Biography & Autobiography - History - Nonfiction

The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt by Audrey Clare Farley

Check out if interested in human rights/women’s rights

In the 1930’s, Ann Cooper Hewitt, daughter of inventor Peter Cooper Hewitt, was set to inherit her father’s estate when she came of age at 21. In his will, he stipulated that she would receive two-thirds of his estate if she were to have a child – the remaining third going to her mother, Maryon Cooper Hewitt. Filled with jealousy and a penchant for greed, Maryon conspired with a doctor to preform a salpingectomy on Ann without her knowledge or consent – something that could never be reversed and would rob her of her ability to bear children and therefore, another third of her deceased father’s money.
This egregious act against her own daughter caused Ann to file suit and jump-started a high-profile court case which shed light on the unregulated and undocumented process of involuntary sterilization.
The author discusses in length the eugenics movement and how society condoned the notion that only white, affluent members of society should be encouraged to breed big families while others – poor, “feeble-minded”, African Americans or Latinos – were often forced by medical professionals to become sterile.

Near the end of the book, there is a brief (though intriguing) chapter highlighting recent cases of sterilization of prisoners in the United States as late as the 2000’s.
This book also contains a few less note-worthy chapters such as: a history of Maryon’s younger years in which she manipulated many rich men into marrying her, a chapter of Peter Cooper Hewitt and his rise to fame, and Ann’s future after the trial.

The Unfit Heiress caught my eye with the use of the word “scandalous” in the title, however, the outcome of Ann Cooper Hewitt’s case was fairly anti-climactic and the “evidence” presented during the trial was not as scandalous as I was expecting.
This book is recommended to anyone looking to sharpen their knowledge of how sterilization was justified and used to carry out the eugenicists’ agenda.