Thursday, April 9, 2015

Once upon a time in America men and women deemed 'undesirables' were not allowed to mingle with the 'desirable' population

I was in the process of proofreading an article I had just completed for my blog. I was listening to the radio when I heard the jocks complain about “illegal aliens.” They complained about everything that did not fit into their Whites Only universe. Minorities and Hispanics on welfare and food stamps are deadbeats, “illegal aliens” should not get in-state college tuition, “illegal” women working as maids have no right to decent wages. A caller to the show said these women should not expect more pay “just to make beds”. In other words, they are paid what they deserve. They are misfits and it’s their fault if they fail to their improve lives.

One of the jocks, an ex-cop and Christian, was extremely unhappy about the influx of “illegal” children coming to America without their parents, looking for a handout. He complained about their increasing the population, and how that swelling number hurts the economy. He said the government should think about eugenics to control “illegal aliens” birth rates. The jock said educated Whites are not having children at the same rate. He felt that all White folks are gainfully employed, educated and productive, the kind of people a thriving society finds suitable. The Christian jock suggested that America should return to the day of forced sterilizations. Clip and snip the undesirable immigrans, or threaten them with deportation.

The  look of desirables. The ideal prototypes to procreate
President Theodore Roosevelt was worried that White couples were not repopulating fast enough. He declared that failure of Whites to produce larger families would lead to the collective suicide of White people. At state fairs throughout the country the American Eugenics Society set up exhibits, providing information that encouraged "high grade" White couples to conceive and have more children to benefit society. The fair also sponsored one sided Fitter Family contests. Ideal families were the winners, none of whom were minority or poor Whites.

Thirty-two states within the United States, and the U. S. Territory of Puerto Rico, targeted specific citizens to sterilize. The purpose of the forced sterilization program was to weed out society’s throwaways before they could procreate and repopulate the U. S. and Puerto Rico. Thus enters this theory called eugenics. The term means “the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Developed largely by Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, it fell into disfavor only after the perversion of its doctrines by the Nazis.”  

An estimated 60,000 American men, women and teenagers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico were sterilized between the 1900s and 1974. Puerto Rico was noted for sterilizing the highest number of men and women. In 1942 the Supreme Court struck down the law that allowed involuntary sterilization of criminals; however it did not reverse the concept of sterilization.  

The first state-sanctioned forced sterilization law was passed in Indiana in 1907. “At that time, many people believed that certain traits and behavior — criminality, a propensity for poverty, mental illness — were passed from parents to children. (Eugenics had only a passing relationship with actual genetics.) Eugenicists argued that society would be improved by preventing these people from reproducing.

“Doctors in the U. S. first began employing eugenics at mental institutions, where patients would face sterilization as a condition of release. These procedures were eventually stopped because of a lack of due process for the victims — and because Americans became aware of similar procedures done at the hands of Nazi doctors, who were influenced by US practices.” (Vice News, 2014) 

The first forced sterilization victim was a Virginia woman named Carrie Buck, a 19-year-old White female. She was the plaintiff in the case Buck v. Bell. She was targeted to undergo voluntary sterilization because the state deemed her to be “feebleminded and promiscuous”.

The U. S. Supreme Court’s May 2, 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell ruled that the Virginia sterilization statue was constitutional. Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. delivered a stinging decision for the Court. The decision stated that “three generations of imbeciles are enough”. Holmes was making a reference to Buck’s mother. Five months after the Court ruled that the law was legal Buck was sterilized.

“Carrie Buck and her mother Emma, had been committed to the "Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded" in Lynchburg, Virginia. Carrie and Emma were both judged to be ‘feebleminded’ and promiscuous, primarily because they had both borne children out of wedlock. Carrie’s child, Vivan, was judged to be feebleminded at seven months of age. Hence, three generations of ‘imbeciles’ became the ‘perfect’ family for Virginia officials to use as a test case in favor of the eugenic sterilization law enacted in 1924". (

“The impact of the Buck v. Bell decision was felt nationwide. After the 1927 decision affirmed Virginia's Eugenical Sterilization Law, there was a swift rise in the number of involuntary sterilizations in the United States. By the early 1930s, thirty American states had adopted eugenics laws. American eugenicists also pushed for anti-immigration measures and stricter laws to prevent racially mixed marriages. When signing the 1924 Immigration Act, President Calvin Coolidge stated: ‘America must remain American’”. (Eugenic, University of Virginia, Historical Collections)

From 1933 to 1977 North Carolina’s Eugenic Board reportedly recommended the sterilization 7,600 people—men and women. Minorities and the poor Whites were selected because they worked at minimum wage jobs, were on welfare, homeless, lacked college educations, or locked up in mental institutions. They were the highly visible blights on an otherwise healthy society. An IQ of 70 or lower was sufficient to have an individual sterilized. Their consent was not necessary if sterilization was recommended the state or a social worker, which was cited in 100 percent of the cases.

North Carolina was the only state that allowed social workers to determine what individuals should be sterilized. An unknown number of men and boys committed to mental institutions nationwide were castrated, unaware of the severity of the operation performed on them. Later when the eugenics was hitting third gear, more categories were added to the list of misfits and undesirables: the deaf and blind, disabled and unmarried women, who were labeled promiscuous.

“When the Eugenics Record Office opened the door in 1910, the founding scientists were considered progressive, intent on applying classic genetics to breeding better citizens. Funding poured in from the Rockefeller family and the Carnegie Institution. Charles Davenport, a prolific Harvard biologist, and his colleague, Harry H. Laughlin, led the charge”. (New York Times, 2014)

Within the strict guidelines of forced sterilization there were no exceptions to the rule for those scheduled to have the operation. Elaine Riddick, an African American woman, was raped by a neighbor when she was 13. Her grandmother took her to the hospital. She did not get the kind of help she expected to receive. She was not treated liked a young victim of rape.

“Elaine Riddick was a confused and frightened 14-year-old. She was poor and black, the daughter of alcoholic parents in a segregated North Carolina town. And she was pregnant after being raped by a man from her neighborhood.

“Riddick's miserable circumstances attracted the attention of social workers, who referred her case to the state's Eugenics Board. In an office building in Raleigh, five men met to consider her fate — among them the state health director and a lawyer from the attorney general's office.

“Board members concluded that the girl was ‘feebleminded’ and doomed to ‘promiscuity.’ They recommended sterilization. Riddick's illiterate grandmother, Maggie Woodard, known as "Miss Peaches," marked an "X" on a consent form.

“Hours after Riddick gave birth to a son in Edenton, N.C., on March 5, 1968, a doctor sliced through her fallopian tubes and cauterized them”. (Los Angeles Times, 2012)

Elaine Riddick and her son Tony Riddick

When she went to the hospital to have her son, the result of the rape, Riddick said she was put in room and that’s all she remembered until she was awakened. “When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”

During an interview with ABC News in 2014, Riddick said she felt like that she was raped twice. “Once by the perpetrator and once by the state of North Carolina. They said I was feebleminded. They said I would never be able to do anything for myself. I was a little bitty kid and they cut me open like a hog”.

Riddick said she did not know that she was sterile until she got married and they wanted to start a family. She learned that she was sterile when her doctor examined her, and told her that her tubes had been tied.

In a recent expose by The Center for Investigative Reporting titled “Female Inmates Sterilized in California Prisons Without Approval”, it was revealed that female inmates in one of the two California prisons in Corona were sterilized. Involuntary sterilization was supposed to be a violation in the prison. Fulfilling their contractual agreement with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, physicians sterilized almost 148 women without consent of the state. The method of sterilization was tubal ligation; an operation that is not reversible.

“From 1977 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedures. The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant, and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, now a men’s prison. Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that the prison’s medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“Between 1909 and 1964, about 20,000 women and men in California were stripped of the ability to reproduce – making the state the nation’s most prolific sterilizer. In 2003, the state Senate held two hearings to expose this history, featuring testimony from researchers, academics and state officials. In response, then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Gov. Gray Davis issued formal apologies.

“Our hearts are heavy for the pain caused by eugenics. It was a sad and regrettable chapter in the state's history, and it is one that must never be repeated again,” Davis said in a statement”.

The United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, taking total control of the island, becoming responsible for its economic development. Women between the ages of 20 and 49 were routinely sterilized according to a 1965 survey. Puerto Rican women were more likely to be sterilized than women and young girls in the U.S. More than a third of the women were sterilized during the 1930s and 1970s. The U.S. partnered with Puerto Rico to reduce its population.

The economy in Puerto Rico was crawling. Unemployment was high with no relief in sight. To change the bad luck to good luck the U.S. theorized that sterilization of the poor and uneducated would automatically increase the island’s economic status. Doctors who performed operations on the women did not trust that they had the intelligence to use physical contraceptives or take birth control pills as instructed.

“Before long, Puerto Rico won the distinction of having the world’s highest sterilization rate. So common was the procedure that it was widely known as ‘la operacion’ among islanders. Thousands of men in Puerto Rico also underwent sterilization as well. U. S. pharmaceutical researchers also experimented on women for human trials of the birth control pill in the 1950s”. (About News)

Like in American states that targeted men and women, Puerto Ricans did not know, or understand that the “procedure” performed on them sealed their hopes of ever becoming parents. Doctors, medical staff or social workers did not bother to explain the operation to them.

Native American women and young girls did not escape the clutches of forced sterilization. An article in Our Bodies Our Selves tells the story of two 15 year old Indian girls living in Montana, who went to the hospital at different times. They thought they were getting emergency appendectomy operations. That’s what they were told. The girls were sterilized without the consent of their parents.

During her lectures about forced sterilization, history professor Lisa Emmerich, talks about the plight of a young Indian woman.

"In the early 1970s a young American Indian woman visited her physician and made an unusual and troubling request. She wanted to know if her doctor could perform a uterus transplant. Her doctor asked why. The young woman reported that during her teens after the birth of a child, her doctors on the reservation told her that they'd ‘fixed it’ so she could not have children for a while.

“According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) report, 3406 Native American women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four were sterilized between 1973 and 1976. Because the investigators did not find any systematic attempt to single out any one American Indian nation and sterilize its child-bearing women they concluded that this was not genocide. In Washington, Congressmen called for more investigations.

“On reservations Native American activists conducted their own surveys of women, finding more incidents of sterilization without informed consent. As a direct result of the public reaction, new rules were mandated for federally funded sterilizations, including providing interpreters for non-English speakers, allowing witnesses to accompany a patient during her discussion with a doctor, forbidding sterilization of minors, assuring patients that their benefits will not be denied based on their medical decision, and requiring a thirty-day waiting period”. (Genocide or Family Planning)

Lewis Reynolds, a male victim who was sterilized without his knowledge or consent, told the Associate Press, “I think they done me wrong. I couldn’t have a family like everybody else does. They took my rights away.”

Reynolds was sterilized by his doctors who said he was epileptic. “It was later concluded that he was demonstrating only temporary symptoms because of a head injury”.

Virginia and North Carolina are the only two states to come forward with offers to compensate forced sterilization victims. The state of California apologized by has not discussed compensation. Of the 7, 600 victims in North Carolina an estimated 2,000 are still alive. Virginia lawmakers passed legislation in which it agreed that sterilization victims should be awarded $25,000 each. More than 8,000 people in Virginia were sterilized. As of February 2015 only 11 of them have been identified.

Forced sterilization timeline

1849--Gordon Lincecum, a famed Texas biologist and physician, proposes a bill mandating the eugenic sterilization of the mentally handicapped and others whose genes he deems undesirable. Although the legislation was never sponsored or brought up for a vote, it represented the first serious attempt in U.S. history to use forced sterilization for eugenic purposes.

1897--Michigan's state legislature becomes the first in the country to pass a forced sterilization law, but it is vetoed by the governor.

1901--Legislators in Pennsylvania attempt to pass a eugenic forced sterilization law, but it stalls.

1909-1979-- 20,000 operations performed in California. In a 70-year period, California performs a third of all government funded sterilizations in the United States. The practice largely targets Latinos and Blacks, and lead to a 1975 class-action lawsuit by working class Mexican women who were coerced into the procedure sometimes minutes after giving birth. California's continued and central role in the sterilization programs of the 20th century is highlighted by Dr. Alexandra Stern in "Sterilization in the name of Public Health: Race, Immigration and Reproductive Control in Modern Califonia" (2005).

In the article, Dr. Stern writes that Mexican-Americans and African Americans were disproportionally represented in the percentages of sterilization, and that this was rationalized by concerns about bad parenting, population burdens and even as "a punishment for bearing illegitimate children or as extortion to ensure ongoing receipt of family assistance (in the 1950s and 1960s)."

1922--Harry Hamilton Laughlin, director of the Eugenics Research Office, proposes a federal mandatory sterilization law. Like Lincecum's proposal, it never really goes anywhere.

1927--In Buck v. Bell, the U.S. Supreme Court rules (8-1) that laws mandating the sterilization of the mentally handicapped do not violate the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes makes an explicitly eugenic argument: “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”.

1936--Nazi propaganda defends Germany's forced sterilization program by citing the United States as an ally in the eugenic movement, and its laws as proof of its status as same. World War II, and the atrocities committed by the Nazi government, would rapidly change U.S. attitudes towards eugenics.

1942--In Skinner v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously against an Oklahoma law targeting some felons for sterilization (the plaintiff, Jack Skinner, was a chicken thief) while excluding white-collar criminals. The majority opinion written by Justice William O. Douglas, rejects the broad eugenic mandate previously outlined in Buck v. Bell (1927): “[S]trict scrutiny of the classification which a State makes in a sterilization law is essential, lest unwittingly, or otherwise, invidious discriminations are made against groups or types of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws.”

1965--The results of a sterilization campaign in the island of Puerto Rico that began shortly after WWI left 30% of the women there unable to have children by 1965. The earliest governor of Puerto Rico is cited as saying that there were too many unskilled laborers, and not enough jobs in the island. This long sterilization campaign resulted in this practice becoming the birth control of choice for Puerto Rican women, a remarkable feat in a mostly Catholic society where birth control was illegal up to 1930.

1970--The Nixon administration dramatically increases Medicaid-funded sterilization of low-income Americans, primarily Americans of color. While these sterilizations are voluntary as a matter of policy, anecdotal evidence later suggests that they are often involuntary as a matter of practice as patients are often misinformed, or left uninformed, regarding the nature of the procedures that they have agreed to undergo.

1973-1976--3,406 Native American women sterilized without permission. The U.S government recently admitted to forcing thousands of Native American Indian women to be sterilized. The procedures even included 36 women who were under 21 years old, despite laws prohibiting anyone 21 years and younger from receiving the procedure. Dr. Pinkerton-Uri found that 25% of Native American Indian women had been sterilized without their consent. Pinkerton-Uri also found that the Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.” In total, it is estimated that as many as 25-50% of Native American women were sterilized between 1970 and 1976.

1979--A survey conducted by Family Planning Perspectives finds that approximately 70% of American hospitals fail to adequately follow U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines regarding informed consent in cases of sterilization.

1981--Oregon performs the last legal forced sterilization in U.S. history. (data gathered by Tom Head for About News and Policy. Mic)

No comments: