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America prides itself on being a country of immigrants – after all, everyone in the United States is the descendant of an immigrant, whether forced and free, unless they are Native American. Americans believe that we offer a place of welcome so much that we emblazoned it onto the Statues of Liberty in the form of Emma Lazarus’s poem, The New Colossus, with those famous lines about the poor, tired, and huddled masses. But like most things in history, the real story is a lot more complicated. Join Averill, Marissa, and Sarah as they talk about the history of those who were turned away at the gates.

Show Notes & Further Reading: 

Baynton, Douglas. Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Canaday, Margot. “”Who is a Homosexual?”: The Consolidation of Sexual Identities in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Immigration Law.” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 2, 2003., pp. 351-386. 

Leavitt, Judith Walzer. Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Turner, Adam. “Paranoia on the Border: Immigration and Public Health.” Nursing Clio, July 2014.


Janice Brockley · February 14, 2017 at 11:35 am

I enjoyed this episode and I was glad to see disability history included. I just wanted to nitpick on one point: I was uncomfortable with the description of “retarded” as linked to evolutionary failure. Baynton points to some usages of this type among eugenicists but I don’t think that’s the most common usage of the term. Parent advocates embraced “retarded” in the 1940s/1950s as a more hopeful alternative to “defective” thus the Nationally Association for Retarded Children. Similarly, educators, psychologists, and other professionals moved first towards mental deficiency and eventually mental retardation as terms to get away from the popular connotations of feeble-minded (i.e. feebleminded people were criminal, promiscuous etc. due to their limited intellect but proper training and supervision could guide mentally retarded people to be law abiding and moral.). Aside from that detail, this was a great introduction to all the complicated ways that disability, gender, and sexuality played into American immigration.

    Sarah Handley-Cousins · February 14, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Hi Janice! Thanks so much for listening to the episode. I’m really glad you shared that – I included the term speculatively, with evidence from Baynton, and was aware that it wasn’t a term often used during the period. Thank you for adding that important clarification about its use later in the 20th century!

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