Season 2, Episode 6: Transcript

Hayley Bowman: Content warning: this episode discusses child sexual abuse, rape, and incest.

In 1894, the nation’s leading textbook of legal medicine asserted that child rape was “the most frequent form of sexual crime” in the United States.[1] Physicians encountered venereal disease among young girls so frequently that they described it as an “epidemic.”[2] Ten was the age at which most states’ laws said girls were capable of consenting to sexual contact. In Delaware, it was seven.

Things are different now. Or are they? The scope of the problem of child sexual abuse in the United States, including incest, was unknown until recently. The Uniform Crime Reporting system—America’s primary source of information about crime since 1929—did not collect information or report crimes by age of victim (except in the case of homicide.)[3] In 2013, that changed. Since age was added a new picture of sexual violence has emerged, one that demands a focus on youth. Sixty-six percent of sex crimes reported in the United States each year are perpetrated against children. One-third of those crimes—more than 20 percent of the total—involve child rape perpetrated by a family member. Over half of those are perpetrated by a father or stepfather.

This is Season 2, Episode 6 of Reverb Effect, a podcast brought to you by the University of Michigan Department of History. I’m your host, Hayley Bowman. This episode features Grace Argo, a joint PhD student in the Departments of History and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her work focuses on the legal and cultural treatment of incest in the United States. She studies the ways that Americans have attempted to define incest’s national significance and meaning, from its early politicization as part of the movement to abolish slavery in the 1830s to the 1970s feminist rape law reform movement. This episode focuses on the Progressive Era, in the early twentieth century, a time when state legislatures rapidly banned cousin marriages across the United States due to the emergent eugenics movement’s warnings about the negative effects of “inbreeding.” Yet the data from court cases during this period tell us a different story. Incest cases argued in court primarily involved young girls who had been sexually abused by a father or stepfather. In a country that had little to no understanding of incest as patriarchal violence, what happened to girls who fought for their freedom from abuse?[4]

Grace Argo: Beatrice was fifteen years old when her mother died. By day, she attended school, took care of her siblings, and assumed her mother’s role as the caregiver and housekeeper for her family in Chicago. By night, Beatrice’s father used her as a sexual substitute for his deceased wife. The rape and incest continued in secret for two years.[5] Two of Beatrice’s sisters, Theresa and Martha, discovered the abuse and ran away from home. Theresa moved in with a maternal aunt at the age of fourteen. There, her uncle raped her. Twelve-year-old Martha became a prostitute. Beatrice wanted to leave, too, but the pressure she felt to be a mother to her eight-year-old brother Daniel and six-year-old sister Sadie was immense. She threatened to report the abuse, but her father warned her that if she did, “he would be sent [to prison] for twenty years and she would be sent to a reform school.”[6] Then, in 1915, Beatrice’s father told her he planned to set up a room in the house for her to receive men because he “needed the money.” He brought a teenaged boy to the house for Beatrice to entertain, and they had intercourse twice: once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. What happened that day isn’t clear from the Chicago Municipal Court’s report, but Beatrice was so unsettled by the experience that she petitioned the court for protection the next day. Her father was subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted of incest.[7]

Beatrice wasn’t sent to a reformatory, as she’d feared. Instead, she was sent to the Lincoln State School and Colony, Illinois’s facility for “feebleminded” children. “Feebleminded” was a term used to describe mental disability in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The court determined this placement was in her best interests based on the results of her intelligence test by the Psychopathic Laboratory of the Chicago Municipal Court, a clinic established in 1914 to provide guidance regarding the institutional placement of anyone above the age of sixteen.[8] It determined the placement of abused youth like Beatrice on the basis of considerations not permitted into evidence at trial, such as their intelligence, personality, family history, and sexual history.

Beatrice was classified by the Psychopathic Laboratory as a “high-grade moron,” a term used to denote mild intellectual disability. Never mind that Beatrice’s score was higher than even that of Chicago’s mayor, who was classified as a “moron” later that same year when the Psychopathic Laboratory’s associate director, Mary Campbell, administered intelligence tests to city officials to prove the tests were nearly impossible to pass.[9]

Kieran Westphal [for Chicago Tribune reporter]: “When the tests were applied to Mayor Thompson he proved to be not ten years old, mentally, and hence a defective. These and other alleged false results of the Binet-Simon method were cited in a two hour discussion between some of the country’s leading psychologists, convened at the University of Chicago. Professor C.S. Berry of Michigan university proposed that the [American Psychological] association devise a method to succeed the Binet-Simon examinations, and action will be taken on the proposal today.”[10] Chicago Tribune, December 29, 1915.

Grace Argo: Changes to the Psychopathic Laboratory’s methods of assessing “feeblemindedness” did not come soon enough to spare Beatrice. The Illinois legislature passed a eugenic segregation law in 1915 permitting the involuntary (and theoretically permanent) commitment of “feebleminded” adults and children to Lincoln.[11] Lincoln’s facilities became so crowded, and disease so rampant, that ten percent of the colony’s population died each year from preventable illnesses.[12] In 1941 the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Welfare, Rodney Brandon, described Lincoln as a “concentration camp complex” and urged the “rescue” of its children.[13] After decades of investigations into neglect and abuse of patients, the facility finally closed on August 31, 2002.

Like Beatrice, my father was also arrested, tried, and convicted of incestuous abuse. Unlike Beatrice, I was an adult, not a child when he was arrested. I didn’t have to testify, because—in a plot twist only possible with the rise of digital technology—the police confiscated enough photographic and videotaped evidence to prove my father’s guilt. For Beatrice, bringing her father to trial represented her fight for freedom from patriarchal violence. My father’s trial for me was a very painful event. I experienced a lot of shame, anger, and anxiety in the months leading up to it. What helped me understand what I was going through was “meeting” girls like Beatrice—in the archive, in court documents and legal records—who had experienced an incest trial. With their names and their stories, I wouldn’t have to go through it alone.

I started looking for girls like Beatrice in court cases. I examined more than 200 appeals of incest convictions filed between 1870 and 1940, a period that encompassed the rise of eugenics in the United States. Eugenics was a social and scientific movement that attributed problems like crime and poverty to so-called hereditary “defects.” It aimed to solve them through various methods of reproductive control. With the rise of eugenics, the number of states that banned cousin marriages doubled between 1908 and 1920. The crusade against cousin marriages can be traced to the first extensive eugenic study conducted in the United States, a study conducted on a rural Appalachian community by Charles Davenport in 1912 which stated: 

Jonas McMullen [for Davenport]: “The following report aims to show how much crime, misery, and expense may result from the union of defective individuals—how a large number of the present court frequenters, paupers, and town nuisances are connected by a significant network of relationship. […] They smoke and drink cider and pass rude jests together and in the end sometimes fight. Away from home, they are ostracized by other social classes. […] Under these circumstances it is not surprising that cousin marriages are frequent.”[14]

Grace Argo: Yet only three of the court cases I found—one percent of the total—involved consensual incestuous relationships between first cousins. Ninety-nine percent of appeals were filed by fathers, stepfathers, uncles, and (occasionally) older brothers who had abused a female child. I quickly realized that legal debates about incest had never raged over whether first cousins should be permitted to marry. Rather, debates about incest’s significance and meanings in US law were a site of intense conflict and confrontation between abused girls, the men who abused them, and the state.

I developed a particular interest in Illinois because it was the only state in the country where incest was statutorily defined not only as a crime prohibiting genetically close matings; it also specified father-daughter incest as an “aggravated” offense. An even closer examination of the case law showed that Illinois judges considered incest abusive even when it involved stepfathers, uncles, and brothers, and even when the victim was above the statutory age of consent. That was not commonly the case elsewhere in the United States.

Despite Illinois’s status as a “best-case scenario” state for girls who appealed to the court for protection from sexually abusive family members, a close look at girls’ testimonies revealed that incest victims still faced other deterrents to reporting abuse. Why did Beatrice say that the reason she hadn’t reported her father’s abuse sooner was because she feared he’d be “sent [to prison] for twenty years and she would be sent to a reform school?” If we celebrated her father’s singular conviction as a victory in a country where more than half of incest victims were sent to prison alongside their abusers, we’d only know half of Beatrice’s story.

Emma Singleton [for Chicago Tribune reporter]: “In a statement made public today by the state board of administration, the reasons for forcing the resignation of Mrs. Ophelia Amigh as managing officer of the state training school for girls at Geneva are given. Cruelty to inmates, insubordination, and general disinclination to obey orders of the board are the chief reasons assigned. Use of the “strong chair,” so constructed that a girl could be confined in it and made unable to use her limbs, hands, or feet, was discontinued by destruction of the instrument. The board also has “on file” two rawhide whips with which girls were flogged. Both whips bear evidence of much use.”[15] Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1911.

Grace Argo: There was one public reform school for girls in Illinois, which means there was probably one reformatory in particular Beatrice feared: the Illinois State Training School for Delinquent Girls at Geneva. Geneva had an atrocious reputation. Its superintendent, former Civil War nurse Ophelia Amigh, was forced to resign in 1910 after an investigation by the Illinois Board of Charities uncovered whips and a chair designed to confine children in her office. When Beatrice weighed the risks of reporting her father’s abuse, she understood that calling upon the state to intervene would not only not guarantee her liberty, it would potentially subject her to further abuse.

Physical abuse at Geneva was a symptom of greater dysfunction. Five hundred children were crammed into two cottages and a dormitory built to accommodate 150 students. Epidemics of scarlet fever, measles, and whooping cough were constant. The matrons responsible for their care had little to no training. Between the matrons and the girls there were wide differences of class and culture, as most of the girls were poor or working class and many were immigrants. Between white matrons and African American girls, there was also the difference of race. Girls received three hours of academic instruction daily under the employ of two teachers, who were expected to teach more than one hundred pupils in the first through eighth grades simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, few girls progressed in their studies. Every spare minute was devoted to mastery of the domestic arts: cooking, cleaning, sewing, and mending. Under a regime of relentless labor, physical abuse, and neglect, the injuries most commonly reported by the school’s physicians were throats and stomachs punctured from girls’ attempts to commit suicide by swallowing sewing pins.[16]

The majority of girls at Geneva were committed for “immorality.” Immorality was a broad term applied to girls who had engaged in any kind of sexual behavior, regardless of whether they were willing or not. In 1912, Geneva’s biennial report stated that 74 percent of girls were committed for “immorality”; by 1923, social scientist Beth Corman estimated the percentage was closer to 85.[17] The best estimate of how many girls at Geneva had experienced incest specifically comes from Sophonisba Breckenridge and Edith Abbott’s 1912 report for the New York Charities Committee. Breckenridge and Abbott, who were activists and social reformers, interviewed girls and examined records kept at the school, identifying 125 girls who had been victimized by a family member, most frequently their father.[18] At the time, Geneva had on average five hundred inmates.[19] Approximately one in four Geneva girls, or one-third of the institution’s “sex delinquents,” had endured incest.[20]

Incest victims’ categorization as “sex delinquents” was not accidental, but rather actively constructed. Social scientists procured some evidence that incest victims were more prone to “immorality” than other girls. Anne Bingham, in her study of five hundred female inmates of the Waverly House in New York City published in 1923, found that half of girls who had “an early start in sex delinquency” became prostitutes, and in cases where incest occurred, the rate was two in three.[21] She cited a child named Julia as but one example:

MacKenzie Mollison [for Anne Bingham]: “Julia, a “typical prostitute,” failed to establish protective inhibitions because of early sex experiences with her father, who she knew treated her sisters the same way. Two sisters are prostitutes. From childhood Julia practiced deceit and trickery. She was always wild and hard to control and became sexually promiscuous early in her adolescence. Pregnancy and commitment to an institution necessarily stayed her delinquent career for a time, but she quickly became discouraged and readily consented to the adoption of the child. Relieved of this responsibility, she returned to prostitution. In addition to the sensuous appeals which prostitution made, there had been few influences for good in Julia’s life. There had been no training in self-control, ethics, or habits of industry from an early age.”[22]

Grace Argo: In Bingham’s view, Julia’s prostitution was the product of an upbringing so depraved no reformer could “save” her. She didn’t consider a simpler explanation: Julia might make more money from prostitution than from domestic servitude. In Chicago, the only barrier between poor girls and a living wage was stigma. In 1910, according to the census bureau, a living wage in Chicago was estimated at ten dollars per week. Girls at Geneva paroled as domestic servants for local families were paid three. By comparison, girls who exchanged sexual favors for pay made between one and five dollars per client.[23] When a girl was already stigmatized for surviving abuse, what then would be her incentive to avoid the contempt of “polite” society?

Beatrice, on the other hand, had engaged in prostitution, though not of her own accord. Yet her mental examiner also noted that she’d had sex with another teenage male when she was fifteen years old. Girls who needed no promise of remuneration to have sex outside marriage were just as troubling to reformers as girls who exchanged sex for money. Take the case of Alice, another girl Bingham interviewed, for example. Alice was institutionalized for her protection after her brother attempted to rape her when she was fifteen years old. Within mere weeks of earning parole, Alice was discovered staying out late, drinking, smoking, partying, and having sex with soldiers. To the Juvenile Court’s astonishment, Alice freely confessed her illicit affairs and seemed indifferent about them.[24]

Like many survivors of sexual abuse, Alice developed an understanding of sex and morality fundamentally at odds with the patriarchal ideology underpinning the court’s moral reform project. For Alice, sex may have been a way to assert her right to govern her own body and mind in response to her brother’s attempt to strip her of those rights. It may have represented a reparative act, a way to receive the affection and pleasure she had been denied. Seducing men may have made her feel desirable, a feeling she could use to rewrite her experience of humiliation. In any instance, what made sex right or wrong to Alice was how she felt about it. That was an unconscionable standard in the eyes of the court. In their view, female sexuality belonged strictly within the confines of marriage, where it existed to serve the family patriarch. In any other scenario sex was an affront to patriarchal authority.

The irony of the court’s reverence of patriarchal authority was that abusers often used that same authority to control their victims. In a sense, they were lazy. Beatrice’s father didn’t go out and target young girls in a way that would require him to work harder and longer to exert control over a victim, or that might draw suspicion from the wider community. His relationship to Beatrice was already grounded in a sense of entitlement and control. Patriarchal authority also provided cover. If Beatrice had consensual sex with someone she liked, who can blame her for trying to know something different?

Imperfect victims like Beatrice, Julia, and Alice defied Progressive reformers’ expectations. Reformers imagined that of all the children they endeavored to help, girls rescued from “degraded” homes would most readily accept Geneva’s curriculum in “good Christian” values. That they tended to be among the most incorrigible inmates begged explanation. In 1909, a generous donation was furnished by Ethel Sturges Dummer, a member of the Chicago Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, for the creation of a child guidance clinic at the Chicago Juvenile Court. Known as the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute, the clinic’s mission was to reduce the recidivism rate at the state’s institutions for delinquent children. The idea was that, by advising appropriate placement and care, children would avoid future offenses that might lead them back to the reformatory. At the time of the Psychopathic Institute’s founding, Geneva’s recidivism rate was 45 percent, more than twice that of the boys’ industrial school. Dr. William Healy, an American physician who had developed an interest in psychoanalysis after studying abroad in Vienna and reading Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, was named the institute’s first director. Where incest occurred, Healy had little faith in victims’ potential for reform. In a book published in 1915, Healy wrote,

Will Pratt [for Healy]: “Incest and other evil practices leave ineradicable stains. Early teaching of this kind must fall on fertile ground to produce long enduring vicious results. Very many times in our studies of the genetics of a delinquent career we have ascertained that the earliest beginnings were connected with illicit sex practices. There seems to be little reason for the individual pursuing any paths of rectitude when the most intimate relations of life are morally awry.”[25]

Grace Argo:  Rather than recognize young girls were not in a position to refuse sexual contact due to their age and dependence upon their abuser for material needs as well as their emotional needs for love and affection, Healy attributed the victimization of girls like Beatrice to the presence of mental defect. He thought that incest victims were highly “suggestible.” Suggestibility was a trait associated with “feeblemindedness” that doubled as an explanation for girls’ participation in “early sex experiences.” That said, Healy did not classify every incest victim as “feebleminded.” In Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling, a textbook of case studies published in 1922, Healy summarized an evaluation he performed on a nine-year-old girl named Bessie. Bessie alleged that her father and brother had raped her nearly every night after leaving her mother in Ireland when she was four years old.

Will Pratt [for Healy]: “We were requested to study this case by the judge of the court in which Bessie’s father and brother were to be tried for the crime of incest with her. The girl’s allegations had proved thoroughly convincing to a group of women who had become interested in her. The judge stated that he had been approached by these women, who in their righteous indignation were insistent upon the need of dire punishment of the outrageous conduct of Bessie’s natural protectors.

“The physician who examined her found her genitals so swollen that he could make no diagnosis of ruptured hymen. Bessie was given a wide range of mental tests, with the result that we classified her as being well up to the ordinary in ability. When first seen by us, Bessie reiterated her story of sexual relations with her father and brother. A careful inquiry into Bessie’s knowledge of such things brought forth the most astounding account. One must say that this little girl had the most extensive acquaintance with many kinds of pervert sex practices ever known by a young individual. When, in light of these, it finally came to the charges against her brother and father she admitted it was really she who had been the instigator.

“We were informed later that much indignation at our report to the judge was expressed by the crowd at the trial. The girl’s first story was so well told that many had been irrevocably convinced of the guilt of the father.”[26]

Grace Argo: There was no way for incest victims to “win” the intelligence test. Despite the fact Bessie’s genitals were so swollen she couldn’t be examined, the charges against her father and brother were dropped. Whereas “feebleminded” girls like Beatrice were considered “suggestible,” Bessie’s unusually high intelligence score led Healy to believe she “instigated” the abuse. Bessie was placed in an unspecified institution, where Healy recommended she remain “long under the quietest conditions and closest supervision.”

The director of the Psychopathic Laboratory where Beatrice was examined had come under scrutiny for labeling a sex trafficking victim “feebleminded” after she was beaten by two men while waiting for police to rescue her from the brothel to which she’d been abducted and held against her will. The victim’s plight stirred heated public debate about his methods.[27] In the wake of that scandal, the Laboratory’s associate director Mary Campbell became increasingly critical of the clinic’s methods of ascertaining “feeblemindedness,” too—culminating in her bold exposé of Chicago’s mayor as a “moron.” But when Campbell started her job, she asserted that “50 percent of persons [referred to the Laboratory] are not normal mentally.” Among “feebleminded” females, her most common findings were “perversion” and “dementia praecox,” a condition with symptoms now recognized by the American Medical Association as the profile of post-traumatic stress.[28]

Audio Clip from the Department of National Health and Welfare (Canada) (25-53 secs): There’s a characteristic lack of interest in the environment, withdrawal from contact with others, and with it goes an increasing loss of emotional response. These people become vague and empty. Their manner is childish and they are [inaudible]. They show little or no initiative and spontaneity. If they do react emotionally, their reaction is often inappropriate. They have of course no real plans for the future.[29]

Grace Argo: Beatrice was among the women diagnosed with “dementia praecox” by the Psychopathic Laboratory.[30] Her examiner also noted she was classified as a “high-grade moron.” But the examiner’s notes included additional details seemingly irrelevant to the question of her “feeblemindedness.” First, as previously mentioned, the examiner noted Beatrice had had intercourse with two men other than her father. The examiner also included information about Beatrice’s younger siblings. Eight-year-old Daniel and six-year-old Sadie were removed from the home by the Municipal Court and evaluated by the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute. The institute discovered that Beatrice’s father had abused Sadie, too. Sadie was deemed “quite feebleminded” due to a speech impediment. Only Beatrice’s eight-year-old brother, Daniel, was spared her father’s abuse. Growing up in such a traumatic environment, however, had rendered him mute.[31] This information somehow affected Beatrice’s evaluation. But because the examiner didn’t establish a relationship between these details and their conclusion of “feeblemindedness,” it’s unclear how they influenced the analysis.

The process by which Beatrice was deemed “feebleminded” exemplifies how even in a “best-case scenario” state for incest victims, abused girls were never considered innocent. Their trauma, their survival strategies, and the ways they tried to navigate the world on their own terms and experience power or pleasure conflicted with reformers’ attempts to restore their “virtue” by teaching them the industry, obedience, and restraint of “good Christian” women. Instead of seeking to understand incest victims on their own terms, adults pathologized them, a process that disability studies scholar Nirmala Erevelles defines as “marking the origins, causes, developments, consequences, and manifestations of deviation from [an] imagined norm.”[32] Progressives located incest’s harm not in its deprivation of a girl’s will, her sense of self, or her ability to control even her most basic and intimate physical functions, but rather in its “ineradicable stains” that led girls astray from white supremacist and patriarchal family values. The problem was not patriarchal power, but the girls who denounced it. To be “redeemed” from incestuous abuse, girls needed to conform to gendered, racialized, and classed standards of human value. “Irredeemable” girls like Beatrice became the ground upon which the idealized patriarchal family norm and the limits of male power in the domestic sphere were contested, mapped, and ultimately, re-inscribed.

What’s beautiful, but sad, about this work is that on one hand, I’ve been able to construct through the archive a sense of kinship and solidarity with girls like Beatrice; on the other, I doubt Beatrice would be thrilled to know her story is still relevant to someone one hundred years later. So here’s a closing thought. People say we live in the age of Me Too feminism. Many of us associate the “Me Too” movement with speaking out against sexual harassment and assault in public spaces—at work, on college campuses, and in activist spaces. But few people know the reason that the Me Too movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, was inspired to use the phrase “me too” was because she met a girl who told her about being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend.[33] She wished she’d told that girl, “me too.” What if we were living in that “me too” moment? What if “Me Too” focused on sexual violence at home? What if it centered children and youth? What would our conversations with each other look like? What questions would we be asking in our work? In our relationships? Where would we find wisdom? Whose voices would we listen for? What stories would we make space to hear? And what would be our hope for the world a century from now?

Hayley Bowman: Thank you so much for joining us, and a special thank you to our segment producer for this episode, Grace Argo. Another special thank you to our voice actors, in order of appearance, Kieran Westphal, Jonas McMullen, Emma Singleton, MacKenzie Mollison, and Will Pratt. Our editorial board is Professor Melanie Tenelien, Taylor Sims, Christopher DeCou, and Arielle Gordon. Our production team is executive producer Gregory Parker, and I’m your season producer, Hayley Bowman. I hope you’ll join us for our next episode, for more stories on how the past reverberates in the present. This is Reverb Effect.

Suggested Readings


[1] Allan McLane Hamilton and Edwin Lawrence Godkin, A System of Legal Medicine, Vol. 2 (New York: E.B. Treat, 5 Cooper Union, 1894): 543.

[2] E.D. Barringer, “Gonorrheal Vulvo-Vaginitis in Children,” in Diseases of the Genito-Urinary Organs, ed. Edward L. Keyes, Jr. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1910): 122. For an excellent medical history of the treatment of father-daughter incest victims, see Lynn Sacco, Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

[3] David Finkelhor and Anne Shattuck, “Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles,” Crimes Against Children Research Center (Durham, N.C.), May 2012.

[4] Introduction written by Grace Argo.

[5] I use the term “rape” throughout this episode to emphasize the non-consensual nature of father-daughter incest. However, rape was not a term Beatrice used to describe her experience. An understanding of her experience as rape would not necessarily have been readily available to her in the early twentieth century. Rape was conceptualized as a property offense until the 1970s, when the feminist rape law reform movement radically redefined the offense in terms of harm to individuals. That said, some incest victims diddescribe their experiences as rape. Aside from them, the closest theorization of incest as a violation akin to rape that I’ve found from the time period comes from a dissenting opinion written by a Georgia judge, Henry Kent McCay, in which he suggested there was “a force used, which, while it cannot be said to be that violence which constitutes rape, is yet of a character that is almost as overpowering.” [See Powers v. State, 44 Ga. 209, 1871 Ga. LEXIS 354 (Supreme Court of Georgia July, 1871, Decided.)]

[6] Chicago, Ill. Municipal Court: Court of Domestic Relations, Tenth and Eleventh Annual Reports of the Municipal Court of Chicago (Dec. 6, 1915 to Dec. 2, 1917): 381-382.

[7] Why was Beatrice’s father convicted of incest, not rape? The short answer—it’s complicated. In the nineteenth century, the age of consent for girls was not more than ten years old anywhere in the US (an unfortunate vestige of 1500s British common law.) In the 1890s, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union—the first mass women’s movement in the US, reaching at its height ten times the membership of the nation’s leading suffrage organization—began petitioning state legislatures to raise the age of consent. In 1894, Illinois raised its age of consent to 16. It was among the first states to do so; many states (in the South especially) did not raise the age of consent until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Adding statutory rape laws to state criminal codes meant that incest was theoretically cognizable under two statutes, the incest statute and the statutory rape statute. But in practice, the decision whether to apply both laws simultaneously or to use one or the other was left to the judge’s discretion. In Beatrice’s case, one of the reasons Beatrice’s father may have been convicted of incest instead of rape was her age at time of reporting (she was seventeen, one year above the age of consent in Illinois.) To this day, cases involving girls who report after they reach the age of consent are commonly tried under incest statutes either in addition to or in lieu of statutory rape laws. Another reason for using the incest statute rather than the statutory rape law may have been that unlike in statutory rape trials, in incest trials a victim’s sexual history was irrelevant to securing a conviction of her abuser. In statutory rape trials, if a victim had been “unchaste” with men other than her rapist, her case was thrown out. Because of this rule it was rare for victims to prevail under statutory rape laws (see Stephen Robertson, “Signs, Marks, and Private Parts: Doctors, Legal Discourses, and Evidence of Rape in the United States, 1823-1930,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 3 (1998): 345-73.) (Of course, Beatrice’s sexual history was still relevant to her institutional placement by the Psychopathic Laboratory, but it was not permitted into evidence at trial.) Statutory rape laws also required witnesses to corroborate the victim’s testimony, whereas in incest cases, corroboration was not required (at least not in Illinois—in other states, the accomplice-witness rule in incest cases disadvantaged victims the same way the witness rule for statutory rape did.) In some states, such as Texas, a wholly judge-created exception to the statutory rape law for incest cases emerged. As late as 1974, incest victims below the age of consent in Texas were tried as accomplices to their abusers (see Bolin v. State, 505 S.W.2d 912, 1974 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1341.) It wasn’t until the 1970s feminist rape law reform movement that a more uniform approach to litigating father-daughter sexual abuse was created, but incest victims above the age of consent are often still subject to the older, more arbitrary system of jurisprudence.

[8] Harry Olson, “The Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago,” The Central Law Journal (1874-1927), Vol. 92, No. 6, Feb. 11, 1921: 102.

[9] “Who’s Loony? Why, Every One, Even the Mayor—Psychopathic Test Shows City Officials Have Minds of Ten Year Olds—Dry Leader About Eight,” Chicago Tribune (December 29, 1915): 1.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ingrid G. Farreras, “Clara Harrison Town and the Origins of the First Institutional Commitment Law for the ‘Feebleminded’: Psychologists as Expert Diagnosticians,” History of Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 4 (2014): 271-281.

[12] Biennial Reports of the Lincoln State School and Colony, Illinois Asylum for Feebleminded Children(Springfield, Ill.: D.W. Lusk, State Printer and Binder), 1902-1921.

[13] Rodney N. Brandon, “State Welfare Conference Delegates Greeted as 46th Annual Session is Convened,” The Welfare Bulletin, Vol. 32, No. 12 (Springfield, Ill.: December 1941): 14.

[14] Florence Harris Danielson and Charles Davenport, “The Hill Folk: Report on a Rural Community of Hereditary Defectives,” Eugenics Records Office (Cold Spring Harbor, New York): Aug. 1912. In 1980, Robert B. Tincher at the University of Kentucky conducted an anthropological study of marriage records in four remote Eastern Kentucky counties covering a 140-year time period. His quantitative findings, along with previous studies of marriage patterns in mountain communities, suggest that consanguineous marriage rates in Appalachian communities do not seem extreme enough to justify labeling “inbreeding” as unique or particularly common to the region, when compared with those reported for populations elsewhere or at earlier periods in American history. The data simply does not support stereotypes about cousin marriages among poor whites. See Robert B. Tincher, “Night Comes to the Chromosomes: Inbreeding and Population Genetics in Southern Appalachia,” Central Issues in Anthropology Vol. 2, No. 1 (1980): 27-49.

[15] “Reveals Torture at Girls’ School: State Board Statement Explains Enforced Resignation of Geneva Head. Rawhides in Evidence: Mrs. Amigh Charged with Confining the Pupils in Cruel ‘Strong Chair,’” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill., July 8, 1911: 3.

[16] Geneva Biennial Reports, 1901-1910. Conditions at Geneva improved with the appointment of Carrie S. O’Connor to Superintendent following Amigh’s departure. O’Connor banned the use of corporal punishment; built additional cottages and secured heat and running water in the living facilities (which reduced the spread of illnesses); employed African American matrons as well as additional teachers; and added to the curriculum courses in art, music, embroidery, secretarial work, a high school diploma program, and physical education. The most common injury sustained by girls under O’Connor’s superintendence were limbs broken from tree-climbing accidents.

[17] Louise Morrow and Olga Bridgman, “Delinquent Girls Tested by the Binet Scale,” The Training School Vol. 9, No. 3 (May 1912): 33; Tera Eva Agyepong, The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018): 73.

[18] Sophonisba Breckenridge and Edith Abbott, The Delinquent Child and the Home (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1912): 106.

[19] Louise Morrow and Olga Bridgman, “Delinquent Girls Tested by the Binet Scale,” The Training School Vol. 9, No. 3 (May 1912): 33.

[20] See fn. 17. There is reason to believe that the proportion of incest victims remained similarly significant over time. Sociologist Margueritte Anita Elowson’s 1930 study of 700 Chicago delinquent girls found that 70 percent of incest victims were placed at institutions, most likely for their protection. See Margueritte Anita Elowson, “Some Aspects of the Cook County Juvenile Court in Relation to Readjustment of the Delinquent Girl,” Master’s thesis in Sociology, University of Chicago, 1930: 47, 53.

[21] Anne T. Bingham, “Determinants of Sex Delinquency in Adolescent Girls Based on Intensive Studies of 500 Cases,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 13 (February 1923): 35.

[22] Ibid.

[23] The Social Evil in Chicago, Vice Commission of Chicago, 1911: 106-107; “Wages and Hours of Labor—Cotton Goods,” Wages and Hours of Labor in Cotton Goods, Manufacturing, and Finishing, 1916 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics): 10; Geneva Eleventh Biennial Report, (1912-1914): 12.

[24] Anne T. Bingham, “Determinants of Sex Delinquency in Adolescent Girls Based on Intensive Studies of 500 Cases,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 13 (February 1923): 56.

[25] William Healy, The Individual Delinquent: A Text-book of Diagnosis and Prognosis for All Concerned in Understanding Offenders (Boston, Mass.: Brown-Little, 1915): 410.

[26] See William Healy, The Individual Delinquent: A Text-book of Diagnosis and Prognosis for All Concerned in Understanding Offenders (Boston, Mass.: Brown-Little, 1915): 736-739; William Healy and Mary Tenney Healy, Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling: A Study in Forensic Psychology (Boston, Mass.: Brown-Little, 1922): 182-188.

[27] “Trial Reveals Dr. Hickson’s Mind Tests: Psychopathic Chief Grilled for Calling Girl Feeble Minded. Hot Fight in Court,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill., April 23, 1915: 1.

[28] Marion Walters, “Woman Expert an Aid to Courts in Judging Subnormal,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill., May 24, 1914, E7;Paul Hoff, “Bleuler, Eugen (1857-1939),” International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, eds. Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes, Elsevier Ltd., 2001; William E. Copeland, Gordon Keeler, and Adrian Angold, et. al, “Traumatic Events and Posttraumatic Stress in Childhood,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, Vol. 64, No. 5 (May 2007): 577-584.

[29] Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Schizophrenia: Simple-Type Deteriorated,” Department of National Health and Welfare, Mental Health Division (Canada), produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Sept. 15, 1959.

[30] Chicago, Ill. Municipal Court: Court of Domestic Relations, Tenth and Eleventh Annual Reports of the Municipal Court of Chicago (Dec. 6, 1915 to Dec. 2, 1917): 381-382.

[31] All of the names that appear in “Beatrice’s” case are pseudonyms. None are disclosed in the original record, except for “Beatrice’s” father, who is only partially identified (as “D. Ru.”) All of the material facts in “Beatrice’s” case can be found in Chicago, Ill. Municipal Court: Court of Domestic Relations, Tenth and Eleventh Annual Reports of the Municipal Court of Chicago (Dec. 6, 1915 to Dec. 2, 1917): 381-382.

[32] Nirmala Erevelles, “Crippin’ Jim Crow: Disability, Dis-Location, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada, eds. Liat Ben-Moshe, et al., (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014): 84.

[33] “Tarana Burke: #MeToo Movement Founder was Groomed in Alabama,” Birmingham Times, Sept. 13, 2018.