A Century of Eugenics in America
From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era
Publication Year: 2011
In 1907, Indiana passed the world's first involuntary sterilization law based on the theory of eugenics. In time, more than 30 states and a dozen foreign countries followed suit. Although the Indiana statute was later declared unconstitutional, other laws restricting immigration and regulating marriage on "eugenic" grounds were still in effect in the U.S. as late as the 1970s. A Century of Eugenics in America assesses the history of eugenics in the United States and its status in the age of the Human Genome Project. The essays explore the early support of compulsory sterilization by doctors and legislators; the implementation of eugenic schemes in Indiana, Georgia, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Alabama; the legal and social challenges to sterilization; and the prospects for a eugenics movement basing its claims on modern genetic science.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Bioethics and the Humanities
Preface & Acknowledgments
In 1907, Indiana passed the first involuntary sterilization law in the world based on the theory of eugenics. In time more than 30 states and a dozen foreign countries followed Indiana’s lead in passing sterilization laws; those and other laws restricting immigration and regulating marriage on “eugenic” grounds were still in effect in the United States as late as ...
Introduction: Looking Back at Eugenics
Eugenics. A quick internet search identifies that word as the invective du jour in public discourse, shorthand for everything evil. Most often those who brandish the “E” word condemn it as the nadir of “pseudo-science” and make explicit reference to Hitler and the Holocaust. And after many years of absence from public consciousness, terms like eugenicist are now ...
Part 1. The Indiana Origins of Eugenic Sterilization
1. The Hoosier Connection: Compulsory Sterilization as Moral Hygiene
Two important Indiana intellectuals, Oscar McCulloch (1843–91) and David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), provided the rationale for the state’s (and the world’s) first compulsory sterilization law in 1907. Their writings on “degenerates” influenced physician Harry Clay Sharp (1871–1940), who put the law into practice. McCulloch was a minister of the Plymouth ...
2. The Indiana Way of Eugenics: Sterilization Laws, 1907–74
The 1907 passage of the world’s first eugenic sterilization law was an example of interest group–initiated legislation. However, it was also unlike similar legislation during the Progressive Era, such as the prohibition of alcohol, because it did not originate or grow from a grassroots movement.¹ Rather, the legislation passed because a small group of reformers ...
Part 2. Eugenics and Popular Culture
3. From Better Babies to the Bunglers: Eugenics on Tobacco Road
From the first decade of the twentieth century until approximately 1940, eugenics was a word that most Americans could expect to encounter regularly. Important citizens made the term respectable, and repetition by schoolteachers, doctors, politicians, and preachers made it an expansive term of reference and eventually a part of popular culture. Mentions of ...
4. “Quality, Not Mere Quantity, Counts”: Black Eugenics and the NAACP Baby Contests
In the past decade, Americans have rediscovered their nation’s eugenic past. Governors and legislators in Virginia, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Indiana, and Georgia have made proclamations of apology, adopted resolutions of regret, and voiced general repudiations of past eugenic laws and other efforts to purify the citizenry by ...
Part 3. State Studies of Eugenic Sterilization
5. From Legislation to Lived Experience: Eugenic Sterilization in California and Indiana, 1907–79
In February 1950, the Fort Wayne State School in Indiana held a sterilization hearing for Vernon, a young biracial man. Since his original commitment a decade earlier, at the age of 9, Vernon had managed multiple escapes from the institution, and it was during one of his recent flights that the superintendent decided it was necessary to sterilize Vernon “for the ...
6. Eugenics and Social Welfare in New Deal Minnesota
Tena and Stewart had “many good traits and were fond of their children,” but social workers found their living conditions “impossible.” It was 1937, and the couple “could not cope” with the “existing conditions” of depression and unemployment. He drank, and she was “stepping out”—despite being pregnant with her fourth child. Their children appeared neglected ...
7. Reassessing Eugenic Sterilization: The Case of North Carolina
On March 5, 1968, Elaine Riddick, a 14-year-old African American girl from Winfall, North Carolina, was sterilized under authority of the North Carolina Eugenics Board. Elaine had just given birth to a baby boy—after being repeatedly raped by a 20-year-old man with a history of assault and incarceration. Taught not to talk about sex and fearing for ...
8. Protection or Control? Women’s Health, Sterilization Abuse, and Relf v. Weinberger
On June 13, 1973, Mrs. Minnie Relf welcomed two representatives from the home.¹ According to Mrs. Relf, these social workers told her that they had noticed boys “hanging around” her daughters, 14-year-old Minnie Lee and 12-year-old Mary Alice. Worried that this social interaction would lead to sexual intercourse, the welfare officials escorted Mrs. Relf and ...
Part 4. Eugenics in the Human Genome Era
9. Are We Entering a “Perfect Storm” for a Resurgence of Eugenics? Science, Medicine, and Their Social Context
The purpose of this volume is to consider the history and legacy of eugenics. No extant scientific or medical community is more conscious of the burden of the eugenic bequest than human and medical geneticists, since our discipline is historically rooted in eugenics and the eugenic movement.
10. Modern Eugenics and the Law
One hundred years after the enactment of chapter 215 of the Indiana Acts of 1907, the world’s first eugenic sterilization law, eugenics might be expected to be a thing of the past.¹ Yet practices that might be considered eugenic persist, and there is good reason to expect them to flourish in the near future. This essay begins by discussing what is meant by “eugenic.” ...
List of Contributors