Here’s what the historic case of the Genain quadruplets reveals about some deeper, uncomfortable truths about American society.
“I think that the Genain quadruplets were really made to be the emblems of white racial innocence, which is this idea that America is a 'pure' nation, which has to be kept free of 'contaminants' at all costs, and this idea that Christianity is an 'innocent' religion, which doesn’t have slavery in its background—which doesn’t have racial violence in its background. And so, these girls being the emblems of this mythology seems to me to be even more pertinent than the story about them being the poster girls of genetics.”
Psychiatric Times® Editorial Board Member Awais Aftab, MD, recently sat down with Audrey Clare Farley, PhD, to discuss Farley’s book, Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America. In part 3 of their 3-part interview, Aftab and Farley discuss what the case of the Genain quadruplets reveals about deeper, uncomfortable truths about American society, as well as the most important takeaways from the book for psychiatrists.
Farley also briefly discusses her first book, The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt, which explored the case of a wealthy woman who secretly had her daughter sterilized to prevent her from inheriting the family fortune in the 1930s, sparking a debate about eugenics. Farley made connections between this case and that of the Genain quadruplets, namely in terms of sexual and racial trauma.
Full Interview: Revisiting the “Poster Girls for Psychiatric Genetics”
Dr Aftab is a psychiatrist in Cleveland, Ohio, and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. He has been actively involved in initiatives to educate psychiatrists and trainees on the intersection of philosophy and psychiatry. He leads the interview series “Conversations in Critical Psychiatry” for Psychiatric Times and he writes for his Substack newsletter “Psychiatry at the Margins.” He is also a member of the Psychiatric Times Editorial Board.
Dr Farley is a writer, editor, and scholar of 20th-century American culture with special interests in science and religion. She is the author of The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt and Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America, and her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and many other outlets.