Was there a eugenics movement in America? If you haven’t heard of eugenics it is the study or belief in the possibility of improving qualities of the human species or human population by discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesired traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics) Does this sound familiar?
Eugenics was a movement to improve the human species by controlling hereditary factors in mating. The eugenics movement began in the late 1800s in Britain. Francis Galton, an English scientist, coined the term in 1883 and founded the Eugenics Society of Great Britain in 1908. The American Eugenics Society was organized in 1926.
The origin of Eugenics in America started with Albert Ochsner, professor of surgery at the University of Illinois. In 1899 he published, Surgical Treatment of Habitual Criminals. His list of advantages of dealing with criminals using vasectomy was:
1. It would dispense with hereditary criminals from the father’s side.
2. Aside from being sterile the criminal is his normal self.
3. It would protect the community at large while not harming the criminal
4. The same treatment could reasonably be suggested for chronic inebriates, imbeciles, perverts and paupers.
Eugenics was accepted and procedures were carried out without any legal authority in the United Stated. The first state to introduce a compulsory sterilization bill was Michigan in 1897, and Indiana became the first state to enact sterilization legislation in 1907. In time 32 states had eugenics programs permitting sterilization of insane and feeble minded individuals and 12 states included sterilization of criminals. While California had the highest number of sterilizations, North Carolina’s eugenics program was the most aggressive of the those states. Over 60000 men were sterilized with vasectomy in the United States from 1909-1924. By the 1960’s, the eugenic sterilizations slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped as many state statues were overturned due to legal challenges.