Weekly Reads: A Mother’s Promise

A Mother's Promise
Emily Dickinson // The Watchdog

“There were all kinds of promises in the world. Some were false. Some were made in earnest, but easily betrayed. Some were awkwardly, imperfectly fulfilled. But the promise made by a mother to love her child… the promise that began in utero, via the umbilical cord that linked them… that promise could never be broken.”

– K.D. Alden, “A Mother’s Promise”

Content Warning: This book contains mentions of rape and abuse.

“A Mother’s Promise” is enraging. The main character, Ruth Ann Riley, lives in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. Due to her being unwed and deemed feebleminded, after giving birth as a teenager, her daughter Annabel is taken from her. As Ruth Ann works in the colony where her psychotic mother is held in the Distressed Unit, she starts to think that the people in power are wrong about her being a “moron.” 

“A Mother’s Promise” is based on the Buck vs. Bell case which was brought to the Supreme Court in 1927. A case in which the decision on whether the state should have the right to sterilize the feebleminded of society.

As Ruth Ann and her new friend Glory try to find their daughters and prevent the sterilization treatment planned for themselves, Ruth Ann ends up in a better position than she originally thought. Or so she thinks.

This heart-wrenching book is powerful when it comes to women’s rights and the rights of those in power. This book will make you scream in frustration because of what Ruth Ann has had to endure. Knowing that this scenario actually occurred, and was worse in real life, will have you crying for those like Ruth Ann. 

Destined from the very beginning to fail and having no support, Ruth Ann, like many others, had no choice. Ruth Ann and Glory had babies before marriage and Ruth Ann’s friend, Clarence, was born without a hand. Due to these faults, they are wards of the state and Ruth Ann’s sweet Annabel is in another person’s arms, not her own.

K.D. Alden is a powerful writer who chooses to write about important pieces of history. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is willing to fight to make their own choices for their body.