Charles Benedict Davenport, Madison Grant, and Henry Fairfield Osborn founded the Galton Society for the Study of the Origin and Evolution of Man, or the Galton Society, in New York City, New York, in 1918. The Galton Society was a scientific society that promoted the study of humans in terms of race in service to the US eugenics movement. The Galton Society was named in honor of Francis Galton who first coined the term eugenics in 1883. Galton and other eugenics proponents claimed that the human species could improve through selective breeding that restricted who could have children. Some of the society members were scientists from a wide range of disciplines who supported the now disproven notion that fundamental biological differences exist between races that may justify the control of human reproduction. The Galton Society drew on the scientific credibility and influence of its members to advocate for eugenics programs, such as immigration restriction laws, in the US.
Madison Grant was a lawyer and wildlife conservationist who advocated for eugenics policies in the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race; or, The Racial Basis of European History, Grant argued that what he called the Nordic race, which originated from northwest Europe, was biologically and culturally superior to all other people, including other Europeans. Grant drew from his now-discredited claims to lobby for laws in the US that restricted immigration, legalized sterilizing people against their will, and prohibited interracial marriage. Adolf Hitler referred to Grant’s book as his Bible and it was listed during the Nuremberg Trials in the late 1940s as evidence that eugenics did not solely originate in Germany. Grant’s advocacy of eugenics shaped policy that restricted reproductive freedom and immigration in the US and helped legitimize genocide in Europe.
In 1916, eugenicist Madison Grant published the book The Passing of the Great Race; or The Racial Basis of European History, hereafter The Passing of the Great Race, where he claimed that northern Europeans, or Nordics, are biologically and culturally superior to the rest of humanity. Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York City, New York, published the volume. Grant claimed that the Nordic race was at risk of extinction and advocated for the creation of laws in the US to decrease the population of people he considered inferior. According to Grant’s biographer Jonathan Spiro, Grant’s book synthesized a range of racist and pseudoscientific eugenics claims in prose that was accessible to the public. In the US, The Passing of the Great Race was praised by politicians, including former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, and cited as justification for laws that restricted immigration based on ethnicity and nationality. Adolf Hitler referred to The Passing of the Great Race as his Bible, and during the Nuremberg Trials in the 1940s, Nazi leaders who were prosecuted for war crimes committed during World War II presented the book as evidence that eugenics did not solely originate in Germany but rather had deep roots in the United States.
The International Eugenics Congresses consisted of three scientific meetings held in London, England, in 1912 and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, in 1921 and 1932. Leonard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, Henry Fairfield Osborn, the President of the American Museum of Natural History, and Charles Benedict Davenport, founder of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York City presided over the Congresses. Scientists presented research in genetics and shared ideas for putting eugenics into practice, such as preventing people they considered inferior from reproducing through forced sterilization. The three International Eugenics Congresses increased scientific and public support of the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, and established organizations to pursue eugenics agendas that contributed to the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people in the US and Nazi Germany.
Harry Clay Sharp was a surgeon who performed one of the first recorded vasectomies with the purpose of sterilizing a patient. Sterilization is the practice that makes a person unable to reproduce, and vasectomy accomplishes that by severing the vasa deferentia, the sperm-carrying tubes in the male reproductive system. Historically, sterilization procedures have varied in techniques, goals, and risks, but Sharp’s method of vasectomy allowed restriction of a patient’s reproductive functions without significantly affecting other bodily functions. Historians have associated Sharp’s use of the procedure, primarily on prison inmates, with eugenics, a movement with the goal of bettering humans via selective reproductive practices. With vasectomy, Sharp was able to sterilize people whom he did not deem fit to reproduce. Beyond simply pushing forward a new surgical method of sterilization, Sharp’s political advocacy led to the use of his technique as a method of eugenicist control over human reproduction, especially in Indiana.
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.