted by, qualified adoptive homes. And little help could be expected from Oregon state hospital physicians, since they were strident supporters of the sterilization laws.
He goes over five other key problems with Heston’s study:
- Selective placement occurred in the sample
- The diagnostic process was contaminated because Heston was aware of the group status and personal history of the adoptees
- Failure to provide case history material, which would have allowed independent analysis of adoptees’ history and mental status
- About 26% of the adoptees were not interviewed, yet were retained in the study
- What classified “schizophrenia” was not defined within the study
"There’s a passage in the Book that says, ‘The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.’ That’s Psalms, and I know I got that one right because I paid very special attention to it when Brother Walker talked on it. Because I thought what the everloving dickens is a cedar got to do with a palm? Besides, I don’t remember any cedars around Lebanon, damn sure they’s no palm trees. I thought a good while about it."
— Joe Ben, one of my favorite bits of monologue from Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey.
Sylvester Pennoyer (1887 - 1895)
- In 1891, President Benjamin Harrison wanted to visit the governor as part of his campaign tour. Oregon wasn’t a part of Harrison’s campaign, and Sly Penn refused to travel to the state line to meet him.
- Harrison figured “What the hell” and caught a train to Salem to meet with Pennoyer.
- Pennoyer couldn’t be bothered by anyone as useless as the president of the United States, and left Harrison standing in the rain before he decided to get around to showing up.
- He abandoned the Democrats and was reelected on a third party ticket.
- When Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as president in 1893, Sly Penn refused to let state Democrats use the ceremonial cannon to fire a celebratory salute.
- "No permission will be given to use state cannon for firing a salute over the inauguration of a Wall Street plutocrat as president of the United States," he growled (I assume) at a newspaperman, before locking up the cannon and placing it under armed guard.
- A few months after that, Cleveland asked Pennoyer to use state resources to fix a federal government problem. Cleveland has decided to extend the Chinese Exclusion Act ten years, which barred Chinese workers from immigrating to America, and wanted governors to use state funds in preventing riots. Pennoyer telegraphed a response: “Washington: I will attend to my business. Let the president attend to his.”
- The next year, Coxey’s Army, a march of unemployed workers, was en route to Washington D.C. The Oregon component evidently didn’t feel like walking, and they hijacked a train. The federal government asked Sly Penn to deal with this, to which he replied “let Cleveland’s army take care of Coxey’s army.”
- This same year (1894) he moved Oregon’s Thanksgiving one week ahead of the national holiday as an extended “Fuck you” to the White House.
- Became known as “His Eccentricity” and “Sylpster Annoyer” by political rivals.
General Charles Martin (1935 - 1939)
- In his one term, he restored the state’s finances.
- In May 1935, timber workers began to strike. The General’s view of this was that “These pestiferous peewees would go to any lengths to embarrass me and my administration.”
- Railed against the National Labor Relations Board, crying their leaders to be a bunch of Bolsheviks and gangsters.
- Threatened to fire Columbia County Sheriff Oscar Weed for not responding harshly enough to striking workers, instructing the state’s sheriffs to “beat hell out of ‘em!” and “crack their damn heads! Those fellows are there for nothing but trouble – give it to them!”
- On May 23, 1935, ordered the state police and National Guard to protect strikebreakers at the Stimson Mill strike in the Washington County town of Gaston.
- Called the National Guard again in 1937 to deal with striking longshoremen.
- Opposed FDR’s New Deal and prevented a set up like the Tennessee Valley Authority from happening in Oregon.
- Also in 1937, the National Labor Relations Board failed to settle a dispute between the CIO and the AFL that had shut down all of Portland’s sawmills. The General stepped in with all of his impressive machismo, and held a labor election, reopening the mills himself.
- He corrected Roosevelt’s famous pronouncement on fear, saying instead, “We have nothing to fear from the future except our own foolishness and slothfulness.”