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Anna Krome-Lukens – Eugenics and the Welfare State in North Carolina | GES Colloquium

March 26 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Virtual Event

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Eugenics and the Welfare State in North Carolina In-Person + Zoom

Anna Krome-Lukens, PhD, Teaching Associate Professor, Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill


In North Carolina, social reformers and welfare officials relied on eugenics ideology as they built the welfare state before the New Deal, with lasting effects for our contemporary definitions of citizenship.

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Between 1929 and 1977, North Carolina officials approved the surgical sterilization of over 7,600 people under the aegis of the state’s eugenics program. To help explain the persistence of this program, I turn to its roots, since rationales for eugenics offered in the first three decades of the twentieth century shaped the course of the program for years to come. In this talk, I analyze the growing appeal of eugenics to influential white North Carolinians who debated and promoted eugenics from 1900 onward. These social reformers honed their ideas about eugenic fitness and the need to preserve the Anglo-Saxon race while they built a statewide social welfare apparatus. Their statewide grid of welfare offices later became the basis for distribution of New Deal funds.

In building this statewide welfare system, reformers and social workers eagerly explored eugenics as a solution to social problems, then refashioned and interpreted eugenic principles for a broader audience. They linked principles of eugenics to ideas that already had broad support among white middle-class North Carolinians, including Christian charity, racial segregation, and a celebration of the state’s Anglo-Saxon heritage. They also relied on eugenics-inspired metaphors to rationalize the unequal distribution of welfare services, giving new force and apparent scientific legitimacy to longstanding prejudices about the undeserving poor. They trained a new generation of professional social workers to see eugenically “unfit” people as undeserving of social services, and they promised that segregation and sterilization would curb the costs of social welfare programs. Ultimately, North Carolina’s white social reformers built eugenics-inspired ideas of racialized fitness and restrictive definitions of citizenship into our contemporary institutions.

Speaker Bio

Anna Krome-Lukens completed her Ph.D. in U.S. History at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the history of social welfare and public health policies, particularly the history of North Carolina’s eugenics and social welfare programs in the early 20th century. Anna is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Reform and Regeneration: Eugenics and the Welfare State in the South, which demonstrates the lasting influence of eugenics in shaping welfare policies and conceptions of citizenship. She directs UNC’s Public Policy Capstone Program and also teaches first-year courses on higher education and food policy.

GES Colloquium is jointly taught by Drs. Jen Baltzegar and Dawn Rodriguez-Ward, who you may contact with any class-specific questions. Colloquium will be held in person in the 1911 Building, room 129, and live-streamed via Zoom.

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March 26
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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1911 Building, Room 129 (North Campus)
10 Current Dr.
Raleigh, NC United States
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