In Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics historian Douglas Baynton argues that screening out disability emerged as the primary objective of U.S. immigration policy during the late 19th and early 20th century. Immigration authorities as well as policy makers and public health experts in this formative period of U.S. immigration history scrutinized differences in race, class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality through the prism of disability. In the “Age of Eugenics” any deviation from normative ideals of able-bodiedness, appearance, economic productivity, and self-sufficiency was regarded as a threat to the health and survival of the American “body politic.”

Organized around such topics as “Race,” “Women,” “Dependent,” “Handicapped,” “Ugly,” “Normal,” “Mentally Defective,” and “Sexual Disgust,” Baynton’s book draws on immigration records, scholarly literature, and professional correspondence from...

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