Inspiration from Real-life, Heart-wrenching History

We Americans, like many other people, don’t like to acknowledge our less honorable moments. I found inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history while writing my novel, My Soul to Keep. I’m talking about Eugenics. Specifically, Negative Eugenics.

Negative eugenics is the type we associate with the Nazis. Unfortunately, America has a long, dark history of negative eugenics that pre-dates the Nazis’ use.

An Act to Regulate Immigration

It began in 1882 with the passage of “An Act to Regulate Immigration.” That act established criteria for allowing immigrants into the United States. The act included the right to deny any passengers entry into the country if they appeared to be lunatics, unable to care for themselves, or convicts.

The Father of Eugenics

Photograph of Sir Frances Galton, Darwin's cousin who coined the term eugenics part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Sir Frances Galton, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coined the term eugenics in 1883. In it’s simplest form, eugenics means “well-born.” More to Galton’s concept, it meant “the science which deals with all influences that improve inborn qualities.” Galton studied the upper classes of Britain. He concluded that their social positions were due to their superior genes. Selective marriage was his recommendation. He hoped to end poor genetics by having more healthy and above average intelligence producing more children. This type of genetic manipulation is considered positive eugenics. Many countries practiced or encouraged positive eugenics. In the 1880’s, the United States was, like many other countries, afraid. There was a perceived degradation of society. People pointed to rising populations in prisons and institutions for the feeble-minded and predicted “racial suicide.”

The Laws

Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to pass a eugenics-type law regulating marriage in 1896. It prohibited marriage for anyone who was epileptic, imbecile, or feeble-minded.

In 1887, Michigan became the first state to propose a law to sterilize criminals and the feeble-minded. The law did not receive enough support and did not pass.

The First Sterilizations

Dr. Albert Ochsner documented the first known vasectomy performed on criminals in 1899. He suggested sterilizing all hardened criminals to stop the procreation of criminals.

Photograph of Charles Davenport an American eugenicist who was part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Charles Davenport, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In 1904, Charles Davenport, an American eugenicist, and biologist became the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He set up a biological experimentation station to study evolution through testing done on plants and animals. It was this research that eugenists used as a basis for and to support their research. Davenport eventually set up the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor.

Indiana became the first place in the world to pass a sterilization law in 1907. Eugenics-based, it allowed for compulsory sterilization of institutionalized individuals who were “unfit to reproduce.” Shamefully, many states followed suit.

More Heart-Wrenching History To Come

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of my Inspiration series of posts. This is only the tip of the inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history I used in writing My Soul to Keep. Did you know about the practice of eugenics in American’t history? Next week, there will be more about sterilization laws, the ERO, who in America who supported eugenics, and the shocking length of time eugenics has been practiced in the US. Stay tuned for more Inspiration from Real Life Heart-wrenching History, Part II and learn how I used the inspiration. My Soul to Keep is available on Amazon, and many more online stores.

Inspired by a Maximum Security Prison

In My Soul to Keep, Miranda Clarke lands in Redemption, a prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. Redemption bears a striking resemblance to the real federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. That’s right, I was inspired by a maximum security prison.

I was inspired by a maximum security penitentiary. Read more about it.
Image courtesy of americasroof via Wikimedia Commons.

The Beginning

In 1871 the United States realized that the stockades and fort prisons were inadequate. Congress passed the “Three Prisons Act” in 1891. This law authorized the federal government’s first three penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island. It also led to the creation of the federal prison system and, in 1930, the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas is an imposing structure of white limestone. It sits twenty-five miles northwest of Kansas City, Kansas. Construction began in March 1897. The central dome of the facility led to its nicknames, the “Big Top” and the “Big House.” It was the first of the three penitentiaries to house prisoners.

Famous Inmates

The federal prison opened in 1903 to its first 418 prisoners. The first cell house wasn’t complete until 1904. Originally built to house 1,200 prisoners, the inmate population rose to 3,362. (Currently, the population is almost 1,800 inmates.) Initially a maximum security facility, it was downgraded to a medium security prison in 2005.

Inmates included cowboys and Indians, spies and gangsters, and assassins and sports personalities. Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Nitty, and George “Bugs” Moran were among the famous inmates. Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” had his aviary at Leavenworth (not at Alcatraz.) The violent sociopath who killed without remorse also famously nurtured two fledglings he found in the yard. That roused his passion for birds. He studied them and wrote two books about them. And he sold birds, healing potions for birds, and seed while in prison.

The number of famous prisoners is too long to list here. You can see a partial list on Wikipedia. The complete list is at the National Archives in Kansas City along with prisoner records and personal letters.

A History of Escapes

Leavenworth has a history of interesting escapes. The first mass escape occurred in1898. Only the leader of that group avoided capture—for five years. One escape included a hijacked train. The train brought construction materials in. They forced the engineer to drive through the gate. A group of escapees held the warden hostage and were allowed to walk out the front gate. That led to a new law. From then on the gate could not be opened regardless of who was a hostage. One prisoner dressed as a safety inspector and walked out the front door. Leavenworth is also known for another first, the first fatality of a federal prison officer in 1901.


I’ve known about Leavenworth ever since I moved into the Kansas City area. I learned its fascinating history after I began scouting for inspiration on location. With such a rich history a mere forty-five-minute drive from home, how could I resist?

For obvious reasons, the prison does not allow public tours. For more information, watch the documentary, The United States Penitentiary: Leavenworth.  Or visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons website

Of course, researching Leavenworth inspired the Redemption. But the details sprang completely from my imagination. I hope you’ve enjoyed inspired by a maximum security prison, part of my Inspiration on Location series of blog posts. If you missed my previous post on Lynchburg, Virginia you can read about it here. In less than four weeks you’ll be able to read about Miranda and Beryl’s adventures. I hope you’ll enjoy reading how they landed in and escaped from a Leavenworth-inspired prison.

Declarations of Truth, Honor, and Independence

No discussion of Independence Day in the United States of America would be complete without talking about the document. The Declaration of Independence is more than a historical document. It is not a law or set of laws. It’s a statement of ideology. An ideology of truth, honor, and independence. An ideology that is controversial at times. And one of the documents that all Americans should know and study. Yet few of us know more than the famous lines and many argue over the meaning of specific words and phrases.

If your memory is spotty, or you don’t know if you’ve read the document, take a moment to listen or read the Declaration of Independence.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Congression Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Yet, most of the delegates had not signed it until later. Did you know that eight of the fifty-six delegates who signed the declaration were born in Great Britain?

There are four major points covered by the Declaration.

  1. That All men have equal and God-given rights,
  2. When a government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up,
  3. When another revolution may be justified,” 
  4. And the declaration that we are free and a pledge to each other and their idea.

Let’s discuss that first point. 

All Men Are Created Equal

The All men have equal rights is the most discussed sentence in the Declaration. Arguments abound about what Jefferson meant by “all men.”

According to some, one should take that statement in its historical context. They think that “men” means only white males. These, usually white males, point out blacks were slaves, women had societal and political constraints, and native Indians were considered savages. They aren’t wrong about the societal and legal assigns given to blacks, women, and native Indians. And yet, further down in the document is this sentence:

“He (King George) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

“All ages, sexes, and conditions.” The implication is that all people have a right to live. Perhaps the signers of the Declaration considered other ages, sexes, and conditions were their property. Or could they have meant the right to live applied to all ages, sexes, and conditions?

The signers of the Declaration left an ambiguous legacy about slavery. In his initial draft, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade. The Southern delegates would not agree to that paragraph. It was taken out in favor of unity over the Declaration.

All Are Not Equal

Jefferson blamed the presence of enslaved Africans in North America on avaricious British colonial policies. Unfortunately, he also believed that blacks were inferior and should be removed from the colonies. A total of forty-nine of the signers owned slaves at some point in their lives. One signer made a fortune off of selling slaves. Yet, by 1870, the Northern States had abolished slavery. George Washington was the only Southerner signer who freed his slaves (upon his death). 

Unfortunately, equality for all men (women, races, ethnicities, etc.) has not been achieved in the USA. Yet. It is something to strive for, to fight for, as we go forward.

When Government Fails in its Duty

If the government fails in its duty the government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up by the people who have a right to revolt.

If the government fails in its duty is another phrase that requires some thought. What duty? The paragraph that follows explains. Governments secure the rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They get the right and power to govern from the consent of the governed. And when any form of government becomes destructive of those rights, it is the right, and the duty, of the people to alter or abolish that government.

Another Revolution May Be Justified

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Note, they say a long train of abuses and usurpations. They go further to say that “light and transient (or temporary) abuses are not a reason to overthrow an established government.” What follows is a list of the abuses and illegal seizures of rights and property that the colonies have endured at the hands of the King of Great Britain. All people would do well to study this list. There are lessons and parallels to be had if you look.

Absolving and Pledging

“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved”

They follow this statement of intention with a pledge.

“We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

What’s significant here is the abolishment of allegiance to the British crown. The pledge tugs at my heartstrings. These were men aged 26 to 70 years. They were landholders, doctors, lawyers, farmers, merchants—men who had things to lose. One-third of them served in the militia. Seven of them suffered losses (from war wounds to imprisonment and torture to loss of lands and fortune). None of them died as a direct result of the war.

What I Believe

I am not a historian nor a student of politics. But I am hugely interested in my country, in the ideal of equal rights for all people, and I believe in truth, honor, and independence. I hope this brief examination of the Declaration of Independence has inspired you to think about the document. If you found it interesting, please leave a comment below.

The Declaration of Independence is imperfect, as were the founders of this country. Yet, this document inspires with great heart, and spirit, and hope. We can, and should, keep working to improve ourselves and our country. We should all aspire to believe in truth, honor, and independence–

for ALL.