Morehead State University

Poster Title

The Eugenics Movement in America, 1920-1980

Institution

Morehead State University

Abstract

The eugenics movement in America affected women of various backgrounds during the 1920s- 1980s. Through the use of compulsory sterilization women became victims of the inherent violence of the movement that sought to “purify” society by sterilizing “unfit” women. African American women, women of mixed race, immigrants, and poor and working class white women who conceived too many children became the target of these sterilizations. Additionally, many Americans still held on to the theories of Social Darwinism and the belief that mental and physical defectiveness was a genetic disorder. Therefore, the feeble-minded, the insane, the blind, the deaf, and criminals were included in this group. By 1932, twenty-eight states had adopted the practice of compulsory sterilization of the mentally impaired. By the 1970s, sixty thousand Americans had been subjected to forced sterilization. As women’s societal roles began to change so too did the eugenics movement. The movement offers a reflection of how social attitudes about women of different class, race, and educational backgrounds evolved throughout time and place and how the violence of the movement physically and emotionally affected women.

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The Eugenics Movement in America, 1920-1980

The eugenics movement in America affected women of various backgrounds during the 1920s- 1980s. Through the use of compulsory sterilization women became victims of the inherent violence of the movement that sought to “purify” society by sterilizing “unfit” women. African American women, women of mixed race, immigrants, and poor and working class white women who conceived too many children became the target of these sterilizations. Additionally, many Americans still held on to the theories of Social Darwinism and the belief that mental and physical defectiveness was a genetic disorder. Therefore, the feeble-minded, the insane, the blind, the deaf, and criminals were included in this group. By 1932, twenty-eight states had adopted the practice of compulsory sterilization of the mentally impaired. By the 1970s, sixty thousand Americans had been subjected to forced sterilization. As women’s societal roles began to change so too did the eugenics movement. The movement offers a reflection of how social attitudes about women of different class, race, and educational backgrounds evolved throughout time and place and how the violence of the movement physically and emotionally affected women.