By Don Keelan
On Jan. 9, 2018, the board of trustees of the Vermont State Library Board voted 7-0 to have Dr. Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s name removed from the annual children’s book award. It will now be up to Scott Murphy, state librarian, to act on the advisory board’s recommendation.
Fisher (1879 – 1958) was a longtime resident of Arlington, Vermont. The town’s library, elementary school, community house, state forest, as well as other sites, are named after Fisher and her family.
Very few Vermonters can match the contributions Fisher has given to our country, state and town. In World War I, she served as an ambulance driver in France. After the war, she brought the Montessori method of teaching to America. She was a prolific writer and authored dozens of books of fiction and nonfiction. Her reputation was national and she was one of the early editors of the Book of the Month Club.
Fisher’s gifts extended to struggling illustrators, writers and artists whom she brought to Arlington — Robert Frost, Rockwell Kent and others — where along with Norman Rockwell, Mead Schaefer and Gene Pelham, they were able to flourish.
However, her greatest gift was not in the arts, social causes or education. It was much more personal. In February of 1945, she was notified by the War Department that her son, Capt. James Fisher, M.D., (1913 – 1945) was killed in action.
Capt. Fisher was educated in Arlington, at Swarthmore College (1936), and at Harvard Medical School (1940). In January 1945, he volunteered to go on a dangerous mission 30 miles behind enemy lines. The mission was to free over 500 American and Allied prisoners held for over three years by the Imperial Japanese Army at Camp Cabanatuan, in the Philippines. Capt. Fisher believed that the prisoners would be in desperate need of medical attention.
Capt. Fisher was mortally wounded at the prison gate and died three days later while being carried on a makeshift stretcher, a door, by Philippine scouts. The raid was the most successful in military history, and in 2008, was the basis for a major motion picture, “The Great Raid.”
None of the above meant anything to those who sit on the Library Board. What was important to them was a short period in Dorothy Fisher’s life in the early 1930s. It was then that she became interested in what was known as the Eugenics Survey. That movement, led by University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins (1877 – 1956), had a very low opinion of the feeble-minded, French-Canadians and Native Americans, and recommended that some form of sterilization would limit their numbers. In March of 1931, the State of Vermont adopted a sterilization law.
In the spring of 2017, author and educator Judy Dow of Essex, Vermont, called to the Library Board’s attention Fisher’s connection with the Survey. Dow was adamant in having the board terminate any connection between Fisher and the annual children’s book award.
In August of 2017, I made a suggestion to the board to disregard Dow’s revisionism and focus on improving literacy among those thousands of adults in Vermont who have less than an eighth grade reading comprehension level. It was an issue Fisher also had worked tirelessly on.
The board ignored my suggestion by their Jan. 9 action. It seems board members were more interested in political correctness. The record notes that Fisher’s involvement in the eugenics movement was inconsequential.
I cannot speak for my fellow Arlingtonians, but I am confident that there will not be a vote in Arlington to rename any public buildings that honor the legacy of Fisher and her family.
It is time to end the nonsense of picking out a weakness of our established heroes and heroines and condemning them generations later. Since when do we allow our state to trash a Gold Star mother?
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.
9 thoughts on “Keelan: Vermont trashes a Gold Star mother”
First of all—who in H is Judy Dow–never heard of her. One person can do this—well, I taught Reading and English for 17 years–and I demand that the board reject this minority view and hold to our long standing values and respect for Fisher. Time to stop minority control of our state.
President Theodore Roosevelt was also a huge fan of eugenics. And yet, he is still seen as a great hero to many people to this day. The article doesn’t mention if she participated in the program or was just interested. BTW Planned Parenthood was founded on eugenics.
My father knew Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and I won one of the state prizes for the essay she sponsored to promote the book,Rainbow Round the World by Elizabeth Yates. It was the story of UNICEF. I still have the letter she wrote me to congratulate me on my prize when I was in high school. If this library board is so concerned about eugenics, then they’d better ban the work of the founder of Planned Parenthood and other women’s rights’ advocates who preached eugenics.
Isn’t it interesting that that these so-called “teachers” can discriminate against this fine writer (so reminiscent of the Nazi book burnings, ) and yet let high school students at Montpelier High School ( my Alma mater) fly the Black Lives Matter flag all of February to celebrate black history month. Why not honor MLK or other black history positives, not an organization that preaches violence and division of the races? Something doesn’t compute here.
Our country is going down the same fascist road Germany traveled in the early and mid-1930’s to disaster unless we step up and derail that train. Vermont can do better than this – much better- so let’s step up and do it.
Well said by all. It is time to bring Vermonters back in charge of our great state for our people and our History which like all history has good and bad.
Well said. Our “revelations” now have a half-life of minutes due to the web, social media and the ever-preening progressive ideologies being taught in our schools and colleges. Although well documented for decades, folks such as Fischer fell prey to the early pseudo science brought to the table by swapping the “theory” of evolution for applied scientific method; something we see today with the proto-racist pie ancestry chartsof services like Ancestry.com.
Progressive ideology is too lazy and has too short an attention span to reflect and use the flaws of people and historical moments as what they are: facts which offer us the lessons of the past. Perhaps Dorothy Canfield Fischer would be in the streets today demanding the removal of the Washington monument because he was a slave owner. Or, perhaps her true spirit as an author and educator would be to teach us something about ourselves by his also mixed example
In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the triumph of American Eugenics (Norton & Co., 2008) should be on every book club list that wants to honor Fischer’s true legacy. Vermont even receives honorable mention as one set of state laws which the Nazis studied for writing their Nuremberg laws. History is replete wish monument smashers and relic destroyers… And wisdom to be accessed for our children.
She was caught up in the eugenics movement (for a very short time). No doubt her hero, at the time, was Margaret Sanger!!! The hero of the Democrats and Progressives today! Eugenics was an idea to rid the country of blacks and other minorities. And it is still going on, disguised as womens’ ‘health care’ in the form of abortions. Who has the most abortions? Blacks. Democrats and Progressives are STILL out to KILL BLACKS! (Remember, Democrats were the KKKK…..NOT Republicans as they would have you believe). And they STILL REVERE Margaret Sanger. Evil Pure evil.
Recall the Deacons for Defense & Justice, a self defense group in 1960s Alabama. The Jim Crow laws almost began with 1860s disarmament laws aimed at freed slave. These Korean and WWII vets ran security for the childrens marches aimed at integrating libraries and swimming pools. Also note the disproportionate Planned Parenthood and legalized abortion used against the black population by design. Margaret Sanger would be proud!
Well said, don. Remarkable woman, remarkably dumb committee—but, hey, this is Vermont! Just look at our political “leaders”.
Just look at the dumb people who vote for these Democrats…Progressives. They are Communists. Stupid, stupid people.
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