Compulsory Sterilization, State by State

America's ugly history of eugenics.


Lutz Kaelber, a sociologist at the University of Vermont, has put together an impressive compendium of data on the eugenics programs of the 20th century, showing the time period that each state sterilized citizens, the approximate number of people who went under the knife, and other relevant information. Kaelber's page on North Carolina, for instance—a state in the news earlier this year when it finally compensated some of the program's victims—estimates that the authorities there did more than 7,600 of the surgeries from 1929 through 1973. The page also describes the places that either performed the operations or served as "feeder institutions" for the surgeons ("The Stonewall Jackson Training School was founded in 1907 and was North Carolina's first juvenile detention facility") and details some of the cases. For example:

Elaine Riddick…had been sterilized at the age of 14 by a state order in North Carolina in 1968 after giving birth to a baby after being raped. When she was operated on she was not informed that she was being sterilized. She only discovered this years later when she was trying to get pregnant with her husband. She was part of the lower class and the consent form had been signed by her illiterate grandmother and neglectful father.

There is a great deal of variety among the states; some, such as Arkansas, avoided compulsory sterilizations altogether. The whole site is worth exploring.

Elsewhere at Reason: We've published several pieces on these programs over the years, including this article by Nick Gillespie and this one by yrs. truly.