1913 : Michigan Adopts Sterilization Law for Mentally Defectives

April 1, 2018 all-day

One hundred years ago this month, the Michigan Legislature approved Public Act 34, authorizing the sterilization of any “mentally defective person” held in a state institution. Michigan had been the very first state to consider a compulsory sterilization bill.

In 1897, W. R. Edgar, a physician and state representative, proposed “An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy” that would have required the “asexualization” of mental health patients, prisoners with three felony convictions, and anyone who had been convicted of rape or child molestation. Under his proposal, men would have been castrated and women would have received radical hysterectomies in order to “cease to be able to reproduce their kind.” In a very close vote, the bill failed to pass.

In 1907, Indiana became the first state to enact compulsory sterilization. Six years later on April 1, 1913, Michigan enacted a sterilization law that targeted patients in the state’s mental health hospitals. By 1932, two-thirds of U.S. states had adopted similar laws, which were part of the broader American eugenics movement.

Michigan’s compulsory sterilization law was finally repealed in 1974.

For the full article, see Mark A. Largent, “Michigan must apologize for coerced sterilizations of the past”, Detroit News, April 17, 2013.

Professor Robert Rydell of Montana State University talked about the history of eugenics in early 20th century America. Eugenics is a science that advocates improving the hereditary qualities of a race through controlled mating. Professor Rydell talked about some of the eugenics studies and experiments that took in the United States, as well as eugenics-based forced sterilization laws passed by several states that targeted the so-called “feebleminded.” Eugenics in Early 20th Century America via C-SPAN.

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