Item #55: Signed Book

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Audrey Farley

Audrey Clare Farley is a scholar of twentieth-century American culture with special interests in science and religion. She earned a PhD in English literature at University of Maryland, College Park and now teaches history at Mount St. Mary’s University, as well as creative nonfiction writing for Catapult. She is the author of The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt and the forthcoming Girls and Their Monsters: A Story of Madness, Family Secrets, and Scientific Discovery. Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and many other outlets.

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At the turn of the twentieth century, American women began to reject Victorian propriety in favor of passion and livelihood outside the home. This alarmed authorities, who feared certain "over-sexed" women could destroy civilization if allowed to reproduce and pass on their defects. Set against this backdrop, THE UNFIT HEIRESS chronicles the fight for inheritance, both genetic and monetary, between Ann Cooper Hewitt and her mother Maryon.

In 1934, aided by a California eugenics law, the socialite Maryon Cooper Hewitt had her "promiscuous" daughter declared feebleminded and sterilized without her knowledge. She did this to deprive Ann of millions of dollars from her father's estate, 

which contained a child-bearing stipulation. When a sensational court case ensued, the American public was captivated. So were eugenicists, who saw an opportunity to restrict reproductive rights in America for decades to come. 

This riveting story unfolds through the brilliant research of Audrey Clare Farley, who captures the interior lives of these women and poses questions that remain relevant today: What does it mean to be "unfit" for motherhood? In the battle for reproductive rights, can we forgive the women who side against us? And can we forgive our mothers if they are the ones who inflict the deepest wounds?

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