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Fit to Be Tied

Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980

Rebecca M. Kluchin

Publication Year: 2009

Fit to Be Tied provides a history of sterilization and what would become, at once, socially divisive and a popular form of birth control. Utilizing first-person narratives, court cases, and official records, Rebecca M. Kluchin examines the evolution of forced sterilization of poor women, especially women of color, in the second half of the century and contrasts it with demands for contraceptive sterilization made by white women and men. She chronicles public acceptance during an era of reproductive and sexual freedom, the shift away from sterilization and how it influenced many aspects of American life.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Writing is often described as a solitary task, but in many ways, this book has been a collective project. I am grateful for the financial support I received from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation; the Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy...

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pp. 1-9

The 1960s ushered in a revolution in American contraceptive practice. The introduction of the birth control pill (the Pill) in 1960 and the redesign and return of the intrauterine device (IUD) in 1964 offered women contraception that was nearly 100 percent effective. No longer forced to rely upon messy...

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Chapter 1: From Eugenics to Neo-eugenics

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pp. 10-49

Eugenics developed in America at the turn of the twentieth century as a response to cultural, social, and political anxieties specific to the era. As the decades advanced and the country experienced a massive depression and two world wars, eugenic ideas and practices evolved as well. Positive eugenics, or the...

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Chapter 2: “Fit” Women and Reproductive Choice

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pp. 50-72

Women seeking permanent contraception in the late 1960s confronted several barriers. These included the ambiguous legal status of sterilization, which led some doctors to refuse to perform the surgery for fear of litigation, and age/parity restrictions, which barred young women with small families from obtaining the...

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Chapter 3: Sterilizing “Unfit” Women

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pp. 73-113

The practice of involuntary sterilization existed throughout the twentieth century, but it changed over time, with a critical transition occurring in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the shift from eugenics to neo-eugenics, and another occurring in the late 1960s concurrent with the development of federal...

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Chapter 4: “Fit” Women Fight Back

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pp. 114-147

In 1971, with the aid of several Newark, New Jersey, attorneys working together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Anne and Barton Yohn sued Riverview and St. Barnabas hospitals for refusing Anne’s request for tubal ligation after the...

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Chapter 5: “Unfit” Women Fight Too

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pp. 148-183

On April 24, 1973, Valerie Cliett gave birth to her third child, a son, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The next day, the twenty-three-year-old black mother was sterilized. The New York Times reported that Cliett “had not requested the surgery, does not know who ordered it, did not know in advance...

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Chapter 6: Irreconcilable Conflicts

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pp. 184-213

Women’s race, class, and ethnicity clearly shaped their sterilization experiences, which in turn influenced their ideas of reproductive freedom. White women across class, free of medical racism, struggled to gain access to sterilization and to overturn age/parity, spousal consent, and conscience clause policies. This led...

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Chapter 7: The Endurance of Neo-eugenics

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pp. 214-224

In 1978—the same year the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) implemented federal sterilization guidelines—the American Cyanamid Company established a fetal protection policy at its Willow Island, West Virginia, chemical plant that prohibited fertile women from working in departments...


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pp. 225-262


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pp. 263-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780813548319
E-ISBN-10: 0813548314
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813545271
Print-ISBN-10: 0813545277

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 photograph, 1 graph
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Janet Golden and Rima D. Apple See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 593317605
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fit to Be Tied

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Birth control -- Government policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Sterilization (Birth control) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Reproductive rights -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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