|Mary Frances Memorial Service|
Mary Frances Corbin Donald
Mary Frances Corbin Donald passed away on April 14, 2015 at her home in Lynchburg, Virginia surrounded by her friend and caregiver Ann Youngblood. She was born in Madison County, Virginia on May 17, 1935 in what is now Shenandoah National Park.
As the daughter of Harrison Corbin and Grand-daughter of Fennel Corbin, Mary Frances and her family were at the center of the now discredited ethnographic study Hollow Folk. This study, and the government programs that utilized it, would set the course of much of her life. From the forced eviction from her mountain home, where Hollow Folk ‘found’ that the ‘problems’ of the Corbin’s’ were due to their isolation from society -providing justification for the condemnation of their land to make way for Shenandoah National Park. To the forced institutionalization and sterilization of many of her family members -where it was ‘determined’ that many Corbin children were ‘unfit’ to have children. Hollow Folk and the government programs that used it had a devastating impact on her family. Mary herself was forced to undergo sterilization at the age of 11 at “The Colony” where her mother and siblings had been committed after her father’s death from pellagra.
In spite of this, Mary played an important role in bringing Virginia’s eugenics program to an end. Of the thousands of survivors, only Mary and a handful of her friends from “The Colony” found the strength to confront this legacy. Traveling to Richmond to protest eugenics to the governor, they were able to end the government program that had so impacted their lives. At the time of her death Mary was one of ten survivors set to receive compensation from the state of Virginia.
Mary was featured in the 1993 documentary film The Lynchburg Story, the 1995 Roanoke Times article, “An Elite Said Their Kind Wasn’t Wanted, How Social Judgments of the day Forced Sterilizations, “ and the 2011 documentary Rothstein's First Assignment. Her family was at the center of FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein’s first assignment, which is archived at the Library of Congress.
Mary was laid to rest on April 17, 2015 at Tree of Life Cemetery in Altavista, Virginia. A memorial and remembrance service was conducted on May 17, 2015 on what would have been Mary's 80th birthday. All that attended remembered Mary as being a sweet and caring woman. Mary was a tenacious woman who was loved by all that knew her. Rest well sweet angel.