Poster of the Week – Stop Forced Sterilization


This week, California passed legislation to pay reparations to surviving victims of forced sterilization by this state. Forced sterilizations are based in eugenics, the belief that the human population could be improved if certain people, deemed “inferior” or “feebleminded” could not reproduce. Racism, Eurocentrism, and misogyny shaped the eugenics movement, and forced sterilizations primarily targeted women of color and the disabled. Whenever we exhibit a poster about forced sterilization, someone always says, “But it’s not done any more.” Then a few years later, an article appears and gives another contemporary example. Here’s a really short timeline, focusing on the United States, but it gives a small insight into the horrors and longevity of this practice which is still happening in parts of the world. Maybe in this country as well. Very brief history of forced sterilizations: 1895: The first eugenics law in the United States was passed in Connecticut. It was a law against certain kinds of marriages. 1907: Indiana passed the world’s first sterilization law in 1907. 31 states followed suit. 1909: California is the 2nd state to pass eugenics-based sterilization laws. Women of Mexican descent were targeted by the eugenics movement. 1924: Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act. This U.S. Immigration Law was inspired by eugenicists, "to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.” It prevented immigration from Asia and set quotas on immigrants from Eastern Europe and for non-Western countries. Quotas on Jewish immigration resulted in many applications during WWII being rejected. 1927: U.S. Supreme Court decided, by a vote of 8 to 1, to uphold a state's right to forcibly sterilize a person considered unfit to procreate. This led to approximately 70,000 forced sterilizations during the 20th century. 1933: Nazi sterilization law was modeled on laws passed in California and Indiana. Under this law, the Nazis sterilized approximately 400,000 children and adults, mostly Jews and other “undesirables,” labeled “defective.” 1930s-40s: State-sanctioned sterilizations reached their peak in the U.S., but rose in some states during the 1950s and 1960s. 1961: Famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, was given an unnecessary and nonconsensual hysterectomy; she claimed that somewhere around two-thirds of all Black women in Hinds County, Mississippi had had the procedure, colloquially known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.” 1969-1973: In Los Angeles, Mexican and Chicana women were disproportionately targeted by involuntary sterilizations. A number of these women would go on to join a class action lawsuit, Madrigal v. Quilligan. 1981: 33 states had eugenics boards with the power to order sterilizat