Date of Award

Spring 1934

Document Type



Life & Environmental Sciences


The question, or rather, the problem of sterilization of the unfit has been very forcibly carried into the minds of the people in the past few years. With 400,000 Germans eligible for sterilization under the law, the government of Chancellor Hitler hopes that his campaign of eugenics will create within a few years a nation sound in mind and body. In this attempt, the common people of Germany have been compelled to submit to a program of wholesale sterilization in which thousands of persons have been deprived of their natural right to reproduce their kind and do their part to perpetuate the race. Sterilization, in some form, dates back to very early times. However, the idea of sterilization on a eugenic basis is of comparatively recent origin.

The first attempt to pass a sterilization law in the United States occurred in the state of Pennsylvania in 1905. Governor Pennypacker immediately vetoed the bill because of the looseness of the language contained in it. Similar measures were introduced in all the succeeding legislatures, leading finally to a passage in 1921 which was again vetoed by Governor Sproul, who set forth one of the prime objections to all such measures, "If, therefore, the legislature may, under the police power, theoretically benefit the next generation by the sterilization of persons enumerated in this bill, it may and should pursue a like course with respect to persons affected with communicable diseases of a character such as to threaten the health of posterity. Besides those afflicted with physical and mental diseases, many other persons might be undesirable citizens in the opinion of the majority of the legislature".

The date of the first sterilization law in the United States is placed at 1907, when the state of Indiana passed a law authorizing the sterilizing of the inmates of certain public institutions. This law, however, was never enforced and in 1921 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. A second law was passed in Indiana in 1927. This, as yet, has neither been enforced nor tested for its constitutionality.

California has the honor, if it be an honor, of having used her law to the greatest extent. More than 15,000 persons have been sterilized in this country. Approximately one-half of this number are residents of the state of California. Inmates of certain institutions in that state are sterilized before their release with the consent of the inmate or of the closest relative. This consent is often easy to obtain since it exerts a decided influence on the release of the inmate.

The United States has been called, and is truly, the father of this modern movement towards the sterilization of the unfit. At the present time, there are twenty six states that may legally practice human sterilization. In 1928 the province of Alberta in Canada, in 1929 Denmark, Finland, and the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland, and in 1932 the State of Vera Cruz in Mexico passed sterilization laws. This shows us, to some extent, the rapid spread f the practice throughout the world