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.

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.

A vasectomy is a surgery that works to inhibit reproduction by interrupting the passage of sperm through the vas deferens, a tube in the male reproductive system. The procedure is a method of inhibiting an individual’s ability to cause pregnancy through sexual intercourse without altering the other functions of the penis and testes. In the US, into the early 1900s, proponents of eugenics, the belief that human populations can be made better by selecting for so-called desirable traits, used the procedure to forcibly sterilize people whom they deemed undesirable. Despite its early associations with eugenics, physicians’ use of vasectomy eventually transitioned into an option for elective contraception. Even with the various shifts in motivation for performing vasectomies, as of 2023, patients have the choice to undergo a sterilization procedure if they want to restrict their own ability to have children.

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