Letter: Fisher's granddaughter defends author
To the Editor:
Introduction: I am a granddaughter of Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I have an MA in Anthroplogy from the University of Chicago, and a PhD in Sociology from Michigan State University. For many years I taught as an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Sociology Dept. at Michigan State University. My husband is Professor of American History (emeritus) at Michigan State University.
Recently, I was startled and depressed to learn that someone had discovered that Dorothy Canfield Fisher had spoken favorably about parts of the "eugenics movement" in the 1920's, and was using that fact to try to discredit her career. Knowledge of the larger context is important. At that time, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was actively working to assure greater rights to contraception for women, and it was primarily on that basis that she was temporarily drawn into the eugenics movement.
Many of the leaders of that movement were racists. Dorothy Canfield Fisher was not. In fact, she combatted racism all her life. Brought up in a family that treated African-Americans as social equals, she was a life time supporter of the NAACP. Mary White Ovington, a founder of the NAACP, wrote "We can always count on Dorothy Canfield Fisher." She defended African-American writers, such as Richard Wright, at meetings of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and encouraged them to move to Vermont. I am thinking in particular about Will Thomas, who wrote The Seeking, an autobiographical novel about his search for a place to live that would be free of race prejudices.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher's temporary support for the sterilization of people with severe mental and physical handicaps stopped in the early 1930's, when people like my father, a researcher in the developing sciences of genetics and psychology, convinced her that the eugenicists had no good evidence for the simple genetic inheritance of these conditions.
I congratulate people who combat the remnants of racist "eugenics" in American life, but ask them not to attack people like Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who spent much of her life championing the rights of minorities, and the rights of women to make their own decisions in their individual family lives.
Vivian S. Hixson
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