David Starr Jordan studied fish and promoted eugenics in the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his work, he embraced Charles Darwin s theory of evolution and described the importance of embryology in tracing phylogenic relationships. In 1891, he became the president of Stanford University in Stanford, California. Jordan condemned war and promoted conservationist causes for the California wilderness, and he advocated for the eugenic sterilization of thousands of Americans. Like many American eugenicists of the early twentieth century, Jordan combined ideas of Mendelian genetics and of Darwinian natural selection to form a basis for limiting or encouraging reproduction in certain individuals and groups based on their perceived hereditary fitness. Like other eugenicists, Jordan s attempt to control the reproductive fate of entire populations marked an episode in the history of reproduction and biology in which its concepts increasingly influenced the social and cultural contexts.
In 1928 Ezra Seymour Gosney founded the non-profit Human Betterment Foundation (HBF) in Pasadena, California to support the research and publication of the personal and social effects of eugenic sterilizations carried out in California. Led by director Gosney and secretary Paul Popenoe, the HBF collected data on thousands of individuals in California who had been involuntarily sterilized under a California state law enacted in 1909. The Foundation's assets were liquidated following Gosney's death in 1942. In 1943, Gosney's daughter donated the remaining assets to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California to establish the Gosney research fund for biological research. Between 1928 and 1942, the HBF published extensively on what they believed to be the benefits of sterilization to both patient and society. The HBF and its members existed within the larger context of the American eugenics movement and scientific institutions, including the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, which bolstered the movement's goals of the control of human reproduction and human heredity. Moreover, the model sterilization legislation written by the HBF was disseminated throughout the world to eugenics enthusiasts eager to pass laws limiting the reproduction of people they considered to be unfit.
In 1914, Margaret Sanger published “Family Limitations,” a pamphlet describing six different types of contraceptive methods. At the time Sanger published the pamphlet, the federal Comstock Act of 1873 had made distributing contraceptive and abortion information through the US postal service illegal. The Comstock Act classified contraceptive information as obscene and limited the amount of information available to individuals about preventing pregnancies. In 1915, Sanger’s husband was charged with violating the Comstock Act for distributing “Family Limitations” and was sent to jail for 30 days. The case sparked many birth control activists to lobby for the repeal of the Comstock Act. By inciting controversy during a time when the Comstock Act limited contraception access, Sanger’s pamphlet “Family Limitations” increased women’s knowledge about various methods of preventing pregnancy.
Norman Haire was a physician who advocated for eugenics, which is the betterment of human population by promoting positive traits, and birth control rights in the twentieth century in both Australia and the UK. In the UK, Haire joined the Malthusian League, a contraception advocacy organization, and helped the League open the first physician-supervised birth control clinic, called Walworth Women’s Welfare Centre in London, England. Throughout his life, Haire worked closely with other well-known contraception and women’s rights advocates in the early 1900s including Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, and Havelock Ellis. Haire was also known for his work on sexual rejuvenation, an early twentieth century theory that the male sexual appetite could be restored through vasectomies and hormonal injections. Haire advocated for birth control rights through his practice, conference lectures, radio debates, and published work. His activism in the fields of eugenics, contraception, and sexual reform promoted the emergence of more liberal attitudes towards sex and controlled reproduction and in the twentieth century.
Tomorrow's Children is a film that tells the story of Alice Mason, a young woman whom the US government forcibly sterilizes because she comes from a family with a history of alcoholism, mental illnesses, and physical disabilities, traits that they considered biologically determined and inferior. The film, released in 1934, was directed by Crane Wilbur, produced by Bryan Foy, written by Wilbur and Wallace Thurman, and released by Foy Productions Ltd. Tomorrow's Children criticized forced sterilization and the eugenics movement in the United States in addition to protesting film censorship regulations in the early 1900s.
In 1917 the Oregon State Legislature, in Salem, Oregon, passed a bill titled, 'To Prevent Procreation of Certain Classes in Oregon.' Passage of the bill created the Oregon State Board of Eugenics, an organization that presided over the forced sterilization of more than 2,600 Oregon residents from 1917 to 1981. In 1983, Legislation abolished the State Board of Eugenics, by that time called the Oregon State Board of Social Protection. For more than seventy years, the State Board was involved in the US eugenics movement, using theories partly constructed from genetics to control the reproductive health of citizens.
In 1927, the US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell set the legal precedent that states may sterilize inmates of public institutions because the court argued that imbecility, epilepsy, and feeblemindedness are hereditary, and that the inmates should be prevented from passing these defects to the next generation. On 2 May 1927, in an eight to one decision, the US Supreme Court ordered that Carrie Buck, feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded mother and herself the mother of a feebleminded child, be sterilized under the 1924 Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. Buck v. Bell determined that compulsory sterilization laws did not violate due process awarded by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It also bolstered the American eugenics movement and established legal authority for sterilizing more than 60,000 US citizens in over thirty states, until most of the practices ended in the 1970s.