A shocking new book has revisited the 1930s trial where socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt sued her abusive mother for $500 million for having her sterilized without her consent to deprive her of her inheritance from her millionaire inventor father.
In 1920, aged three-years-old, Ann Cooper Hewitt, the daughter of engineer and inventor Peter Cooper Hewitt, was caught with her hand down her pants – an action which at the time was not accepted and suggested her to be ‘feeble-minded.’
In 1934, aided by a California eugenics law, her mother Maryon had her ‘promiscuous’ daughter sterilized without her knowledge.
As told in ‘The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt,’ by Audrey Clare Farley,’ she did so to deprive Ann of millions of dollars from her father’s estate, which contained a child-bearing stipulation.
While a notoriously long and tiring court case ensued, eugenicists seized the opportunity to restrict reproductive rights in America for the decades that followed.
In the the 1930s, socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt sued her mother for half a million dollars for having her sterilized without her consent in order to deprive her of an inheritance from her millionaire father’s estate. Pictured, Ann is sworn in before testifying before municipal Judge Sylvain J. Lazarus in San Francisco, January 23, 1936
In 1934, aided by a California eugenics law, Ann’s mother Maryon (pictured, together) had her ‘promiscuous’ daughter sterilized without her knowledge
Peter Cooper Hewitt (pictured), who died in 1921, left two-thirds of his estate to Ann and one-third to Ann’s mother, his wife
During her appearance in court in her early 20s, Ann claimed how after her father’s death, her mother Maryon ‘hardly ever’ let her leave their apartment – and forbid her from making friends or having boyfriends.
‘Mother didn’t have one spark of affection for me, and she refused to permit others who did,’ she claimed.
‘She always called me an “imbecile” and an “ugly duckling.” She hated my buck teeth and my humped shoulders. And the way my eyes cross when I am tired. She sometimes struck me when she noticed my eyes were going.’
However, devastatingly for Ann, it wasn’t long before she was also given a financial motive to further aid her cruelty.
Ann’s father and Maryon’s husband Peter Cooper Hewitt – whose grandfather founded the Cooper Union, and whose father, Abram Hewitt, and uncle, Edward Cooper, were mayors of New York – died in 1921.
He left two-thirds of his estate, worth over $4 million – the equivalent of $59 million today (£42.6million) – to Ann and one-third to Ann’s mother, his wife.
Preparatory to their filing a $500,000 damage suit against the girl’s mother, Mrs. Maryon Hewitt McCarter, two California physicians, and a psychiatrist, Miss Ann Cooper Hewitt, (right), and her attorney, Russel P. Tyler, are shown making final depositions. The charges claimed her mother and the doctors conspired to perform an operation rendering her sterile
Prosecuting attorney August Fourther, questions Ann Cooper Hewitt, 21-year-old heiress, in the mayhem trial of two San Francisco physicians accused of performing an operation on the girl, which deprived her of her motherhood
This was the scene in a San Francisco, CA, courtroom at the opening of the sensational trial of two San Francisco physicians charged with conspiracy to commit mayhem in connection with the alleged sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt, heiress to the Peter Cooper Hewitt millions. Left to right: prosecuting attorneys August Fourtner, Leslie Skillen; Dr. Tilton E. Tillman, and to his left in the rear, DR. Samuel G. Boyd, defendants; Harry McKenzie and Isadore Golden, defense attorneys
However, the will specified that her share would be returned to her mother if Ann were to die childless – and Maryon appeared determined to take advantage of this clause in Peter’s will.
‘The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt,’ by Audrey Clare Farley,’ tells the shocking story of Ann Cooper Hewitt (pictured)
With this information to hand, Maryon took Ann to the hospital with ‘stomach pains’ and paid two doctors $9,000 each ($165,000 today) to remove her daughter’s fallopian tubes and appendix.
The procedure took place just two month’s before Ann’s 21st birthday, after which point Maryon would have no further authority in her medical care because Ann would no longer be considered a minor.
The plan was put into action on August 1934, when, aged 20, Ann and Maryon were enjoying a spot of lunch at Coronado beachside resort outside San Diego when the minor felt a pang of pain in her stomach.
In her book and as reported by New York Post, Farley pens: ‘As far as Ann’s physicians were concerned, a little girl caught masturbating was sure to become a danger to men and society — that was, if she didn’t obviate the need for men altogether.
‘Ann is “man-like” in her urges,’ one physician told her mother, after hearing about her alleged fondness for self-gratification. ‘And if she keeps at her nasty habit, she won’t perceive any need to marry one day.’
Ann Cooper Hewitt, 21-year-old heiress, who sued her mother for $500,000 damages, charging sterilization (pictured)
Their driver rushed Ann back to San Francisco where Ann’s private physician, Dr. Tilton Tillman, was waiting for her.
According to the plaintiff, she wasn’t even given a once over before she was diagnosed with appendicitis.
THE HISTORY OF EUGENICS
In 1907, the eugenics Education Society was founded in Britain to campaign for sterilisation and marriage restrictions for the weak to prevent the degeneration of Britain’s population.
In 1931, Labour MP Archibald Church proposed a bill for the compulsory sterilisation of certain categories of ‘mental patient’ in Parliament.
Meanwhile from 1907 in the United States, men, women and children who were deemed ‘insane, idiotic, imbecile, feebleminded or epileptic’ were forcibly sterilised, often without being informed of what was being done to them.
By 1938, 33 American states permitted the forced sterilisation of women with learning disabilities and 29 American states had passed compulsory sterilisation laws covering people who were thought to have genetic conditions.
All legislation was eventually repealed in the 1940s.
Then, she was taken to another room where a psychologist named Mary Scally began to ask her questions.
These included: ‘Why did the Pilgrims come to America? What is the duration of a presidential term? What is the longest river in the United States? When was the Battle of Hastings fought?’
At a press conference, Ann recalled: ‘I didn’t pay much attention or know what it was about.’
Just four days later, Dr. Samuel Boyd carried out an appendectomy – and it wasn’t long before Ann grew increasingly concerned.
In her book, Farley writes: ‘During this time, she overheard a few staff members ask her nurse how the ‘idiot patient’ was doing.
‘Ann also heard her nurse make several phone calls to Dr. Tillman assuring him that his patient ‘didn’t suspect a thing.’
At court, Ann later testified that she learned her mother and Dr. Tillman had told everyone she was a ‘mental case’ and that she had undergone a salpingectomy – her her tubes removed and her appendix.
She added that after she was discharged from hospital, she returned home and was kept a prisoner in her own room.
Ann claimed: ‘My mother made me act as my own maid. Not one housekeeper entered my room during my convalescence. I was forced to live with little more than the bare necessities or comforts of a poorhouse waif.’
However, as soon as prosecutors has learned of the case, Maryon had headed for the East Coast.
She stuck to her story that she deemed Ann to be unfit for society due to her addiction to masturbation and ‘erotic tendencies,’ branded her a ‘moron’ and even cited how she was attracted to ‘men in uniform.’
Leaving behind an affidavit, she referenced one occasion where she’d tried to elope with a chauffeur, to whom she had exchanged letters with containing pubic hairs.
She also insisted Ann was ‘feebleminded,’ noting an intelligence test performed by the psychologist shortly before the procedure.
In response to accusations of her intelligence, the plaintiff’s attorney called witnesses to the stand in court.
Peter Cooper Hewitt (pictured) – whose grandfather founded the Cooper Union, and whose his father, Abram Hewitt, and uncle, Edward Cooper, were mayors of New York – died in 1921.
‘She writes fluently in French and can converse in Italian,’ one physician testified. ‘She has read books on Shakespeare, French history, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, King Lear, Dante’s Inferno, and the works of Charles Dickens.’
In January 1936, Ann sued her mother for $500,000, alleging that she paid the doctors to remove her fallopian tubes without her consent.
The San Francisco district attorney charged Maryon and both doctors with ‘mayhem’ – a rare charge that was ‘reserved for cases involving the act of disabling or disfiguring an individual.’
It often came with a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
However, a tiring trial ensued and the charges were eventually dropped against the doctors and her mother – with Ann settling for $150,000.
Maryon died in April 1939, aged 55, following a stroke, while Ann, who married five times, died from cancer, aged 40, in February 1956.