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1907 Indiana Eugenics Law
Location: East lawn of the Indiana State Library, 140 North Senate Avenue, Indianapolis. (Marion County, Indiana)
Installed: 2007 Indiana Historical Bureau, Indiana Universtiy, and Indiana University Foundation.
ID# : 49.2007.1
By late 1800s, Indiana authorities believed criminality, mental problems, and pauperism were hereditary. Various laws were enacted based on this belief. In 1907, Governor J. Frank Hanly approved first state eugenics law making sterilization mandatory for certain individuals in state custody. Sterilizations halted 1909 by Governor Thomas R. Marshall.
Indiana Supreme Court ruled 1907 law unconstitutional 1921, citing denial of due process under Fourteenth Amendment. 1927 law reinstated sterilization, adding court appeals. Approximately 2,500 total in state custody were sterilized. Governor Otis R. Bowen approved repeal of all sterilization laws 1974; by 1977, related restrictive marriage laws repealed.
Science, Medicine, and Inventions, Legal
By late 1800s, Indiana authorities believed criminality, mental problems, and pauperism were hereditary. (1) Various laws were enacted based on this belief. (2) In 1907, Governor J. Frank Hanly approved first state eugenics law making sterilization mandatory for certain individuals in state custody. (3) Sterilizations halted 1909 by Governor Thomas R. Marshall. (4)
Indiana Supreme Court ruled 1907 law unconstitutional 1921, citing denial of due process under Fourteenth Amendment. (5) 1927 law reinstated sterilization, adding court appeals. (6) Approximately 2,500 people in state custody were sterilized. (7) Governor Otis R. Bowen approved repeal of all sterilization laws 1974; (8) by 1977, related restrictive marriage laws repealed. (9)
(1) In a paper presented in 1879 to the Social Science Association of Indiana, Harriet Foster claimed that imbeciles and the feeble-minded often inherit their conditions. Foster stated that "intermarriage of consanguineous persons, and intemperance of one or both parents, " are the most frequent reasons certain people have mental problems. Harriet M. Foster, The Education of Idiots and Imbeciles (Indianapolis, 1979), 6 (B050907).
A preacher, Oscar C. McCulloch, studied a group of families around Indianapolis he called the Tribe of Ishmael, using records dating back to 1840. McCulloch claimed his study proved human degradation through heredity. McCulloch concluded mental weakness, pauperism, licentiousness, and poor morals stemmed from genetics. McCulloch stated, "Note the force of heredity. Each child tends to the same life, reverts when taken out." Oscar C. McCulloch, Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation (Indianapolis, 1881), 7 (B050968).
The findings of Tribe of Ishmael were contested in an article in the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. The author of the article, Robert Horton, then at the Indiana State Archives, claimed, "the rhetoric of McCulloch's work is enough to raise suspicions about the quality of his research." A record on Robert Ross in McCulloch's book calls Ross a man of low cunning and noted that he "seduced all his daughters and made them his mistresses." A case history of the same man in the Family Service Association of Indianapolis described Ross as a "very industrious sober man, " an assessment that his employer and minister confirmed. Horton states McCulloch saw what he wanted to see. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, eds. (Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1994), 1341-1342 (B050857).
The first three secretaries of the Board of State Charities established heredity as a key to pauperism, crime, and mental problems in official state publications. During their tenures from 1889 to 1822, The Indiana Bulletin, produced quarterly, was filled with constant examples of pauperism, crime, and mental problems being traced to heredity.
Alexander Johnson, named the first secretary of the Board of State Charities in 1889, was influenced by McCulloch's work. McCulloch even assisted in naming Johnson as secretary. Johnson noted in his memoirs, "Generation after generation many of the families to which these defective people belonged had been paupers, in or out of the asylum; their total number and the proportion of feeble minded among them steadily increasing as time went on." Alexander Johnson, Adventures in Social Welfare: Being Reminiscences of Things, Thoughts and Folks During Forty Years of Social Work (Fort Wayne, 1923), 144-45 (B050908).
Ernest Bicknell, Johnson's successor, released an official report in 1896 that lamented the hereditary condition of pauperism. Board of State Charities, The Indiana Bulletin (March, 1896), 7-8 (B050916).
Amos Butler replaced Bicknell on January 1, 1898. Under Butler, the first reference to sterilization as a way to prevent insanity and "defectives" has been located in an official state document. Board of State Charities, The Indiana Bulletin (June, 1900), 90 (B050919).
(2) May 8, 1901, Governor Winfield Taylor Durbin approved a law supported by the Board of Charities that made unsupervised, feeble-minded women from 16-45 wards of the state to prevent them from producing future generations of feeble-minded persons. Laws of Indiana, 1901, pp. 156-59 (B050940).
In an effort to reduce reproduction by the feeble-minded, Governor J. Frank Hanly approved a marriage law on March 9, 1905 that prohibited marriage licenses for imbeciles, epileptics, and those of unsound minds. Laws of Indiana, 1905, pp. 215-16 (B050824).
(3) Dr. Harry C. Sharp and Superintendent W. H. Whittaker, both of the Indiana State Reformatory, lobbied hard for a sterilization bill. Indianapolis Morning Star, March 7, 1907, p. 10 (B050875).
Governor Hanly approved the first eugenics law on March 9, 1907, which made sterilization mandatory for criminals, idiots, rapists, and imbeciles in state custody. Laws of Indiana, 1907, pp. 377-78 (B050823).
(4) In 1909, Governor Thomas Riley Marshall halted sterilizations. Clifton J. Phillips, Indiana In Transition (Indianapolis, 1968), 492-93 (B050856); Robert L. Osgood, "The Menace of the Feebleminded, " Indiana Magazine of History, 97 (December 2001), 257 (B050853).
Governor James P. Goodrich spoke about Marshall's failure to enforce the law in a speech to the Indiana General Assembly. Goodrich said, "Ever since Governor Marshall raised the question as to the constitutionality of the present law authorizing the desexualization of inmates of certain institutions, it has been a dead letter and no serious attempt has been made to enforce it." Indiana Senate Journal, 1921, p. 23 (B050855).
(5) In 1921, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled the 1907 sterilization law unconstitutional because it denied due process of the law granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. Williams et al. v. Smith, No. 23, 709, Supreme Court of Indiana, 190 Ind. 526; 131 N.E. 2; 1921 Ind. (B050826).
(6) Governor Edward Jackson approved the 1927 law, which granted the due process of law required by the Fourteenth Amendment, naming the courts as venues for appeal regarding sterilization decisions by the governing board of an institution. Laws of Indiana, 1927, pp. 713-17 (B050830).
This law was amended several times, from 1931 into the 1950s. Laws of Indiana, 1931, pp. 116-19 (B050832); Laws of Indiana, 1951, pp. 649-653 (B051013). IUPUI Professor Jason Scott Lantzer has provided citations for the laws passed during this period of time.
(7) It is difficult to state the exact number of people sterilized by Indiana law because different institutions around the state used varying methods of recordkeeping. Two academic studies place the total number of people sterilized around 2, 500.
Professor Paul A. Lombardo of George State University provided the Indiana Historical Bureau with information concerning eugenic studies made by Julius Paul. Julius Paul wrote several works on sterilization in the United States. He calculated Indiana sterilized 2, 424 people up until 1963. 1, 231 sterilizations occurred in Indiana from the beginning of sterilization effort until 1943. From 1943-1963, Indiana conducted 1, 193 sterilizations. Julius Paul, "State Eugenic Sterilization History: A Brief Overview, " Jonas Robitscher, ed., Eugenic Sterilization (Springfield, IL, 1973) (B051012).
Professor Alexandra Minna Stern of the University of Michigan estimated around 2, 000 people were sterilized under Indiana law. Professor Stern's figures are in a footnote in the forthcoming article, "We Cannot Make a Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear: Eugenics in the Hoosier Heartland, 1900-1960" Indiana Magazine of History, 103 (March, 2007) (B051015). "I derived the figure of 2, 000 by adding up the 1, 576 sterilizations reported by the Indiana Department of Mental Health for the period 1936 to 1962, the 308 operations listed in the Fort Wayne annual reports for the fiscal years 1927-1928 to 1935-1936 (as complied by ISA archivist Vicki Casteel), the 144 sterilization orders approved by the Muscatatuck Board of Trustees from 1937 to 1953, the 35 sterilizations listed in the Logansport annual reports from 1931 to 1943 (when they appear to end), the 7 salpingectomies listed in the Indiana Girls' School annual reports from 1927 to 1933, and several redacted Fort Wayne patient records listing sterilizations dated 1933 to 1975. Although the total comes to 2, 072, I use the more conservative estimate of 2, 000 because some of the Muscatatuck inmates were transferred to Fort Wayne for sterilization and it is unclear how these operations were counted. During the same period, sterilizations were not reported in the annual reports of Indiana's other insane hospitals or the Village for Epileptics, and further research is needed to determine if unreported sterilizations occurred in those facilities. See "Eugenic Sterilization in Indiana"; Fort Wayne State School Annual Reports (Indianapolis: Wm. Buford) 1927-1952; Logansport State Hospital Annual Reports (Fort Wayne: Fort Wayne Printing Co.) 1931-1943; Indiana Girls' School Annual Reports (Indianapolis: Wm. Buford), 1927-1933; Muscatatuck Colony for the Feebleminded, Board of Trustees, Minutes, 1937-1953 and assorted redacted Fort Wayne State Hospital and Training Center Face Sheets, ISA." Stern's numbers do not include the 500 sterilizations from 1899-1910 claimed by Doctor Harry C. Sharp, bringing Indiana's total of official and unofficial sterilizations to approximately 2, 500.
Another comprehensive figure for the total number of people sterilized in Indiana appeared in the Indianapolis Star. The Star claimed a total of 1, 576 sterilizations occurred between 1936-1962. These numbers do not include approximately 500 sterilizations that Dr. Henry C. Sharp conducted from 1899-1909 or numbers from 1910-1936, bringing the total number of sterilizations well above 2, 000. Indianapolis Star, "State Orders 2 Mental Patients to be Sterilized, " February 25, 1969 (B051014).
There are several other sources that record the number sterilizations that occurred over a short period of time as well. Doctor Harry C. Sharp of the Indiana State Reformatory claimed in a 1909 pamphlet to have sterilized around 500 inmates from 1899 to 1909. These operations took place before and after the 1907 law that legalized the procedure. Sharp, H.C., Vasectomy: A Means of Preventing Defective Procreation (Indianapolis, 1909) (050961).
According to Robert L. Osgood, from 1907-1909, 120 state-funded sterilizations took place at the State Reformatory. Osgood, "The Menace of the Feebleminded, " Indiana Magazine of History, 97 (December, 2001), 257 (B050853). Official numbers from this time period are difficult to find, and Osgood's tally has not been verified.
From the passage of the 1931 law until May 1934, 141 persons were sterilized under the 1931 law. L. Potter Harshman, "Medical and Legal Aspects of Sterilization in Indiana, " reprinted from the Proceedings of the Fifty-Eighth Annual Session of the American Association on Mental Deficiency held at New York City, May 26-May 29, 1934 (B050858). Harshman was a state psychiatrist at the Fort Wayne State School. This report provided the number of people sterilized between the passage of the 1931 law and the date of the paper presented by Harshman in New York City. Males, ages 6-15: 51 sterilizations; Males, ages 16 and up: 23 sterilizations; Females, ages 6-15: 37 sterilizations; Females, ages 16 and up: 30 sterilizations.
(8) Indiana repealed all laws concerning sterilization of the mentally ill when Governor Otis R. Bowen approved Public Law No. 60 on February 13, 1974. Laws of Indiana, 1974, p. 262 (B050912).
(9) Approved by Governor Bowen on April 21, 1975, Public Law 111 amended the 1905 marriage law. The 1975 law removed language that prohibited the issuance of a license to people "under guardianship as a person of unsound mind" and men who in the past 5 years had spent time in a county asylum or home for indigent persons. Laws of Indiana, 1975, p. 738 (B050966). Public Law 303, approved by Governor Bowen on May 4, 1977, amended the Indiana Code, eliminating the clause that forbade the issuance of marriage licenses to "imbeciles." Laws of Indiana, 1977, p. 1378 (B050967).