Elizabeth Koester Wins Chalmers Award

October 24, 2022 by Adriana Leviston

Elizabeth Koester’s book, In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario, has just been announced as winner of the Chalmers Award, a history prize, from the Champlain Society. The book is based on her dissertation at IHPST (defended in 2018, under Nikolai Krementsov's supervision.) 

Here is the citation from the prize committee: “Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario analyzes legal structures involved in eugenics discourse in Ontario between 1910 and 1938 to demonstrate “how a variety of actors attempted to use law to implement eugenic solutions to social problems” (p. 211). Three innovative case studies form the heart of Koester’s study. First, she examines eight private member’s bills introduced into the Ontario legislature between 1910 and 1921 by Dr. Forbes Godfrey dealing with sterilization or marriage restrictions for targeted groups demonstrating the widespread public debate about eugenics despite the failure of these proposed measures to be enshrined in provincial law. Koester then explores the complex workings of three royal commissions that recommended actions restricting the rights of the “feeble-minded” that again were not adopted by successive provincial governments wrestling with the practical application of eugenics policies that threatened individual liberty. Finally, In the Public Good investigates the 1936–37 trial of Dorothea Palmer for providing birth control advice on behalf of A.R. Kaufman’s Parents’ Information Bureau; her ultimate acquittal on the Criminal Code charges was based on the legal system’s recognition of the public good of contraceptive practices, and the trial furthermore demonstrated the links between the birth control and eugenics movements. Based on exhaustive research and written in an engaging manner, In the Public Good is an important addition to the study of eugenics in Canada and joins the lengthy list of worthy recipients of the Champlain Society’s Chalmers Award.”

The book has also been short-listed for the Speaker's Prize from the Ontario legislature, with a decision coming on November 14.