All material on this page Copyright Jonathan E. Gottshall 1995

The Cutting Edge: Sterilization and Eugenics in California, 1909-1945.




By Jon Gottshall


Few people today realize that at one time in this century it was not uncommon for mental institutions to order the sterilization of those they deemed unfit for parenthood, with or without the consent of the patients or their families. These operations were often justified in the name of eugenics, a branch of science that arose around the turn of the century and which posited that the control of human reproduction could improve both individuals and society. Although the eugenic policies of Nazi Germany, which included sterilization, are fairly well-known, America paved the way. In the years before WWII, thousands of people in the United States underwent forced sterilization. But this policy was not applied uniformly in the United States. One state led all others in the scope of implementation: California.

The state of Indiana enacted the first sterilization legislation in 1907. Other states were to eventually enact similar legislation, but the hub of activity soon moved to west coast, where that state's first sterilization law was enacted in 1909. Like many Midwestern transplants, this practice found itself less restricted in the Golden State, and by 1921 more eugenic sterilizations had been performed in California than in the rest of the United States combined (see table 1). Also, unlike in many other states, California's sterilization laws suffered no judicial setbacks in the years before 1927, when such eugenic legislation was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The policies endured and became a model for others, both American and foreign, to imitate.

Although it was carried out on a significant scale well into the 1930's and even beyond, eugenic sterilization arose as a policy issue in California and the rest of the nation during the Progressive Era, which began around the beginning of the twentieth century and lasted until 1920. This was a time of reform movements stretching across many fronts, most stemming from a desire to purify or ameliorate the conditions of a changing nation. The role of the state was being redefined in response to a society under the stress of urbanization, industrialization, heavy immigration, and other forces. In this context, eugenics promised a straightforward plan for eliminating disorder and degeneracy. Eugenics stressed the application of science to human heredity and breeding in order to improve the human species both mentally and physically. Some Progressives referred to eugenics as "the science and the art of being well born." Human sterilization may be carried out for many reasons. It may be as punishment, perhaps in the form of castration for repeat sex offenders. It may be for social reasons, when individuals are kept from having children because they are completely unable to care for them, either physically, emotionally or financially. But when the state sterilizes an individual because he is seen to be genetically defective and therefore likely to pass his defects on to offspring, this is eugenic sterilization. And this was the type of sterilization that many California policymakers wanted to carry out.

To gain a clearer insight into why eugenics appealed to men of wealth and substance as a solution to the ills of a rapidly changing society, a review of the wider development of this branch of science is in order. The eugenics movement did not arise in California or even the United States, but rather in England as an offshoot of the Darwinian Revolution. During this time, a new scientific outlook was arising that stressed role of "fitness" in the survival of a species and the importance of successful reproduction. The founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, was in fact a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton, a wealthy explorer, Darwinist and anthropologist with a keen and analytic mind, was one of the first to reject the idea that character- istics acquired during the lifetime of an individual could be passed on to offspring. This idea, also known as Lamarckian inheritance, was a powerful doctrine in the 19th century (and it was to continue to hold sway in the Soviet Union well into the 20th). The Lamarckian view was that each part of the body was somehow in communication with the organism's "germ cells," and changes to the body would actually alter the genetic code. Supposedly, this could be "proven" by cutting off the tails of several generations of captive mice. Some expected that this would lead to some baby mice being born without tails, showing an "acquired characteristic." The German biologist August Weismann tested this hypothesis in the 1880's and found that no such transmission of "taillessness" occurred.

Research by Weismann and others dealt blow after blow to Lamarckian genetics. In 1900, when the works of Austrian monk Gregor Mendel were rediscovered after years of obscurity, the modern principles of heredity became even more fully understood. Galton's work in heredity held up better than that of many scientists of his time.

The rejection of acquired characteristics by the scientific community, especially by 1900, had the effect of exaggerating the role of heredity and undercutting those who believed that the human race could be uplifted primarily through improving economic or social conditions. The importance of creating a healthy living and working environment, sometimes known as euthenics, was not ignored by many of those interested in the often vague idea of "race betterment." In fact, the improvement of heredity could often simply be one part of a much broader, progressive outlook. But for some policymakers and intellectuals, advances in science and biology seemed to promise simple, comprehensive answers through the manipulation and control of human breeding.

This extreme faith in heredity was to play a key role in the growth popularity of eugenics, and would also serve a conservative, even reactionary, world view. Since heredity was far more important than environment, it was better to discourage the unsuccessful from reproducing than to give them charity or greater economic opportunity. As an American eugenics advocate stated before the first World War:

"As has been said more than once, philanthropy has failed, politics has failed, rescue work has failed, perhaps Eugenics may not fail, for it is based on the impregnable rock of science, it proceeds on the sound lines of prevention, it aims to start at the beginning of things, to build up a new race if not of supermen at least of sound healthy human beings."

Charity work, and even advances in medicine and hygiene were undercutting the natural selection process that had always weeded out the unfit. Eugenics could counteract this.

In addition to the shift from an environmental to a more hereditarian outlook, there was another important scientific change around the turn of the century - this one involving medical technology. For most of the nineteenth century, sterilization consisted only of castration, an ancient and radical procedure that brought about significant physical and emotional changes in addition to stopping reproduction. Such a procedure was usually opposed by the public as shocking and the legal profession as "cruel and unusual punishment." Effective female sterilization did not exist as of yet. But all this changed from about 1900 to 1905, when a new medical procedure called the Vasectomy became known in the United States (it had been developed in Europe a few years earlier). This operation allowed individuals to be sterilized without upsetting their hormonal balance, and was billed as a humane alternative to castration in cases where an individual should be kept from reproducing. This was more in line with eugenic thought, rather than being a strictly punitive or even a short-term public safety measure, since a vasectomy would not make a rapist incapable of further offenses. For females the Salpingectomy, involving the tying off of the fallopian tubes, was developed. But since this involved abdominal surgery it was somewhat too risky and expensive to be a routine surgery before about 1920. This may explain why more men than women were sterilized during the Progressive Era in California.

Sometime around the turn of the century Galton and his colleagues met a sympathetic visiting American biologist named Charles Davenport. Davenport went on to become the founder and director of an experimental station in the United States devoted to genetic research in 1904. This station, located at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island (New York), became the major center in the United States for eugenics research. Called the Eugenic Records Office, this project of Davenport's was founded with money from the Carnegie institute. A tireless worker and eugenics advocate, Davenport was able to greatly expand the facility in 1910 with financial backing from Mrs. E. H. Harriman, widow of a railroad tycoon. The purpose of the Eugenic Record office was to collect data on the heredity of American citizens, analyze it, and publish the findings. Field workers were sent out into the countryside of the Northeast to collect family histories, ultimately embracing thousands of individuals.

The research, in keeping with a hereditarian outlook, often focused on families that supposedly had a history of crime, disease, mental illness, and other forms of "degeneracy." These families, not coincidentally, were usually uneducated and poor. They lacked decent employment or medical care, and usually lived in areas of widespread, chronic poverty, such as the Appalachian region of the eastern United States. They frequently featured single mothers as well. But hereditarianism was the order of the day, so the impact of a corrosive environment was consistently downplayed.

Having explored the wider history and some of the key concepts of eugenics, it is now appropriate to examine the actual laws passed in California during the Progressive Era. Eugenic sterilization in California was based on three acts of the California legislature, which were passed in 1909, 1913, and 1917. The progression of legislation points out an increasing bureaucratic sophistication (common in the Progressive Era) as well as a shift toward a purer eugenic goal: a halt to the breeding of the "unfit."

The first sterilization law in California was enacted on April 26, 1909. It was aimed at the inmates of both state hospitals and institutions for the mentally retarded, and prison inmates who fit certain categories. The categories for this last group included those inmates displaying "sex or moral perver sions" while in prison, those twice convicted of sexual offenses, or those convicted three times for other crimes. Interest ingly, inmates committed for life were also included in the list - men who would presumably have little opportunity to start families. This is probably because at that time sterilization was thought to have certain therapeutic effects such as to curtail masturbation or violent tendencies. Decisions on who was to be sterilized were made by a "board consisting of the superintendent or resident physician of the institution in consultation with the general superintendent of state hospitals and the secretary of the State Board of Health." The approval of any two of these three individuals would ensure that the operation was carried out. There was no provision made for special funding to pay for sterilizations.

This original sterilization law was superseded by a new one on June 13, 1913. This new law was more specifically worded, broader in scope and more complex than the 1909 law. It enlarged the powers of the state mental health bureaucracy and had a more purely eugenic focus, as eugenics advocates themselves proudly pointed out. These revisions created a law that was to be in force from 1913 through the 1930's - the period when most of the involuntary sterilizations were performed in California. Whereas the 1909 law merely referred to "inmates of State Hospitals and the Home for the Feeble-minded (at Sonoma)," the revised law of 1913 specifically targeted for possible steriliza tion those "afflicted with hereditary insanity or incurable chronic mania or dementia..." It appears that at least for those formulating the policy, hereditarian and eugenic concerns needed to be addressed to a greater extent than before, perhaps at the expense of the older and more anecdotal approach to sterilization as something therapeutic - something to improve the lives of the patients themselves. In the change of vocabulary one can also see a greater confidence in the ability to diagnose psychiatric conditions with the (false) certainty that they can be passed down from generation to generation.

Along with more precise and specific terminology, the 1913 law also contained references to a "State Lunacy Commission," which was headed by Frederick Winslow Hatch. This commission had existed since 1897, but had not until this time been integrated into a coherent policymaking structure dealing with sterilization. Those suffering from certain mental illnesses could be sterilized on the order of the Lunacy Commission as a condition of release from an institution. In the case of the mentally retarded, or "feeble-minded," who were legally minors, the new law conditioned surgery upon the written consent of parents or guardians. This consent provision may be one reason why the law was not subjected to constitutional attack. And as with the earlier law, there was no special provision for funding. Sterilization costs would come out of the regular institutional budgets.

The legislation of 1917 made some minor alterations. It established an institution called the Pacific Colony which was to be for epileptics and the mentally retarded. Sterilizations performed at this institution had to be authorized by a Board of Trustees and approved by a clinical psychologist holding the degree of Ph.D. The authority of the State Lunacy Commission was enlarged somewhat, and additional "eugenical" language was added. Again, there were no special monetary appropriations for sterilization. This was to be the last legislative action in California to implement eugenic sterilization policy.

The evolution of the sterilization laws, then, shows an expanding bureaucracy as well as a growing concern among policymakers with genetically defective individuals and the threat of their continued reproduction. The expansion of the role of government, the creation of commissions of degree-holding "experts" to deal with various problems, and the willingness to abridge individual freedoms for the good of society are some of the central features of the Progressive Era. The general features of policy development in California followed the pattern of the United States as a whole in many ways, even if the end result was to be more extreme in the case of eugenics.

The term "involuntary," as it is often applied to sterilization in California during this time period, requires clarification. California's eugenic sterilization legislation in 1909, 1913 and 1917 called for the sterilization of various classes of mental defectives and criminals. Sterilization was involuntary in that the consent of the "patient" was not required and the operation could be made, for example, a condition of release from an insane asylum. Considering that the inmates of asylums in this era included recovering alcoholics, people with mild cases of epilepsy, and others who today would not be considered "insane," one can see that many patients were probably very motivated to leave and would have given their consent for sterilization out of impatience or even desperation. It was not necessary to obtain the consent of the (adult) individual's family either, although this was frequently done to avoid legal challenges. Sterilization as a completely voluntary procedure was also carried out during the Progressive Era and even before, but this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this paper. It should also be noted that a case such as that of parents choosing to temporarily commit a mentally retarded or "delinquent" daughter to an institution for the sole purpose of sterilization should also be considered "involuntary."

Table 2 shows how many sterilizations were performed at various state institutions in California. Those listed as state hospitals generally dealt with the mentally ill, while the Sonoma State Home was the primary facility for the mentally retarded. Two Prisons, San Quenton and Folsom, are also shown. While California law mandated sterilization for punitive, therapeutic and eugenic reasons, it can be seen that the policies were applied unevenly. Only a total of seven documented sterilizations were performed on prison inmates, for example.

(table omitted)
The sterilizations seem fairly well divided between northern and southern California. Also, it is apparent that most of the patients sterilized were what was then considered mentally ill rather than mentally retarded. Of 291 persons sterilized between June of 1920 and June of 1922 at all California institutions, 149 were listed as manic depressive, 68 were diagnosed schizophrenic, 27 were epileptic, 14 were suffering from "imbecility" (mental retardation), 19 had drug and alcohol-related problems and 14 were classified as "other."

Although a wide variety of intellectuals, scientists, reformers, dreamers and crackpots could be counted among the advocates of eugenics, it is not surprising that those who served and directed state institutions had the greatest impact on the most vulnerable segments of the population: the institutionalized and the poor. Superintendents and state officials were probably the most responsible for the vast number of forced sterilizations performed in California. Two of these officials are Frederick W. Hatch, head of the State Lunacy Commission, and U. S. Webb, attorney general for the state of California during much of the Progressive Era.

Frederick Winslow Hatch, Jr. was evidently instrumental both in the passage of the 1909 sterilization law and in the implementation of that and successive laws. In 1909, Dr. Hatch was secretary of the State Lunacy Commission in California. Shortly after the law was passed (it was introduced by a friend of Hatch, Senator W. F. Price), Hatch became the General Superintendent of State Hospitals, and held the post until his death in 1924. From such a position, Dr. Hatch would have been in a position to both implement policy and hire hospital administrators who favored eugenic sterilization. During his tenure, about three thousand persons were sterilized in California.

Hatch was a California native and the son of a prominent physician in the Sacramento area. Interestingly, the elder Hatch was elected Superintendent of Schools in 1856 as a candidate of the Know-Nothing party. Other than this, there is little available information on F. W. Hatch Jr's background and personal life. Much of the information that can be readily obtained, in the form of official correspondence, is courtesy of Harry Laughlin, a eugenics advocate at the national level who wrote extensively on sterilization. According to Laughlin's data, Hatch had a great deal of control over who was to be sterilized until his death in 1924. The assumptions and preconceptions visible in his and his close associates' writings will therefore be of special interest.

Hatch was a firm believer in hereditary mental defect. In a 1914 report by the State Commission in Lunacy, Hatch writes:

"That sterilization in appropriate cases should be done is undoubted. The influence of heredity, the engrafting of the weaknesses of parents upon children, perhaps in modified form, is so well estab- lished that there is no room for argument. An answer might be made that those where sterilization seemed urgent should never be discharged from the hospital but would be kept there through life; but it is easy to realize what the result would be. We would be over- crowded with the class of cases who are unfit to bring children into the world. A majority of the public would be maintaining a minority of the unfit by reason of their possession of procreative powers. Sterilization prevents the transmission of their weaknesses to chil- dren, the public is protected, and the sterilized individual can be a breadwinner but not a producer of his kind."

Obviously Hatch would not be disposed to listen to arguments in favor of environmental factors. Perhaps we can also see in the above passage a public administrator concerned with cutting costs or at least slowing their rise in the face of an increasing public need for services. Hatch states that "those who keep in touch with insane work must have become convinced of the increasing number of defectives and departures from normal among the fairly young people." But Hatch's motives for sterilizing those under his control are more complex than this. He actually believes that sterilization often reduces the severity of mental illness, even though a vasectomy or salpingectomy has little effect on the body's biochemistry. He goes on to state in his report that:

"There is on the part of some writers a tendency to take it for granted that vasectomy is negligible in its affects. Such a conclusion is contrary to our experience, for we find that many of our cases show a marked clearing up a few weeks after operation."

It is difficult to tell how valid this observation is. "Clearing up" might be due to a placebo affect: since hospital staff always tried to get some form of consent from the patient if they could, we can assume that a candidate for sterilization would have been told of the many benefits of the surgery.

By examining letters written by F. W. Hatch in the years immediately before the beginning of the sterilization policy, one can detect a kind of traditional, negative attitude toward the mentally ill based perhaps more on fear than anything else. This was especially true for epileptics. People with this affliction had been unfairly linked to crime and degeneracy since the work of the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso in the late 19th century, and probably much earlier. In a letter dated May 13th, 1904, Hatch writes to California governor George C. Pardee in regard to an epileptic mental patient named V. A. Strader, who had presumably written to the governor complaining of unfair treatment. At this time Hatch was the General Superintendent of State Hospitals. Hatch writes that "Strader has been an epileptic since childhood, has undoubtedly been insane and I have no doubt like most epileptics is given to great exaggeration in his accounts of cruel treatment- His description however of the kneeing process was to some extent confirmed by the investigation of last year." It is unclear what the "kneeing process" was, since Strader's letter is not available. Hatch's letter goes on to describe Strader's uncooperative attitude and behavioral problems. It is tempting to speculate that preconceptions brought about by Lombroso and others often created a self- fulfilling prophecy with institutionalized epileptics, but at the very least letters such as the above are illustrative of a lack of sensitivity, at least by today's standards. As shown earlier, epileptics figured prominently among those groups of inmates subject to sterilization.

Many of those working under Hatch shared his enthusiasm for sterilization. Some worked as Eugenics Field Workers. These were individuals that traveled around the state studying families to determine instances of hereditary degeneracy. Field work such as this was carried out extensively in the eastern United States under the direction of the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor, and there was clearly at least some such activity in California as well. In a letter dated March 12, 1915, a Eugenics Field Worker named Miss Ethel H. Thayer wrote:

"I spoke to Dr. Hatch about the investigation of the family histories of cases proposed for ster- ilization, and he intends to give me some such cases for study. A history that I am getting at present seems to be increasing the desire and efforts of Dr. Stocking (Medical Superintendent of Agnew State Hos- pital)...to secure the sterilization of two unfit individuals who are now at large and raising a family only to become county charges."

Thayer goes on in the letter to suggest that more field workers be hired so that the family studies could be carried out on a larger scale.

From this letter we can see two things. First, we can see the expanding role of what we now call social workers, a common phenomenon of the Progressive Era. Second, we can see the power wielded by the field workers in their compilation of family histories. Historians and others who have studied the eugenics field work that was carried out in the eastern U. S. have provided us with an almost nightmarish picture of what Miss Thayer might have done. The field workers were usually young female college students who were given some basic instruction in biology and genetic theory. They would go to economically depressed areas and proceed to assess the social value of dirt- poor families based on their impressions and available "documentation" (It should be recalled that impoverished surroundings were seen by eugenics advocates to be mainly caused by bad heredity). Individuals were labeled "degenerate" or "feebleminded" based on dirty clothing or an unkempt appearance. Children were labeled "imbecile" based on a glance from across the room. If some disorder appeared to have been present in a previous generation, it was labeled "hereditary." Individuals who had been dead for years were categorized as having been mentally deficient based on the field worker's "intuition." Single-parent or otherwise broken homes were a sure sign of hereditary degeneracy. It is unknown what action, if any, was ever taken by the State of California with regard to the people Miss Thayer was studying. They may have suffered a grave injustice.

The following two letters were written a few years later, and their text is reproduced in full here because it extremely illustrative of the mindset that existed among many in the state medical establishment. The first is from Fred P. Clark, superintendent of the State Hospital at Stockton, to F. W. Hatch, asking for authorization to perform a sterilization.

Dear Doctor: MALE, admitted April 14, 1921; native Spain; age 26; white; male; from Kern County. Is afflicted with hallucinations that he is about to be submerged in water by friends- runs away with no particular aim in view; fights and threatens to fight; saw hell- fire. Diagnosis: ALCOHOLIC PSYCHOSIS: ACUTE HALLUCINOSIS. We think this man should be operated on for for sterilization as he would likely transmit to descendants. Yours Truly, Fred P. Clark Medical Superintendent

Dr. Hatch approved this sterilization and it was presumably carried out. Today we would say that this man needed treatment for his alcoholism. Here, heis getting a vasectomy along with any treatment they might be giving him. Or perhaps he really had some other type of mental illness unrelated to drinking. At any rate, he is a young immigrant and is probably a poorly paid agricultural worker. Many of the letters collected by Laughlin indicate that the patients are giving their "consent" for the operation. This particular letter does not. We can also see the assumption that his condition is hereditary.

The second letter is from Leonard Stocking, the Superintendent of Agnew State Hospital. This is the Dr. Stocking mentioned by Miss Thayer.

Dear Doctor: FEMALE; self-committed No. 442; from Alameda County, January 22, 1921; white; native of Kansas; female; age 32 when committed; married; housewife by occupation; diagnosis: manic-depressive. One previous attack. Admitted June 8, 1918; discharged June 18, 1920. Present attack began two months ago; sudden in onset. Bodily condition fair. No injuries; no epilepsy; depressed. Suddenly became very much confused. No liquor, tobacco, drugs. Cause of insanity unknown. After leaving the hospital the last time she became pregnant and had another child. Soon after this she had to be recommitted to the hospital, and I think further pregnancies would be a decided hin- drance for her remaining stable when she again goes home. Yours truly, Leonard Stocking, Medical Superintendent

The decision to sterilize was approved by Dr. Hatch three days later. This particular sterilization is therapeutic rather than eugenic in nature, showing that sterilizations could be performed for more than one reason. This would be keeping with Dr. Hatch's views on the subject. Like the first letter, however, this one gives no mention of the patient agreeing to the procedure. Most likely her husband gave consent. Regardless, Dr. Stocking did not feel that matter of consent was even worth mentioning - and this is on a formal request for approval! This suggests that perhaps the mechanism for high-level approval was a mere formality, and that the decision to sterilize was an "in- house" operation "open to all sorts of abuse by a zealous eugenics advocate." In some ways the eugenic sterilization program in Nazi Germany was to have more extensive safeguards for the patient than the system in California.

John R. Haynes was a doctor, social reformer and eugenic sterilization advocate. His interest in halting the reproduction of the unfit can be seen in a letter he wrote in 1916. Copies of the letter, essentially a questionnaire asking, among other things, how many sterilizations had been performed to date and why, were sent to the superintendents of all state hospitals in California, as well as any other State where Haynes thought Sterilization might be taking place. The final question in the letter asks: (Since) "few of the insane discharged as cured, remain permanently cured, should not the vast benefits accruing to Society in the prevention of the propagation of the unfit, outweigh an occasional injustice to an individual?" Hatch would surely have answered yes to this, but there is no record of a reply from him. Dr. Leonard Stocking, Medical Superintendent of California's Agnew State Hospital, replied to Haynes that not all mental patients should be sterilized upon release, just those "of a class likely to reproduce." Dr. John Reily, Superintendent of the Southern California State Hospital at Patton replied that 267 people had been sterilized to date at his institution, and that: "An occasional man or woman who would be denied the joys of parenthood, when they were entitled to same, would be a small consideration as compared with the vast benefits accruing to society in the prevention of the propagation of the unfit." There was clearly no shortage of state medical officers willing to put the what they saw as the good of society over the rights of the individual.

It has so far been impossible to determine with any certainty the opinions of Governor Gillett, or the more well- known Hiram Johnson, regarding sterilization. Obviously, they signed the legislation into law, but other than that, the conditions and the degree of their support are unclear. We can, however, find a highly placed sterilization advocate outside the medical-institutional establishment in the person of U. S. Webb, the Attorney-General in California who served under both Pardee and Johnson. In an official position released on March 2, 1910, shortly after the creation of the first sterilization law, Webb mentions that while laws mandating the castration of certain criminals might not survive a legal attack, laws with a more eugenic focus and featuring the vasectomy and salpingectomy are much more secure. This combined with certain "consent" provisions make Webb confident that the laws will avoid court challenges. In this he was anticipating the 1927 Buck vs. Bell case in which the U. S. Supreme Court upheld sterilization if it was done for eugenic reasons. California was on the forefront of policy in this regard.

Webb seems to prefer that sterilizations be prescribed by doctors at state-run mental institutions rather than by the courts in the context of "punishment." Webb mentions a meeting of the National Prison Association in 1907 where it was mentioned that punitive sterilization, especially castration, "would be unsafe in the hands of the court and the modern jury and should only be applied after the investigation of experts." He goes on to say that many acts of "paternalism" by the government are limited by the legal system in United States. Here we can clearly see the Progressive Era faith in government power and the need for "experts" to solve social problems. Regarding eugenic legislation, Webb has the usual concern about the unfit:

"Most of the insane, epileptic, imbecile, idiotic, sexual perverts; many of the confirmed inebriates, prostitutes, tramps and criminals, as well as the habitual paupers found in our country poor-asylums; also many of the children in our orphan homes, belong to the class known as degenerates. For this condition to go on unchecked eventually means a weakening of our nation."

The unfit, which for Webb would appear to include a large number of disadvantaged people who are not criminals, are a threat to society. Webb goes on to extoll the vasectomy as a device to preserve an individual's liberty, and to argue that traditional common law must keep up with "scientific and social advances."

As we have seen, officials of the State of California promoted sterilization out of a concern for improving the human race and thereby reducing the number of people that had to be dealt with in institutions. Like many people of the time, they saw eugenics as the new branch of science that could eliminate many sources of corruption and degeneracy. For many eugenics advocates, individual reproductive choice, at least for those deemed unfit by society, was a small price to pay.

Addendum

Sterilization for eugenic purposes continued in California into the 1930s. Activity tapered off during the WWII, partly due to a shortage of doctors in the state institutions. The policy essentially ended in the five-year period after the war, due to changing attitudes toward genetics and the treatment of mental disorders, new leadership at the state institutional level, and the general discrediting of eugenics by association with Nazi policies.

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