The Frightening Agenda of the American Eugenics Movement

Mr. Platt, emeritus professor of social work, California State University Sacramento, is a member of the editorial board of Social Justice and author of books and articles on U.S. history and social policy. His current research interests include the history of eugenics in California. "To Stem the Tide of Degeneracy: The Eugenic Impulse in Social Work" - co-authored with Amy LaPan - will be published in Stuart Kirk (ed.), Mental Health and the Social Environment: Critical Perspectives (Columbia University Press).

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Following are the remarks Mr. Platt made to the California senate judiciary committee, June 24, 2003, regarding senate resolution no. 20 - relative to eugenics.

Since the spring 2002, state governments in Virginia, Oregon, and South Carolina, have published statements of apology to tens of thousands of patients, mostly poor women, who were sterilized against their will in state hospitals between the 1900s and 1960s. In March 2003, Governor Davis and Attorney General Lockyer added their regrets for the injustices committed in the name of "race betterment." Now, the California Senate is considering a resolution, authored by Senator Dede Alpert (D-San Diego), which "expresses profound regret over the state's past role in the eugenics movement" and "urges every citizen of the state to become familiar with the history of the eugenics movement, in the hope that a more educated and tolerant populace will reject any similar abhorrent pseudoscientific movement should it arise in the future."

What might such a history lesson teach us? ...

...that the eugenics movement, which emerged in Europe and the United States around the turn of the last century, was rooted in assumptions about the existence of distinct biological races, with "Anglo-Saxon" societies as the civilizing bedrock of modernity. Supporters of eugenics advocated policies of segregation and apartheid in order to protect the "well born" from contamination. Its leaders believed that a variety of social successes (wealth, political leadership, intellectual discoveries) and social problems (poverty, illegitimacy, crime, mental illness, and unemployment) could be traced to inherited, biological attributes associated with "racial temperament." Is there any other conclusion, asked a popular 1926 textbook (co-authored by a leading California eugenicist), that "the Negro lacks in his germ plasm excellence of some qualities which the white race possess, and which are essential for success in competition with the civilizations of the white races at the present day." Eugenics also targeted poor whites, especially in rural areas, on the grounds that they constituted a distinct and "degenerate" racial typology.

... that under the banner of "national regeneration," tens of thousands, mostly poor women, were subjected to involuntary sterilization in the United States between 1907 and 1940. And untold thousands of women were sterilized without their informed consent after World War II. Under California's 1909 sterilization law, at least 20,000 Californians in state hospitals and prisons had been involuntarily sterilized by 1964. California, according to a recent study, "consistently outdistanced every other state" in terms of the number of eugenic sterilizations. In the 1910s and 1920s, men were as likely to be sterilized as women were, but by the 1940s restrictions on reproductive choice were aimed at women.

... that grounds for sterilization included such vague classifications as "feeblemindedness," "idiocy," "excessive masturbation," "immorality," and "hereditary degeneracy." In 1926, for example, the superintendent of Riverside's Bureau of Welfare and Relief advocated sterilization of "feebleminded," unmarried women as a means to halting the "menace to the race at large." At the Sonoma State Home, sexual activity by single women was perceived as evidence of mental defect, irrespective of whether or not a patient met medical or psychological standards of "feeblemindedness."

... that under the leadership of F. O. Butler as superintendent of the Sonoma Home for the Care and Training of Feebleminded Children, typically patients were not paroled to their families unless sterilized prior to their release. "Dr. Butler has always had a strong weapon to use in getting consents for sterilization," wrote Paul Popenoe of Pasadena's Human Betterment Foundation to eugenicist John Randolph Haynes in 1930, "by telling the relatives that the patient could not leave without sterilization."

... that sterilization represented only a small part of the eugenics agenda. Eugenics was also a cultural vehicle for expressing anxiety about the "degeneration" of middle-class "Aryans," perceived as resulting from a declining birthrate and, in the words of a leading California eugenicist, the "evil of crossbreeding." For eugenicists, sterilization was not so much a technical, medical procedure to enhance physical and mental health, as it was a way to cleanse the body politic of racial and sexual impurities. Eugenicists strongly supported limits on immigration from non-European countries, a restriction on welfare benefits to poor families, and bans on interracial marriage or "miscegenation." As Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, a founder and sponsor of the Eugenics Society of Northern California and Pasadena's Human Betterment Foundation, noted in 1929, the Mexican is "eugenically as low-powered as the Negro. … He not only does not understand health rules: being a superstitious savage, he resists them." Goethe -- for whom a public park on the Sacramento State University campus is named -- tirelessly campaigned to restrict Latin American immigration and to increase sterilization of the "socially unfit."

... that proponents of eugenics were not obscure cranks or fringe right-wingers, but the best and brightest civic reformers and professional leaders. In southern California, the Human Betterment Foundation enjoyed the active support of banker Henry Robinson, as well as social scientist William Munro and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Millikan, all of whom also served on the board of trustees of San Marino's Huntington Library, one of the country's most exclusive archives. Other notables actively involved in eugenics crusades included Stanford's Chancellor David Starr Jordan, publisher Harry Chandler, Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, Rabbi Martin Meyer (a member of the State Board of Charities and Corrections, 1911-1920); Rabbi Rudolph Coffee (a founding member of the Human Betterment Foundation, president of the Travelers' Aid Society, 1921-1926, and a member of the State Board of Charities and Corrections, 1924-1931), and John Randolph Haynes, M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, a banker and real estate dealer, who served on California's State Board of Charities and Corrections (1912-1923) and the University of California Board of Regents.

... that California not only led the nation in forced sterilizations, but also in providing scientific and educational support for Hitler's regime. In 1935, Sacramento's Charles M. Goethe praised the Human Betterment Foundation for effectively "shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler…" In 1936, Goethe acknowledged the United States and Germany as leaders in eugenics ("two stupendous forward movements"), but complained that "even California's quarter century record has, in two years, been outdistanced by Germany." In 1936, California eugenicist Paul Popenoe was asking one of his Nazi counterparts for information about sterilization policies in Germany in order to make sure that "conditions in Germany are not misunderstood or misrepresented."

... that California's eugenicists could not claim ignorance that Germany's sterilization program was motivated primarily by racial politics. For example, in 1935, the Los Angeles Times published a long defense of Germany's sterilization policies, in which the author noted that the Nazis "had to resort to the teachings of eugenic science" because Germany had been "deprived of her colonies, blessed with many hundreds of defective racial hybrids as a lasting memory of the colored army of occupation, and dismembered all around." Not only did California eugenicists know about Nazi efforts to use sterilization as a method of "race hygiene" -- targeted primarily at Jews -- they also approved efforts to stop "race-mixing" and increase the birth rate of the "Northern European type of family." The chilling words of Progressive reformer John Randolph Haynes anticipated the Nazi regime's murder of 100,000 mentally ill patients: "There are thousands of hopelessly insane in California, the condition of those minds is such that death would be a merciful release. How long will it be before society will see the criminality of using its efforts to keep alive these idiots, hopelessly insane, and murderous degenerates. … Of course the passing of these people should be painless and without warning. They should go to sleep at night without any intimation of what was coming and never awake."

... that while much is known about John Randolph Haynes and other supporters of eugenics, we have little information about the actual number of forced sterilizations that took place in California, or how race and gender influenced decision-making in institutions. Moreover, still hidden from history are the voices of the thousands of women and men who were subjected to eugenic experimentation. State agencies should allow researchers to have full access to internal records on condition that confidentiality of identities is protected.

... that the eugenics movement -- which targeted hundreds of thousands of poor women for sterilization without their consent, which blamed poor families for reproducing poverty, and which articulated racialized visions of white supremacy -- should not be confused with the efforts of feminist organizations to guarantee women's right to control their own sexuality and reproductive decisions. Or the efforts of science and medicine to explain the complexities of human heredity and understand the relationship of genetics to disease. As we now grapple with public policies pertaining to genetic technologies that promise to solve global problems of disease and malnutrition, it is important to remember the legacy of eugenics: in the name of "human betterment," scientific ideas and practices can be used to promote and reproduce extraordinary inequalities.


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Rance Kooken - 8/8/2009

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger also started the Negro Project. The Negro Project sought to curtail reproduction among "inferior" stocks of the black population.

A disproportionate number of black babies are aborted each year.

Eugenics (and evil) are alive and well.

John NMI Handley - 9/7/2007

No,youre likley not a Nazi or any other inflamatory name you may care to call.
Youre simply like most people today,so used to the quick and easy sounding solution to complex problems.
So,called "Normal people" have children with developmental handicaps. Should they be sterlized because they have been proven to produce defective children ?

What about stroke victims ?..or Alzheimers sufferers ? or schzophrenics ? They may cease to function as they once did. Are they now defective ? Dont they deserve treatment ?

I share your frustration with "bad parents" of all stripes. The (sadly imperfect)answer is intervention.

We are all better served by a society
that values all lives and promotes each to achieve as much as they can.
Not one whose misfits are distroyed.

Michael Anthony Mcloughlin - 5/23/2004

It is the best kept secret in the world. It affects almost the entire population of the earth, yet hardly anyone has ever heard the word EUGENICS never mind know what it is all about.

Now read the truth, "And the Truth shall set you free".

Eugenics And You -

God bless all who read these words,

James Milton Joy - 2/13/2004

Margaret Sanger was a member of the American Eugenics Society and wrote several books about her beliefs in Eugenics. Two of these are downloadable on line at

"There is but one practical and feasible program in handling the great problem of the feeble-minded. That is as the beest authorities are agreed, to prevent the birth of those who would transmit imbecility, to their descendents.... that fertile parent of degeneracy, crime and pauperism. ... Modern studies indicate that insanity, epilepsy, criminality, prostitution, pauperism, and mental defect are all organically bound up together and that the least intelligent and the thoroughly degenerate classes in every community are the most prolific.

the emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately. Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.

"Birth control which has been criticized as negative and destructive, ir really the greatest and most truly eugenic method, and its adoption as a part of the program of Eugenics would immediately give a concrete and realistic power to that science...Birth control has been accepted by the most clear thinking and far seeing Eugenists as the most constructive and necessary of the means of racial health.
Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization

AW - 1/1/2004

Daniel Kevles reports that afterwards Pennypacker addressed an angry crowd: "Gentlemen, gentlemen! You forget you owe me a vote of thanks. Didn't I veto the bill for the castration of idiots?"

AW - 1/1/2004

The first state to introduce sterilization legislation was Pennsylvania in 1905, but it was vetoed by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker, seemingly with a four decade foresight. Quoting the text of the veto as reprinted in Henry H. Laughlin's 'Eugenical sterilization in the United States' (Chicago: Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago, 1922), on page 35:

I return herewith, without my approval Senate Bill No. 35, entitled "An Act for the prevention of idiocy."
This bill has what may be called with propriety an attractive title. If idiocy could be prevented by an act of assembly, we may be quite sure that such an act would have long been passed and approved in this state, and that such laws would have been enacted in all civilized countries. The subject of the act is not the prevention of idiocy, but it is to provide that in every institution in the state, entrusted with the care of idiots and imbecile children, a neurologist, a surgeon, and physician shall be authorized to perform an operation upon the inmates "for the prevention of procreation.." What is the nature of the operation is not described but it is such an operation as they shall decide to be "safest and most effective." It is plain that the safest and most effective preventing procreation would be to cut the heads off the inmates, and such authority is given by the bill to this staff of scientific experts. It is not probable that they would resort to this means for the prevention of procreation, but it is probable that they would endeavor to destroy some part of the human organism. Scientists, like all other men whose experiences have been limited to one pursuit, and whose minds have been developed in a particular direction, sometimes need to be restrained. Men of high scientific attainments are prone, in their love for technique, to lose sight of broad principles outside of their domain of thought. A surgeon may possible be so eager to advance in skill as to be forgetful of the danger to his patient. Anatomists may be willing to gather information by the infliction of pain and suffering upon helpless creatures, although a higher standard of conduct would teach them that it is far better for humanity to bear its own ills than to escape them by knowledge only secured through cruelty to other creatures. This bill, whatever good might possibly result from it if its provisions should become a law, violates the principles of ethics. These feeble-minded and imbecile children have been entrusted to the institutions by their parents or guardians for the purpose of training and instruction. It is proposed to experiment upon them, not for their instruction, but in order to help society in the future. It is to be done without their consent, which they cannot give, and without the consent of their parents or guardians, who are responsible for their welfare. It would be in contravention of the laws which have been enacted for the establishment of these institutions. These laws have in contemplation the training and the instruction of the children. This bill assumes that they cannot be so instructed and trained. Moreover, the course it is proposed to pursue would have a tendency to prevent such training and instruction. Everyone knows, whether he be a scientist or an ordinary observer, that to destroy virility is to lessen the capacity, the energy and the spirit which lead to effort. The bill is, furthermore, illogical in its thought. Idiocy will not be prevented by the prevention of procreation among these inmates. This mental condition is due to causes many of which are entirely beyond our knowledge. It existed long before there were ever such inmates of such institutions. If this plan is to be adopted, to make it effective it should be carried into operation in the world at large, and not in institutions where the inmates are watched by nurses, kept separate, and have all the care which is likely to rendered procreation there very rare, if not altogether impossible. In one of these institutions, I am reliably informed, there have only been three births in ten years. A great objection is that the bill would encourage experimentation upon living animals, and would be the beginning of experimentation upon living human beings, leading logically to results which can be readily forecasted. The chief physician, in charge at Elwyn, has candidly told us, in an article recently published upon "Heredity," that "Studies in heredity tend to emphasize the wisdom of those ancient peoples who taught that the healthful development of the individual and the elimination of the weakling was the truest patriotism -- springing from an abiding sense of the fulfillment of a duty to the state."
To permit such an operation would be to inflict cruelty upon a helpless class in the community which the state has undertaken to protect. However skillfully performed, it would at times lead to peritonitis, blood poisoning, lockjaw and death.
For these reasons the bill is not approved.
Governor of Pennsylvania

AW - 1/1/2004

He's probably just ignorant of it. I'm confused by your wording "as a brutal supression of *appeals* for gay rights" -- its clear that in many states sterilization (and castration) of homosexuals took place as it was viewed as a mental (and moral) disease, but I don't know what that has to do with appeals for gay rights (since they took place before 'gay rights' was a coherent political position). In California though these were not motivations in the majority of the cases.

The author is missing a few others pieces of information as well but it overall the article does try to cover its bases. More is known about the role of gender and race in determination of sterilization rates in California than he lets on; someone (Judith Grether?) did a great sociology dissertation on just that topic in 1986. Her basic conclusions were that women were sterilized more than men, if I recall (something that the book "Building a Better Race" by Wendy Kline recently published looks into in depth), but that race played a minimal role (mainly because the vast majority of those in state institutions in California were white anyways), with all sorts of fancy chi-squared equations and things like that.

AW - 1/1/2004

Butler published a number of things like this in the Journal of State Medicine, Journal of Mental Deficiency, and other outlets in the 1930s when he was most intimately working with Paul Popenoe.

Butler is probably the most important sterilizer in California, not just because of the high number of patients sterilized at Sonoma State Home, but because he was also one of the longest tenured superintendents in the entire California state system (1918-1949). His importance becomes further underscored when it is noted that by the 1950s, when sterilization stopped in the state, way over half of those sterilized were mentally retarded, even though there were five mentally ill patients for every mentally retarded one in the system at that time. 30% of all of the sterilizations in the state took place at Sonoma during Butler's tenure (around 5,000), which more than took place in any single state with the exception of North Carolina and Virginia. He is a complex figure though, more complex than this one essay of his from the 1930s lets on.

bob - 10/30/2003


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Tony Baker - 9/21/2003

I have lost track of Any LaPan, probably the First and Only one, when I moved from Westlake Village, CA to Pennsylvania and then North Carolina. I last heard from Amy via a friend who relyaed my e mail to me while I had a long stay in hospital. She was about to be married to someone else named Tony, I believe, although I was too sick to recall exactly what the news was.

Anyway, I am alive and once again fairly well, and would like to relay my apologies, congratulations, and good wishes.

My address is 741-303 Bishops Park, Raleigh, NC 27605. My wife's name is Harriet. My fone is 919.821.9024.

Nicole - 9/11/2003

I was interested in knowing where this letter from Butler was obtained and the date of the letter.

Nicole - 9/11/2003

I was interested in knowing where this letter from Butler was obtained and the date of the letter.

Twin Ruler - 8/29/2003

This makes mush out of the belief that the Germans are somehow "Uniquely Evil". And, that is what the Jewish Media, in their veiled way are saying, when they claim that the Holocaust was "Uniquely Evil". Great Britain, the United States, and other AngloSaxon Nations had similiar Eugenical Beliefs back then. And also, though I never tire of pointing this out, more people died in the Gulag then in all of the Nazi Concentration Camps put together!

MG - 8/7/2003

This essay is entirely silent on the threat of sterilization as a brutal suppression of appeals for gay rights. The author is either ignorant or this history, or has chosen himself to suppress it.

Zman - 7/21/2003


Medical Director and Superintendent, Sonoma State Home
Eldridge, California
Twenty-five years' experience in sterilization of mental defectives in
California has confirmed my faith in the universal need of a law permit
ting sterilization.
California was the second state in the Union to pass a sterilization
law. The first was Indiana in 1907, followed by California in 1909. The
law during the early period of its existence was somewhat inadequate
because of its wording and it was not until 1917 that it was placed on a
more satisfactory basis. It was not until I took over the superintendency
of the Sonoma State Home in April, 1918, however, that fuller use was
made of the sterilization statute. Prior to that time 12 patients had been
sterilized. This survey relates to our experience with 4,310 sterilized
patients of whom 1,865 were males and 2,445 were female, for the 25-year
period, 1919 to 1943.
All but 11 of the patients were those who were committed to the
institution under the law. The 11 were patients admitted to the home
without commitment during the years 1923 to 1926, when we took advantage
of an old law which gave the superintendent the supposed right to
sterilize without commitment. The Attorney General, however, advised
against the practice of sterilization under the provisions of such a law
and the practice stopped. Thus, although 31 cases were admitted to the
institution since 1941 under a voluntary act, the sterilization statute is
not considered applicable to them.
More than 80 percent of the 4,310 patients who were sterilized were
admitted for care and training, sterilization, sex difficulties, custodial
care general maladjustment, i.e., burglary, theft, sex, forgery, truancy
from school and for epilepsy.
Although there is authority to sterilize committed cases without the
consent of the patient, the relative, or the guardian, it is the practice not
10 operate without such consent in writing from the responsible relative
or guardian. No patient is sterilized unless it is agreed upon by the
majority of the staff and has the written approval of the Director of
Mental Hygiene.
As you probably know, the surgical technique in quite simple. Our
policy is to do a vasectomy in the male by resecting a small portion of the
vas deferens. In the female it is more of a major operation but still not
hazardous. After opening the abdomen a small portion of the Fallopian
tube is resected from the uterine cornu. A ligature is placed on each severed
end of the tube, the uterine muscle is sutured, and the abdomen is
closed in the usual way. The male is usually up and about on the same or
next day. The female as a rule is up by the tenth day, out of the hospital
not later than the fourteenth day, and able to perform her routine functions
by the third or fourth week. Other surgery is performed as indicated while
the abdomen is open.
Out of the 4,310 cases operated on there were seven deaths, but none
of these could be traced directly to the operation. We consider this quite
low, in view of the type of patient operated on. All of the operations were
performed by a surgeon from the institution staff. In fact, the majority of
the first half of this series were operated on by the writer.
The age range of the males was from 11 to 47 years; the age range
of the females was 11 to 44. The mean of the age for both sexes was 20
The minimum I.Q. of the male patients sterilized was 19, the mean
was 64.3, and the maximum was 122. The male with the maximum I.Q.
was an epileptic. The minimum I.Q. for the female was 11, the maximum
was 106, and the mean was 57.7. Of the sterilized males, 60.6 percent were
found in the moron class while 54.7 percent of the females fell in this
class. The difference in the mean I.Q. between the males and the females
may be accounted for by the fact that more low grade females are steri
lized because they require protection, whereas the low grade male is
not the aggressor and does not have sufficient intelligence to have sex
The minimum length of stay for the male patients sterilized was one
month; the maximum was 56 years, 6' months. The mean length of stay
was 5 years, 6 months. The length of stay of the female patients ranged
from one month to 45 years with a mean period of stay of 4 years, 3
months. The average length of stay for both sexes was 5 years.
A total of 171 males epileptics were sterilized, 140 of which had an
I.Q. below 90 and 31 had an I.Q. above 90. A total of 199 female epileptic
patients were sterilized, 184 of which had an I.Q. below 90 and 15 possessed
I.Q.'s above 90. The number of epileptics sterilized totaled 370 for
both sexes or 8.5 percent of the 4,310 cases sterilized.
It has been the practice for the institution to sterilize epileptics even
when normal intellectually. This is considered justifiable because of the
heredity factors involved and because of their frequent inability to care
for their offspring.
Epileptics at the institution comprised 16:7 percent of the total
population on December 31, 1943, the end of the survey period.
Sterilizations have been performed on three Mongolian patients and
only on the insistence of the patient's parents. While we may assume that
as long as any female menstruates she may become pregnant, in all of
our studies at autopsies on the Mongolian type, which totaled 61 for the
past 10 years, it was found without exception that the reproductive
organs of these patients were of the infantile type and it was felt that
they-could probably not have become pregnant: Cases of pregnancy in
Mongols have been reported elsewhere but never verified in our practice.
The Mongolian type of patient is a very poor surgical risk for any
kind of operation because of defective hearts and general weakness of the
circulatory system and lungs. It is for the above reason that we do not
generally sterilize such individuals.
Legislation was passed in 1939 permitting the commitment of defective
or psychopathic delinquents. From March 1, 1941, to March 1, 1944,
65 such eases have been committed to the Sonoma State Home. Of this
number three male and three female patients have been sterilized. Their
I.Q.'s range from 73 to 101 and their chronological ages compared with
those of the other patients.
This group of cases is not included in our series of 4,310. We believe
that sterilization is indicated for a number of such patients but have only
begun sterilizing them during the past few months following the effective
date of a law in 1943 permitting such sterilization.
Of all the male patients sterilized at the conclusion of our period of
survey, 856 were discharged, 22 had died, 133 were transferred to other
institutions, and 784 remained on the records of the institution. The
Status of the female patients sterilized at the conclusion of the period of,
the survey was 1,313 discharged, 91 dead, 153 transferred, and 888 still
on the records of the institution.
Of the 784 male patients on the institution's records at the conclusion
of the survey, 243 were paroled, 57 were on escape, and 484 were in
residence. Of the 888 female patients on the records of the home, 295 were
paroled, 17 were on escape, and 576 were in residence. Of the total number
sterilized, 1,060, or 25 percent, remained in the institution.
The question might be asked as to why such a large number of sterilized
patients remained in the institution. There are several reasons.
Many of the patients remaining in the institution are occasionally released
for home visits and need the protection of sterilization. It in also consid-
ered advisable for patients who remain within the institution because Of
the freedom which they are allowed.
For a 10-year period, 1934 to 1943, inclusive, there was a total of 249
marriages of patients who were sterilized. A survey of the last three years
of this period shows that there were 98 marriages or 39 percent of the
total. Of these marriages, 63 percent were satisfactory, with the female
showing a satisfactory adjustment in 75.3 percent of their marriages, and
the males with 52 percent.
Six hundred of the female patients gave birth to 1,730 children prior
to admission and sterilization, averaging almost three children for each
patient. There were 1,1.43 legitimate children as compared to 587 who
were considered illegitimate, or a ratio of approximately two to one. The
14 males who had children prior to sterilization reproduced 35 children,
31 of whom were legitimate and four illegitimate. These average 2.5
children for each father.
During the 25-year period, 4;135 patients have been discharged from
the records of the institution. Of this number 2,169, or 52.4 percent, were
sterilized. The remaining patients were permitted to leave the institution
without sterilization for such reasons as being past child bearing age,
religious objection of relative, low mentality, and early escape from the
A recent study of our records revealed 1,100 individuals who were
related committed to the institution. This included 134 mothers and their
234 children. The number of children per mother varied from one to six
as follows: 82 mothers with one child each, 32 mothers with two children
each, 12 mothers with 3 children each, 5 mothers with 4 children each,
4 mothers with 5 children each, one mother with 6- children.
The I.Q. range of the mothers was from 24 to 104 with 55.2 percent
in the moron and imbecile level (39.5 percent morons, 15.7 percent imbeciles.
One family of three generations was in the institution at the same
There were 650 siblings ranging from one to five members in a family.
Eighteen other relatives were found at the institution related to the
siblings. A group of 78 first cousins was also found at the institution. No
record of more distant relatives was kept.
From the study of the 1,100 relatives in the institution 33.33 percent
of our present resident population) it is rather apparent why we adopted
sterilization in California in 1918 and have been carrying out this work
ever since.
While we have sterilized 4,310 cases at Sonoma in the 25 years,
Pacific Colony, our sister institution in Southern California, has sterilized
to January 1, 1944, 1,374 cases. That institution was opened in 1927 and
started sterilizing shortly thereafter The mental hospitals up to June 30,
1943, have sterilized 10,463, or a grand total of 16,120 sterilized in Cali
fornia institutions since the law went into effect to June 30, 1943. There
wits a total of 38,087 sterilizations in the entire United States up to January 1,
which is the last available record. The number in California
to January 1, 1942, represents 39.9 percent of the operations performed
in the United States. There are 30 other states and 11 foreign countries
having such sterilization laws on their books.
One of the questions frequently asked is: "Does not sterilization
tend to increase promiscuity, venereal disease and sex delinquency?"
Our answer from our experience over all these years is definitely "no."
This is borne out by an independent survey made by the Human Betterment
Foundation of Pasadena in 1927 and again in 1938. The fear of
contracting a venereal disease or bearing children, legitimate or other
wise, has no deterring effect on the mentally deficient.
May I quote from the Gosney survey of 1938
"Among 425 feeble-minded girls committed to California institutions,
9 out of every 12 had been sex delinquents. After commitment, sterilization
and return to the community on parole, only 1 out
of every 12 was a sex delinquent."
We still say at Sonoma that a similar ratio obtains at this time even
t though delinquency generally is on the increase throughout the country.
The success of paroling patients is manifested financially. Of the 786 on
parole 250 are out on what we term industrial parole. The savings in the
banks of California of this number amounts to $36,946.70 in January,
19 44.
For the furtherance of sterilization in California and other states
I strongly recommend extramural laws permitting legal sterilization of
bona fide cases by private surgeons in private or general hospitals similar
to other types of surgery, thereby avoiding the necessity of so-called
.I stigma of commitment to an institution. Furthermore, commitment raises
a it question of competence in most cases.
()f the total cases sterilized by us, about 21 percent were sent in
chiefly ill fly for this operation. Many more would, no doubt, have been operated
on privately had there been a law permitting it. It is true there are thou
sands of cases being sterilized yearly by private surgeons but without
a law for or against it. Therefore, it would appear best that extramural
sterilization be legalized. Since practically all institutions in the country
are extremely overcrowded, the relief by sterilization within and without
would help the situation materially. I feel it is unfair to keep anyone in
list institution, regardless of how well managed, provided satisfactory
I'll re, t training, and education can be furnished by the community. Of the
1,17:1 patients who have been discharged in the past 25 years, I feel sure
I the vast. majority are happier and better off in many ways than if kept in
+ lm institution There are several reasons these discharged patients are
happier because they have been sterilized. They tend to marry on their
own mental level and with no children both may assist financially. The
defective girl does not go through the stress of pregnancy and the couple
do still have the worry or care of offspring.
The savings of maintenance at $300 per capita per year (n approximately $400 for the 2,169 paroled patients would amount $650,700 annually.
Most- of our cases are supervised for approximately three years at a per capita cost of $25 per year. Of course, we cannot always weight human care in dollars and cents.
Our readmissions averaged 20 per year for the past five years, thus further indicating that institutional treatment with reasonable good supervision while on parole puts practically all of these cases in a positio
to carry on without having to be recommitted.
I feel that with a well rounded out mental hygiene program, a state law controlling the mentally deficient, and with an extended sterilization program within as well as without the institutions, we, in time, will not
need to institutionalize in the same ratio as at present.

Elaine B - 7/19/2003

Guess people that share your opinion should be sterilized.

Elaine B - 7/19/2003

Sanger most certainly was a eugenicist. Her voluminous correspondence is collected in two places: the Library of Congress and Smith College's Sophia Smith Collection in Northampton, MA. In addition, the archivists connected with the latter collection, working out of New York University, have gathered together her scattered letters and writings from other manuscript collections around the world into a third, microfilmed collection, The Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition: Collected Documents Series. You can check out

In fact, there is a historical relation between the birth control and the eugenics movements in America. But scholars who focus on the birth-control movement have downplayed the eugenic involvement of contraception activists, especially Margaret Sanger.

See also the American Philosophical Society's webiste:

Maria Kennedy - 7/17/2003

I'm a reporter working on a story and am wondering if I can get a hold of Elaine B who posted on July 10. I'm hoping I can use her quote re: PP


AW - 7/17/2003

Sanger certainly road the eugenics bandwagon (she appointed Lothrop Stoddard of all people as one of her chief officiers for christsakes, and authored many papers extolling the virtues of eugenics and population control, go look them up), but was of course (like most historical figures, even our friend Mr. F.O. Butler above) more nuanced than that. And whatever bedfellows or chic philosophy Sanger the individual had at the time, it hardly has much to do with the modern discussion of abortion rights.

And Mr.S -- you CAN sterilize someone today, but the laws have been raised to federal informed consent standards since the 1960s and 1970s.

S - 7/16/2003

If I had a child who was mentally handicapped or criminally insane, I would hope that sterilization would be available. Why have children they they cannot adquately care for?

At one time, at one time a place in California was offering to pay drug addicted women to be sterilized. Many of these women accepted the money. Many of these women had multiple children from different fathers. Many of these babies were born addicted and brain injured as a result of drug addiction. Many have AIDS.

Of course all the PC people, bleeding hearts came out of the woodwork and said that it was criminal because most of the sterialized people just wanted the money for drugs and were unable to make an informed decision. Also the majority were poor and non-white, so it must be a racist policy and a class war thing.

Well, gee whiz. These prospective parents can't even think straight. Let's condemn even more children to a drug addicted birth and a misreable life of drugs and crime. Let's make it so more children are born into a hellish life. Let's make it so another generation goes on welfare or reverts to crime.

Also, people with a history of abusing children should NEVER be allowed to have more children and should lose the ones they have.

Of course now you all think I'm some Nazi. Nope, can't say that I am fascist in the least. I am very liberal in some ways. Mostly I'm a libertaian and hate it when the state has control of too much. Actually, I just love child and worked very hard to be in a position where I could fiscally, physically, emotionally and mentally care for a child. I think it should be voluntary. When a person is incapacitated, I think the guardian should be able to make the decision.

I once saw a movie called "Parenthood." In it was a quote:
"You have to have a licence to drive a car. You even have to have a licence to catch a fish, but any butt reeming a**hole can have a kid."

Oh yes, I believe in voluntary euthanazia too. If I'm so sick I can't stand life anymore, what right does the state have to keep me living against my will?

JSN - 7/13/2003

The explanation for why we should not kill the most enfeebled among us, for any reason, including efficiency, might just well be the most complicated argument in the world.

Briefly here; to know us, we have to know us.

The difference that exists between pro-choice and State Executed Sterilizations, however, should be clear, even to the author of an article like this one.

JSN - 7/13/2003

Sanger was not a eugenicist.

Take a look at BOTH sides of something, ok?

thank you.

Tony Platt - 7/13/2003

Re the comments on birth control -- I think there was a struggle within the birth control movement between women-centered reformers and the eugenics crowd. Linda Gordon's book on the birth control movement (recently reissued with new chapters and changes) is the best discussion of the topic. Birth control -- like sterilization -- can be used in women's interests or against poor women.

Elaine B - 7/10/2003

Margaret Sanger, a eugenist supporter founded The Birth Control League which is today's Planned Parenthood. The name was changed after the Nazi's were so enthralled with Margaret's ideas but gee, they lost the war. Planned Parentood does not and will not mention anything about their founder as a eugenist. If she were alive today, she would be thrilled that her eugenics policies are thriving. Blacks, Hispanics and poor women are the major groups aborting their children.

Genetics and stem cell research are actually newer forms of eugenics so the State of California can apologize all it wants for their past. People today are being duped just as easily and forcefully as they did in the early part of last century.

donald k pickens - 7/9/2003

Good comments but the adition of a bibliography would help the text see In the Name of Eugenics and Eugenics and the Progressives.

Alec Lloyd - 7/8/2003

Was not Planned Parenthood founded with a view to support eugenics and prevent the "lesser breeds" from reproducing?

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