10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century

Larry Holzwarth - March 3, 2018

Sir Francis Galton was a Victorian polymath and a cousin of Charles Darwin. A prolific writer, he produced over 350 books and academic papers over a lifetime which spanned 88 years, including the Victorian era. Among his many gifts to humanity, one finds the modern weather map, the Galton Whistle test for the measurement of hearing ability, the best technique for the proper brewing of tea (or so he claimed), and a method of classifying fingerprints, creating categories of types which helped lead to their full acceptance by courts of law. He also coined the word “eugenics” to define his theories on improving the human race through the use of selective breeding.

Eugenics found a following in Victorian England, which spread through Europe and across the Atlantic to the United States. It became highly politicized in America, with some groups designated as being less desired members of society which should be restricted from reproducing. Other groups were designated as being highly beneficial to the betterment of humanity and thus encouraged to reproduce. Several US states enacted and enforced sterilization laws. Not until the end of the Second World War did the practice of eugenics fall into widespread disfavor, and then only because of the argument by war criminals at Nuremberg and other trials claiming similarities between the Nazi eugenics programs and those of several other countries, including the United States.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
Sir Francis Galton coined the word eugenics and its theories gained widespread acceptance as a science in the early twentieth century. Wikimedia

Here are some examples of Eugenics programs in the United States which existed in the not-so-distant past.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
The Virginia Assembly passed the Virginia Sterilization Act as an emergency measure in response to the warnings of eugenicists. Wikimedia

The Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924

It was not the first legal action by a state to order the enforced sterilization of what the state deemed to be undesirables. Fifteen states preceded Virginia in enacting such laws. Virginia was the first to enact the law in recognition of what the legislature termed an “emergency existing” and the first to rigidly enforce the law. Between its enactment in 1924 and its withdrawal in 1974 more than 7,000 human beings were forcefully sterilized under the law. Virginia also established and enforced rigid requirements for marriage. An individual could be subject to forced sterilization for epilepsy under the law, and many were.

At the same time, the Virginia legislature passed the Sterilization Act it also passed the Racial Integrity Act, which expanded the state’s anti-miscegenation laws which had existed since Virginia’s colonial era. Using the theory of eugenics as justification, the legislature divided the population of the state into two races, white and colored, and forbade marriage between them. The American Indians residing in the state were classified as colored. The legislature adopted what was called the one drop rule, an allusion to one drop of blood, which stated that any trace of colored blood in a person’s ancestry rendered that person colored.

This posed a problem for many of the oldest Virginia families. Called the First Families of Virginia, many of these members of the social elite of the state and the several branches of their family trees could trace their ancestry back to Jamestown, and descent from the family of John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas. It was a sign of social standing and significance to be able to do so in Virginia. The legislature responded by amending the act to accommodate those claiming relationship to Pocahontas and other American Indians of colonial days to allow for those who could claim up to one-sixteenth Indian ancestry.

Eugenicists, who claimed as their motivation the improvement of the human race through implementing the studies of Darwin and Galton were unhappy with the exception to the Racial Integrity Act and worked over the years to tighten the restrictions it imposed. They also worked to enact local laws to tighten the enforcement of both acts. The remaining American Indians found that their population would be reduced simply by the classification of descendants as colored rather than as Native American.

Sterilization under the Racial Integrity Act was not authorized, but eugenicists who worked towards racial sterilization could and did use the Sterilization Act to accomplish that goal in some cases. The Sterilization Act authorized the mental health institutions to sterilize those deemed “feeble-minded” a deliberately vague term covering a broad category of persons who could be so designated. The Virginia registrar of statistics, Walter Plecker, in enforcing the Racial Integrity act in the 1930s, corresponded with Walter Gross, the director of the Bureau of Human Betterment and Eugenics in Nazi Germany, expressing a wish for stronger laws in Virginia.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
The Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, where Carrie Buck was sent for, among other false accusations, promiscuity. Wikimedia

Carrie Buck

Carrie Buck was a seventeen-year-old girl living in a foster home when she was raped, according to some, by a relative of her foster father. She had been out of school since completing the sixth grade, withdrawn by her foster father in order to have her work at home. When it became evident that she was pregnant as a result of the rape her foster father had her committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Madison Heights near Lynchburg. The grounds for her commitment included feeblemindedness and promiscuity.

Carrie delivered her baby in March 1924, and the infant girl was adopted by her former foster father, John Dobbs, after Carrie was declared incompetent to raise her. Carrie’s mother had been placed in the same facility as Carrie many years earlier – the reason she was raised in a foster home – and the officials at the Colony decided to use the Carrie Buck case to test the recently enacted Sterilization Act. The Colony superintendent, Albert Priddy, argued that since both Carrie and her mother, Emma Buck, were designated as feebleminded then any evidence of the same condition in Carrie’s daughter would establish the condition was hereditary.

Aubrey Strode, who had drafted the Sterilization Act, served as counsel for the Colony which argued for the sterilization of Carrie. She was represented by an attorney, Irving Whitehead, himself a eugenicist who offered a weak defense of his client. Harry H. Laughlin, one of America’s most noted eugenicists, provided a written deposition to the court in which he backed up Priddy’s testimony that Carrie’s family were members of that part of society which were, “the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.” He had never met Carrie nor any of her family.

Carrie’s baby, named Vivian, was examined by a nurse who informed the court that the infant, then only six months old, exhibited characteristics and traits which indicated that she too was feebleminded. The initial trial allowed the state to proceed, but all three of the main players involved, Priddy, Whitehead, and Strode, were aware that the case needed to proceed through the appeals process to determine the validity of the law under which the case was prosecuted. Albert Priddy died as the appeals process was being initiated. He was replaced in the suit by John H. Bell, the new superintendent of the Colony.

In the fall of 1925, the case was heard by the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia, with arguments presented by Strode and Whitehead. In November the Court upheld the decision and ruled that forced sterilization was authorized under the law which it found to be in accordance with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The only remaining potential obstacle was the Constitution of the United States and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the decision upholding the Virginia Sterilization Act that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Library of Congress

The Supreme Court rules on the Carrie Buck case

After hearing arguments the Supreme Court of the United States issued an 8-1 decision which found the Virginia Sterilization Act in no way violated the laws of the United States. In reaching its decision the court considered a law, previously ruled as constitutional, in Massachusetts which made vaccination mandatory before enrolling in state schools. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April, 1927 and released its decision the following month. In it, the Court held that enforced sterilization was an obligation of the state to protect its citizens.

The Court’s decision was presented by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In the decision, Justice Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Thus the Virginia statute calling for sterilization of those it deemed feebleminded was found to be in accordance with the law of the land.

The decision was rendered in May, 1927. That October Carrie Buck was sterilized at the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, the first person to be so treated under the law. The operation was performed by Dr. John H. Bell, the Colony’s superintendent. In 1931 Carrie’s daughter Vivian, designated as feebleminded by so-called expert witnesses during the suit to have her mother sterilized was placed on the academic honor roll at Venable Public Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia. The following year Vivian died of a digestive ailment.

Carrie was released following her sterilization and in 1932 married a carpenter and widower named William Eagle. They remained married until his death in the spring of 1941. In 1965 she married again, to Charles Detamore of Front Royal, Virginia. Carrie continued to reside in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia until her death in 1983. She was buried in Charlottesville. She lived long enough to see Virginia officially repeal its law which not only allowed, but encouraged state enforced sterilization of people deemed by the state to be unfit to reproduce.

The finding by the United States Supreme Court, with its wording which can only be described as wretched, has never been overturned. Instead, its wording and its overall opinion were cited by members of the German Nazi party as partial justification for its own eugenics program, and American eugenicists across the nation used it to develop similar programs in their own states. Eventually, 32 of the then 48 American states passed eugenics laws, with forced sterilization of undesirables. California became the nation’s leader in involuntary sterilization, eventually performing nearly 20,000 operations.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
The original design of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, drawn by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Wikimedia

Higher education

The University of Virginia, a prestigious and widely respected institution of higher learning which had been founded by Thomas Jefferson and once claimed James Madison as its rector became a major seat of eugenics thought and teaching. It was by no means alone. In New York, the Eugenics Record Office was established in Cold Spring Harbor, funded through the Carnegie Institution and from the fortunes of railroad tycoons. The Eugenics Record Office amassed family records to establish racial purity and the possibility of hereditary unfitness. At the time, it was a widespread belief that criminal behavior was hereditary.

Leading black intellectuals embraced the theory of eugenics as well, espousing the idea that the best of the black race were equivalent to the best of whites. W.E.B. DuBois was a proponent of eugenics and controlled breeding of his race. In his opinion, only “…fit blacks should procreate…” duBois was of the opinion that selective breeding would eliminate what he saw as the “…race’s heritage of moral iniquity.” Eugenics programs were studied at Howard University and the Tuskegee Institute, where a theory was taught that the top ten percent of whites and blacks were acceptable to reproduce.

Less than one year after the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell, more than 20,000 students across the United States were enrolled in university or college courses which covered eugenics. More than 350 such schools offered courses describing and encouraging the practice. Among the leading figures espousing eugenics in the United States were Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Margaret Sanger and Luther Burbank.

In North Carolina, a law established that an IQ score of 70 or less was grounds for enforced sterilization beginning in 1933. North Carolina allowed sterilization based on the recommendations of social workers, rather than the requirement as in Virginia of a finding from a state institution. By 1937, Fortune magazine published a nationwide poll which found that a mere 15% of Americans disapproved of the sterilization of criminals and “mental defectives.” American eugenics programs were studied and in several instances imitated by German authorities beginning in the 1930s.

The Rockefeller Foundation provided the funding for several German eugenics programs and leading eugenicists in California shared information regarding enforced sterilization and its benefits to the state and the human race with professional colleagues in Germany. Harry Laughlin, self-designated as America’s leading authority on the subject of eugenics, was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University for his studies and work to implement laws contributing to racial cleansing in the United States. Leading American universities taught eugenics as applicable to the improvement of all races, as opposed to the German model, which advocated the improvement of the Aryans by subjugating or eliminating all others.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
Harry Laughlin wrote a model law which became the basis of sterilization laws in more than two dozen states. Wikimedia

Harry Laughlin

From its inception in 1910 to its closing in 1939, the Eugenics Records Office operated under the direction of Harry Laughlin, a former high school principal. The Eugenics Record Office was initially funded in part by John Harvey Kellogg, remembered today chiefly for his contributions to the breakfast table. Kellogg was, in addition to being one of the inventors of corn flakes, a leading authority and practitioner of healthy living, a proponent of vegetarianism, and the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, an early health spa and resort.

Laughlin provided testimony in the original lawsuit court hearings in the case of Carrie Buck in the form of a written deposition, in which he derided the family from which Buck had descended despite never having met them. Laughlin based his opinion on the demographics of the family rather than an independent observation of its circumstances and character. It was the same manner of thinking which he used to operate the Eugenics Records Office during his tenure. Laughlin was primarily concerned with the elimination of defectives from the human race, through the control of the reproductive process.

Although several states had already passed compulsory sterilization laws when he assumed his role at the Eugenics Record Office, few enforced them. Laughlin was of the opinion that the reason for lax enforcement was the vague manner in which the laws were written, and he composed a model law which eliminated any ambiguity. Laughlin’s model identified as defectives those who were feebleminded, those found to be insane, criminals of all types, alcoholics and drug addicts or users, the blind, the deaf, vagrants, and those suffering from a deformity. Eighteen states used Laughlin’s model as the basis for their laws, including Virginia in 1924.

So did the German Reichstag when it passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933. The grateful Nazis awarded Laughlin an honorary doctorate for his work. But it was the German adoption of his model which led to its ultimate downfall. Aggressive sterilization in Germany became widely associated with the evils of the Nazi party, and with the exception of California, Virginia, and North Carolina its practice in the United States began to fall into disrepute. By 1935 the leading provider of funds for the Eugenics Research Office was the Carnegie Institution, and it began to cast doubt on the scientific values of the services the office provided.

The genealogical records and research which the Eugenics Records Office developed purported to plot means by which selective breeding would lead to the elimination of defectives among humanity, creating in essence perfect races. As adopted by the Germans it was meant to create a single perfect race, the American version allowed for diversity, although Laughlin argued that immigration by some Europeans, such as Slavs, introduced a higher rate of insanity into the American population. Laughlin’s work was discredited by the Carnegie Institution when it discontinued funding it, but his records remain and many are accessible online.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
As sterilization laws were enacted across the country, California continued to lead the nation in performing the procedures in state hospitals and prisons. Wikimedia

Sterilization in California

California was the third state to enact a compulsory sterilization law (after Connecticut and Indiana), and unlike its two predecessors, it enforced it rigorously. From 1909 to around the beginning of the Second World War, California conducted more sterilizations than all other states combined. At one point it accounted for 80% of the enforced sterilizations performed in the United States. After World War 2 the practice decreased, but did continue until 1963. California’s eugenics program extended into the state’s prisons, but was primarily conducted in the state’s mental hospitals.

Among the so-called pioneers of the eugenics movement in California was David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University. He also served as chairman of the American Eugenics Commission. Another was Ezra Gosney, who founded the Human Betterment Society and authored a paper entitled Sterilization for Human Betterment. Others included the state’s Attorney General of long-standing, Ulysses Webb, leading philanthropists and scientists, and faculty members from state universities and colleges.

One of the leading proponents of sterilizations in California was the chief surgeon at the state penitentiary at San Quentin, Dr. Leo Stanley. Stanley was an adherent to the theory that criminal behavior was often hereditary and that it was driven in men through the testicular glands. In Stanley’s belief, male criminal behavior could be altered by testicular surgery. Among Stanley’s ideas was the supposition that an ideal male could be created by replacing his testicles with those of another, deceased male. Stanley sterilized over 600 prisoners at San Quentin.

David Starr Jordan published a series of papers under the title The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races by the Survival of the Unfit. They were later compiled and published in book form. The papers were an attempt to gain a wider degree of support for eugenics policy from outside the academic world and discuss what Jordan refers to as inborn cultural behaviors. Jordan also argued against war, claiming that the casualties resulting from warfare weakened the gene pool through the elimination of the fittest men.

Between 1909 and 1963 state hospitals and prisons conducted more than 20,000 forced sterilizations in California as part of its state sanctioned eugenics program. Records of surgical sterilizations are maintained by the state but remain confidential due to the personal and medical information they contain. Not only were more enforced sterilizations performed there than in any other state, for a time there were more performed there than anywhere else in the world. Harry Laughlin lauded California, commenting, “California must be given the credit for making the most use of her sterilization laws.”

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
WEB DuBois was a eugenicist and ally of Virginia’s Joseph DeJarnette. Wikimedia

Joseph DeJarnette

Joseph DeJarnette was one of the founders of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded and a leading voice in the eugenics movement both in the Commonwealth of Virginia and nationally. He too testified in the Carrie Buck case, providing his opinion on her mental capacity and her inclination towards promiscuity based on his interviews with her teachers and their descriptions of her behavior more than a decade before the trial. DeJarnette repeatedly urged that the number of sterilizations performed in the United States should be increased, and compared American to German efforts unfavorably in 1938.

In a letter written to Aubrey Strode in 1939, who was by then a judge in Lynchburg, DeJarnette wrote, “…we are raising the mentality of our people and saving suffering, murder, accidents, crime – and the greatest crime of all is allowing the feeble-minded people to raise children in a feeble minded environment.” DeJarnette noted in the same letter that about 3300 people had been sterilized in Virginia, and predicted that if the rate continued within a century the state would save $400 million. DeJarnette frequently argued that allowing what he considered to be defectives to marry and procreate amounted to a crime against the state.

Among those, he classified as defectives were the insane, those infected with syphilis, those with tuberculosis, alcoholics, and of course the feebleminded. Dejarnette did not just argue for enforced sterilization, he performed them himself. As superintendent of the Western State Hospital by May of 1930, he claimed to have sterilized 33 women by tubal ligation, sixty men via vasectomy, and another five through the controversial use of x-rays. He continuously implored his colleagues at Virginia’s mental health facilities to increase the pace of their sterilization procedures.

He also hectored the Virginia General Assembly to make the Sterilization Act more comprehensive, increasing the number of persons the state could sterilize. DeJarnette watched the Nazi program as it unfolded in the 1930s and approved of it highly, though he was alarmed that the Germans were outpacing the Americans. He testified to the General Assembly in 1934 that, “…the Germans are beating us at our own game and are more progressive than we are.”

Virginia eventually expressed regret for the eugenics program which the state-operated for many years, but DeJarnette never did. Throughout his career, he carried with him a poem he had written entitled Mendel’s Law: A Plea for a Better Race of Men. The poem argues that simply observing a farm justifies eugenics. All of the animals on the farm are deliberately bred to be the best, but the farmer’s children – whom he refers to as “Low browed with the monkey jaw, ape handed, and silly, and foolish,” are allowed to be born indiscriminately.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
Eugenicist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell served on committees for the Eugenics Records Office. Smithsonian

The Eugenics Record Office

The Eugenics Record Office was established in Cold Spring Harbor in 1910 by Charles Davenport, who asked Harry Laughlin to serve as its director. It became the epicenter for the eugenics movement in the United States. The ERO provided information which it collected and analyzed to lobby legislatures in several states to broaden the eugenics movement across the country. Much if not all of the information it provided legislators either in writing or verbal testimony was skewed in favor of the movement, it cannot be said to have been impartial or scientifically collected and analyzed.

It was funded primarily by the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Station for Experimental Evolution. Its primary purpose was to gather information regarding the population of the United States. Originally the ERO received financial support from private sources including the Rockefeller family. Charles Davenport solicited the funding by claiming the ERO would collect valuable information in the developing field of genetic research, drawing the attention of the Carnegie Institution, which supported it for the next 25 years.

The ERO established field workers to collect the information which they accomplished through the use of questionnaires. Some of the questionnaires were presented to people under the guise of allowing them to learn more about their family history. Some were sent through the mail and others were collected by field workers who collected them door to door. Most of the field workers were women, who were less likely to appear threatening when approaching someone in their home with questions about their family history.

The questionnaires were prepared by several different committees which operated out of the ERO in Cold Harbor. The committees included several notable scientists, doctors, psychologists, and philosophers. Alexander Graham Bell served on one, the Committee on Heredity of Deafmutism. Other committees included one responsible for the study of hereditary feeblemindedness and another which looked at inherited mental traits, to name just two. The committees prepared the questionnaires and studied the results.

The ERO published some of its findings in a newsletter which it called Eugenical News. It also produced pamphlets and what it called scientific charts which supported the idea of selective breeding, along with the results of its findings regarding racial and ethnic trends. In 1935 the Carnegie Institution performed a review of all of the work of the ERO and in the wake of the review it ordered its director, Harry Laughlin, to cease all work. Four years later the institution forced Laughlin to retire when it withdrew all funding. Since then the work of the ERO has been completely discredited as having any scientific basis, but much of the information it collected still survives and can easily be reviewed online.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
One of the meticulously prepared but ultimately fraudulent charts Goddard included in his supposed case study published as The Kallikak Family. Wikimedia

The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness

The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness was published in 1912. Written by a eugenicist named Henry Goddard it was based on a case study of a patient under his care. The patient, Emma Wolverton, was presented in the book as Deborah Kallikak. The institution was the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feebleminded Children. Goddard was a psychologist by training who ran the Institution. In the book, which was popular at its release and for several years following, he presented what he claimed to be the family tree for the patient under his care.

In the book, two separate family trees descend from one man, Martin Kalikak, who was returning home from the Revolutionary war when he met a barmaid during a brief stay at an inn. A short relationship with the barmaid led to her becoming pregnant, but Kallikak had already left her behind and later married a good Quaker wife and raised a family. The child of the barmaid, who was feebleminded, was born likewise. Thus Kallikak started two family lines, one producing several generations of feebleminded children, doomed to lives of social failure and poverty. The other of course led to generations of successful and morally upright individuals.

Because Goddard claimed to have traced both family trees instigated by Martin Kallikak the book became a standard of sorts establishing the claims of the eugenicist as scientific fact. One family line contained a history of a family of social outcasts, with a recurring pattern of drunkenness, promiscuity, and criminal behavior. The other produced pillars of their community, lawyers, ministers, doctors, all successful financially. The book compares the cost to the community for one and the benefits to the community for the other.

Goddard included carefully prepared family trees for both lines and numerous photographs which supported his thesis. From the book, it is clear that allowing the feebleminded to reproduce burdens the community as a whole for generation after generation, and the burden grows with each child produced with defective characteristics. The book could still be cited today by those espousing eugenics except for one problem, revealed in 2001. Goddard made most of it up.

There were two branches traced to John Wolverton, the basis for Martin Kallikak. The so-called bad side did include several farmers in poverty, but also included successful businessmen and military members. Far from being a scientific study, the book was instead an argument for eugenics, and it was a successful one for its time. The book’s popularity helped the public accept the arguments for eugenics and sterilization as being based in real science, rather than in pseudoscience. It also helped sway political opinion in state legislatures that the act of forced sterilization would help them save money.

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About America’s Eugenics Program of the 20th Century
Forced sterilizations increased in North Carolina following World War II, countering the national trend of the rate of the procedures being performed dropping. Wikimedia


More than 60,000 people were subjected to forced sterilization in the United States, and over time the practice grew to be recognized for what it was, a violation of human rights based on social prejudice. In 2001, Virginia issued a statement of “profound regret” for what it had done “in the name of eugenics.” In January 2002 the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia passed a resolution which acknowledges that the Buck v. Bell decision was an, “…embodiment of bigotry against the disabled and an example of using faulty science in support of public policy.”

In 2015 it was announced that victims of Virginia’s forced sterilization program would receive financial compensation provided they were still alive. Virginia was the second state which finally agreed to compensate the surviving victims of their sterilization program, and reportedly set aside $400,000 to do so in the 2015 budget. In doing so they followed the lead of their neighbor to the south, the State of North Carolina, which practiced enforced sterilization from 1929 through 1974.

North Carolina sterilized over 7,500 people during its years of practice, the overwhelming majority of them women. Unlike most states, where the practice began to fade in the years following World War II, in North Carolina the number of procedures performed increased as the state extended its use in part because it helped to control the population. Some girls as young as ten were sterilized after the state deemed them to be unfit to raise children. Failing to adapt well socially (such as fighting with schoolmates) was seen as a fit reason to sterilize some young women.

North Carolina announced it would compensate those who had been subjected to forced sterilization in 2012. The amount to be paid per victim was determined by the number of victims who submitted a claim, but the state estimated about 1,800 potential claimants were still alive when it established the fund from which the claims will be paid. The amount per claim was significantly higher than that offered by Virginia. North Carolina also established a policy through which an individual who makes a claim will have it paid into their estate if they die before the claim is verified and paid.

As of early 2018, Virginia and North Carolina are the only two states out of the more than two dozen which performed forced sterilizations to have provided any compensation for the victims of the eugenics movement of the early to mid-twentieth century. California, which led the nation in the number of sterilizations performed has seen several legal and societal drives to address the issue of compensation but has yet taken no action. The Buck v. Bell decision by the Supreme Court, which initiated the sterilizations in most states that performed them, has never been overturned.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Buck v. Bell”, The University of Virginia Historic Exhibits online

“Influence of Eugenical Sterilization Act”, The University of Virginia Historic Exhibits online

“Carrie Buck Revisited”, The University of Virginia Historic Exhibits online

“A Long-Lost Data Trove Uncovers California’s Sterilization Program”, by Sarah Zheng, The Atlantic, January 3 2017

“Harry H. Laughlin”, entry Pickler Memorial Library, Truman State University online

“Joseph DeJarnette”, entry Encyclopedia Virginia online

“Eugenics Record Office”, entry eugenicsarchive.org

“The Kallikak Family”, Encyclopedia.com

“North Carolina lawmaker’s OK payments for victims of forced sterilizations”, by Elizabeth Cohen, CNN July 28, 2013

“Virginia’s forced sterilization victims each to get $25K restitution payments for eugenics program”, news article RT.com, March 5, 2013