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.
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.
On March 28, 1978, in Stump v. Sparkman, hereafter Stump, the United States Supreme Court held, in a five-to-three decision, that judges have absolute immunity from lawsuits involving any harm their judicial decisions cause. Linda Sparkman, who was unknowingly sterilized when she was fifteen years old in 1971, sued Harold Stump, the county circuit court judge who signed the petition to allow Sparkman’s mother to have her sterilized. Sparkman’s mother stated to Stump that she wanted her daughter sterilized because of Sparkman’s alleged mental deficiencies and sexual promiscuity. Sparkman argued that Stump violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process because nobody informed her about the nature of the procedure and because Stump did not perform typical court proceedings. Stump argued that, because he was acting within his role as a judge, the doctrine of judicial immunity prevented his liability from lawsuit. Stump strengthened the impunity with which judges can act, including acts found to be unconstitutional, regardless of any rights upon which such actions may infringe.
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.
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.