Lewis Reynolds was sterilized at the Lynchburg Training School at age 13. A doctor wrote that the procedure “will take a big burden off him in the future.” He married, but he and his wife never had children.
The News & Advance, September 15, 2012
Reynolds, who suffered from epilepsy as a child, was given a vasectomy at age 13 at what is now the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights. A doctor wrote that the procedure “will take a big burden off him in the future.” Reynolds wasn’t sure what was being done to him. But he knows the result.
An advocacy group called the Christian Law Institute hopes Reynolds can help it persuade Virginia to make symbolic payments to surviving victims of the misguided science of eugenics, which developed in the 1920s in the belief that people with mental disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce.
A majority of the victims, male and female, were sterilized in the Madison Heights institution known in that time as the State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. Mark Bold, the Lynchburg-area spokesman for the advocacy organization and its executive director, said Reynolds
Bold said the group is calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell to establish a task force to identify victims of sterilization and “determine the appropriate method of compensation.”
The Christian Law Institute has an ally in Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, who has called on Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly to provide “a symbolic payment to the victims who are still alive.” Bold and the law institute have contacted several survivors in the Lynchburg area since they went public with their campaign a month ago. Reynolds called The News & Advance after reading about the potential payments. The response from public officials has been circumspect, with a McDonnell staffer reciting this comment from the governor last week: “Sterilization was a horrific and unconscionable policy. The governor will review this legislation after it is introduced,” said Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for McDonnell.
State Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, had a staff member tell The News & Advance that Newman had supported then-Gov. Mark Warner’s official apology to sterilization victims in 2002.
Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, whose district includes Amherst County, did not respond to requests for comment. Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell County, also relayed a message through a staff assistant, saying,
Except for limited schooling, cut short by childhood seizures, the 85-year-old Reynolds has lived a fairly typical life. He joined the Marines, fought in the Korean War, and served during the Vietnam War. He became a licensed electrician later in civilian life, and still does an occasional electrical job. He also was married. Twice.
“I fought under General MacArthur,” said Reynolds, who reached the rank of sergeant.
During his time in Korea, Reynolds received a dear-John letter from his first wife. One reason she gave for leaving him was his inability to have a family. Later, he married Deloris Layne of Lynchburg, after beginning a courtship at the Lynchburg Hosiery mill where she worked, and where he had previously worked in his late-teen years. Reynolds said he suggested they adopt children, but she refused.
Deloris Reynolds died in 2007, after they had been married 47 years. “She was a good Christian woman,” Reynolds said, adding that they both sang in their church choir.
Reynolds has a clear memory of how and why he was sent to live “over there,” meaning the Madison Heights institution. Reynolds had been having seizures since he was about 3 years old, after an older cousin hit him in the head with a rock when they were playing. “My daddy was doing some plumbing work over there” in the summer of 1941, Reynolds said, and mentioned the seizures to Dr. George B. Arnold, superintendent of the Lynchburg State Colony, the name the institution had been given in 1940. “Dr. Arnold told daddy to put me over there so he could look after me,” Reynolds said.
The institution’s doctors initially evaluated Reynolds, then 12, as a “fairly normal, intelligent boy,” according to records that Reynolds obtained recently from the Central Virginia Training Center. The documents show he was admitted to the “Colony” on Aug. 21, 1941, and had two epileptic seizures within the first few months.
Only the doctor’s initials, TSH, appear in the record.
Six months later, on Jan. 30, 1942, this note stands in the record: “Patient was sterilized today.” Reynolds was released to his mother’s care, on what the records describe as “parole,” three weeks later. He remained officially a patient of the training center until his discharge on May 18, 1945. But according to the records, he spent nearly three of those four years on parole, living with family members in the community.
Bold called the institution’s reasoning process “pretextual,” meaning that patients were told there were unable to take care of themselves. “But it’s interesting that as soon as they submit to sterilization they let them go,” Bold said.
Bold said Reynolds
Reynolds said he still wishes he could have been a father.
Eugenics in Virginia
Virginia's 1924 eugenics law authorized forced sterilizations under the misguided science of eugenics -- selective human breeding and social engineering. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in its 1927 Buck v. Bell decision. The practice continued until the 1970s and resulted in as many as 8,000 forced sterilizations, many of them occurring at the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights. Then-Gov. Mark Warner issued a formal apology for the practice in 2002.