Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award to Be Renamed | Off Message

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award to Be Renamed


Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award will be renamed next year in response to critics who said the author's legacy is tainted by ties to the Vermont eugenics movement in the 1920s and '30s.

Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton made the decision, which was announced Friday at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Conference in Barre. 

Vermont children will be asked to help choose a new name, Broughton told Seven Days in a telephone interview after the conference. Vermont Public Radio first reported news of the renaming.

Several years of debate preceded the decision. Some questioned whether it is appropriate to judge historical figures by contemporary standards.

Broughton's answer? In this case, yes.

"We do examine people and we do hold them to a certain esteem at a time, and then we become reflective. It's what we do," Broughton said.
Fisher's fans said her ties to the movement were distant. She was not among the prominent Vermonters who sat on the advisory board of the Vermont Eugenics Survey, a chilling social-science experiment that ran from 1925 to 1936 at the University of Vermont.

But she did serve on a related organization, the Vermont Commission on Country Life, which was charged with revitalizing the state's Yankee roots. Critics including Vermont Abenaki educator Judy Dow, who led the name-change push, pointed out the connection and also argued that Fisher reinforced negative stereotypes in her writing about French Canadians and Native Americans, populations that were targeted in the eugenics survey.

The Vermont Library Board voted unanimously in January 2018 to recommend the name change. The state librarian at the time, Scott Murphy, did not act on the board's recommendation.

The debate involved heated discussion at board meetings. Dozens of librarians weighed in, pro and con, in letters and emails. 

Broughton, who was appointed state librarian in April after Murphy resigned for personal reasons, said he wants the new name of the award to be inclusive and to reflect the opinions of young readers, their parents, and librarians from all over the state. Details on the naming process will be coming later this year, Broughton said.

“We seek to have tons and tons of conversation to make it successful,” he said.

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