Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a non-profit research institution that specializes in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, quantitative biology, and genomics. The organization is located on the shores of Cold Spring Harbor in Laurel Hollow, New York. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established the CSHL in 1890, to provide scientists with facilities to research Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. The first mission of CSHL was biological science education. Since 1998, CSHL has housed the Watson School of Biological Sciences, a PhD program dedicated to scientific research. Nobel Laureates who conducted experiments at the CSHL include Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Sydney Brenner. Throughout its history, researchers at CSHL have studied embryology, reproductive medicine, and genetics.

Eugenical Sterilization in the United States is a 1922 book in which author Harry H. Laughlin argues for the necessity of compulsory sterilization in the United States based on the principles of eugenics. The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century in the US focused on altering the genetic makeup of the US population by regulating immigration and sterilization, and by discouraging interracial procreation, then called miscegenation. Published in December 1922 by the Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, the book reports Laughlin's analysis of how states could benefit from sterilizing their mentally disabled residents, and it reprinted his model sterilization law, which he encouraged state governments to adopt. Laughlin's model sterilization law stressed the need for the sterilization of populations that Laughlin deemed inadequate for reasons ranging from physical appearance to socioeconomic status. The document influenced twentieth century legislation in the US about reproduction and compulsory sterilization.

The American Eugenics Society (AES) was established in the US by Madison Grant, Harry H. Laughlin, Henry Crampton, Irving Fisher, and Henry F. Osborn in 1926 to promote eugenics education programs for the US public. The AES described eugenics as the study of improving the genetic composition of humans through controlled reproduction of different races and classes of people. The AES aided smaller eugenic efforts such as the Galton Society in New York, New York, and the Race Betterment Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, and it influenced eugenic policy set by the US Supreme Court in cases including Buck v. Bell (1927) and Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942). The AES was renamed the Society for the Study of Social Biology in 1972.

Harry Hamilton Laughlin helped lead the eugenics movement in the United States during the early twentieth century. The US eugenics movement of the early twentieth century sought to reform the genetic composition of the United States population through sterilization and other restrictive reproductive measures. Laughlin worked as superintendent and assistant director of the Eugenics Research Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, alongside director Charles Davenport. During Laughlin's career at the ERO, Laughlin studied human familial ancestry, called pedigrees, and in 1922 published the book Eugenical Sterilization in the United States, which influenced sterilization laws in multiple states. Laughlin's support of compulsory sterilization to control the reproductive capacity of entire populations influenced the history of eugenics and reproductive medicine.

In 1942, the United States Supreme Court Case of Skinner v. Oklahoma ruled that states could not legally sterilize those inmates of prisons deemed habitual criminals. Skinner v. Oklahoma was about the case of Jack Skinner, an inmate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, who was subject to sterilization under the Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act of 1935. The case, decided on 1 June 1942, determined that state laws were unconstitutional if those laws enabled states to forcibly sterilize inmates deemed to be habitual criminals. Such laws violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Skinner v. Oklahoma decision also reflected tensions in US eugenic policies when juxtaposed against similar policies of the Nazi regime in Europe, especially with regard to sterilization measures.

Subscribe to Rachel Gur-Arie