The Colony

Oct 19, 2019

The Mastin-Milner Building for Feeble-Minded Women, on the campus of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Immerse yourself in the haunting experiences of patients institutionalized in a Southern state-run facility that sterilized patients without their consent until the mid-twentieth century.

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we’ll be talking with poet Molly McCully Brown about her poetry collection The Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, published by Persea Books, which imagines the voices of patients and staff of the Colony.


Whatever it is--

home or hospital,

graveyard or asylum,

government facility or great

tract of land slowly ceeding

itself back to dust--

~an excerpt from "The Central Virginia Training Center: formerly The Viriginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded"

As explained in the preface of the book:

“The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded opened in 1910 in Amherst County, Virginia, as the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics, a government-run residential hospital.

"In 1913, the facility also began serving patients it classified as 'feebleminded' and by 1919 the name had been altered to reflect this fact. In 1924, the Colony became formally enmeshed with the eugenics movement and began sterilizing, without their consent, patients it deemed 'defectives.'

"In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Virginia sterilization laws in Buck v. Bell, and eugenic sterilizations became an even more common practice. From the mid-1920s through the mid-1950s, more than 7,000 people were sterilized in Virginia, often without their knowledge. 

"While some patients were sterilized and then released, others spent the better part of their lives at the Colony. Although the last eugenic sterilization is noted in the Colony's annual report for 1955, sterilizations may have continued into the 1970s.”  

Author Molly McCully Brown

McCully Brown’s poetry imagines the experiences of the institutionalized and the staff who were charged with their care, giving voice to the voiceless and exploring the thinking of those directly practicing the principles of the eugenics movement in America.

The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017) won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017.

McCully Brown has also authored the forthcoming essay collection Places I’ve Taken my Body (Persea Books, 2020). With Susannah Nevison, she is also the coauthor of the poetry collection In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020).

Singer and songwriter, Amyjo Savannah

Raised in rural Virginia, McCully Brown is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Stanford University, and the University of Mississippi, where she received her MFA. She lives in Gambier, Ohio and teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Kenyon Review Fellow in Poetry.

A special thanks to our voice actors: H.K. Hummel, Angela Hunter, Erin Finzer, Ashley Shackelford and Amyjo Savannah.

Thank you to the incredible Amyjo Savannah for creating the soundtrack for this episode.

Thank you to Stickyz Rock “N" Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas. Thank you to the Sheraton Four Points by Marriott Little Rock Midtown for providing accommodations for our singers, songwriters, and guests. 

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Connect with us!  Twitter: @ArtsLettersKUAR | Facebook: @artsandlettersradio | Instagram: @artsandlettersradio | YouTube: artsandlettersradio | Spotify Playlist: Arts & Letters Radio

Contact Arts & Letters Radio at artsletters@kuar.org or via phone at 501-569-8485.  Our mailing address is:  Arts & Letters Radio |  KUAR 89.1  | 5820 Asher Avenue, Suite 400  | Little Rock, AR   72204.

Executive Producer & Host: J. Bradley Minnick

Producer & Story Editor: Mary Ellen Kubit

Sound Mastering: Simon Sound Services

Intern: Brian Williams