Last week, Virginia became the second state to compensate victims of one of the most shameful acts in U.S. history: state-sponsored forced sterilization. Virginia has agreed to give each surviving victim $25,000. North Carolina was the first to compensate its victims, setting aside $50,000 per individual in 2013. Now it’s time for California to compensate its sterilization victims.
The discredited pseudo-science of eugenics (meaning “well-born”) purported that certain traits such as intelligence and social behaviors are hereditary. Advocates believed that the same selective breeding theories applied to corn and cattle could also govern the intellectual and social characteristics of humanity. As a result, American bureaucrats and legislators eagerly implemented policies aimed at preventing those they deemed “undesirable” and “defective” from reproducing. The scheme promulgated that sterilization was a cost-effective way of relieving society of the burden of providing for the social welfare of the unfit and socially inadequate.
In 1909, California became the third state to pass — virtually without opposition — a forced-sterilization law. In 1913, state legislators amended the law to broaden its reach, seeking to target anyone with “mental disease, which may have been inherited and is likely to be transmitted to descendants.” What followed was the most zealous eugenics campaign in America.