A Historical Background in The Scientific Concept of Eugenics

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Words: 1095 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Nov 22, 2018

Words: 1095|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Nov 22, 2018

The 'scientific' theory of eugenics arouse in 1869 through Francis Galton. Galton, a hereditary genius and cousin to Charles Darwin, believed that behavior and characteristics passed through generations hereditarily. For instance, according to eugenics, poor women conceived poor children and wealthy women conceived wealthy children. Eugenics targeted individuals that did not fit the idea of the ideal American and women who challenged social normality's through employment. Americans embraced eugenics in the face of immigration and crisis of masculinity during the early twentieth century. President Teddy Roosevelt supported the theory of eugenics, even comparing the duty of soldiers to fight to the duty of women to bear children. After World War II and the knowledge that the genocide of millions of Jewish individuals occurred became well-known, pro-eugenicist urged that Hitler's actions took the theory of eugenics completely overboard. States that had utilized eugenic language and laws, such as Virginia and California, began to diminish the use of such language and legislation. However, not all states followed this diminishing. Instead, North Carolina increased the use of this legislation and sterilized roughly 7,600 women after World War II.[1] Individuals, such as doctors, social workers, and members of the Eugenics Board, which believed in eugenics and practiced sterilization, believed that their sterilizations towards young women were warranted and wanted.

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The theory of eugenics, founded on the basis of 'science', allowed doctor's to develop ways in which to make sterilization surgery easier and affordable. Women's sterilization techniques, unlike the vasectomy for men, involved a higher risk. In the 1930's, sterilization became the primary source of contraception as a result of the Great Depression. In order to receive sterilization, women underwent surgery and had to stay in the hospital for days recovering, while men's operation took about 15 minutes and then they returned to their homes. Doctor's developed laparoscopy and culdoscopy as a less intrusive manner to sterilize women, making sterilization more popular and safe. As a result of Hathaway v Worchester, insurance companies began to monetarily aid sterilization due to the fact that it cost less to maintain. This became compared and contrasted to the birth control pill, which incurred monthly fees, while sterilization was a one time fee.

In North Carolina, the perspective of doctors to eugenics and sterilization appeared aloof, yet some believed that the actions they took were in the best interest of the society. The Bowman Gray School of Medicine, now known as the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and located in North Carolina, "opened the country's first department of medical genetics in 1941," under Dr. William Allan.[2] This department focused on negative eugenics, which aimed to stop certain groups, minorities and disabled, from procreating. Some doctors began to question their sterilization orders in the 1960's. Dr. A.V. Blount, who had assisted in the sterilization of many women but cannot recall ever sterilizing a woman, stated that he, "'had a feeling that... perhaps this wasn't a good thing to do'".[3] Dr. Blount appears to avoid the subject of eugenics with his answer and acknowledge this portion of history that occurred in North Carolina. On the other hand, Dr. Ernest Brown admitted that he had believed sterilization helped society and did not sterilize a woman unless he had thought "they were incompetent of having a child".[4] Dr. Brown, while thinking his actions were the best for the North Carolina society, took away the power from many women to decide what they would or would not do with their own bodies.

Social workers in North Carolina played a big role in deciding who would undergo sterilization and have their case reviewed by the Eugenics Board. Social workers worked directly with the people of North Carolina and reviewed cases brought to their attention as a result of actions taken by North Carolina individuals. Social workers also walked into neighborhoods and found women, as they were mostly targeted, that appeared unfit for the American society and would recommend that they submit to sterilization to ensure they did not create any 'undesirable' offspring. In the case of Nial Cox Ramirez, a young woman who had gotten pregnant at the age of 18, she encountered a social worker, Shelton Owens Howland, who threatened to take away Ramirez's welfare from her and her entire family in the event that Ramirez did not agree to sterilization.[5] Ramirez spoke about Howland: "'She (was) God, and I'm a little rat running around on the floor'".[6] Howland had believed that "the only way to keep a family of this type from reproducing itself is to rely on sterilization".[7] Social workers held all of the power in this situation, robbing women's autonomy away from their own bodies.

The Eugenics Board in North Carolina thrived for 40 years before it came to an end in 1974 after the Relf v Weinberger court case. The eugenics board reviewed cases brought forward by social workers and valuated the 'sanity' of many women over paper work. It consisted of a representative from each of the following: "attorney general's office, Dorothea Dix Hospital, the state Department of Public Welfare, the state Department of Public Health and the state Department of Mental Health".[8] Jacob Koomen, the North Carolina state health director in 1968, "testified that the sterilizations were a favor of sorts".[9] Gerald White, representative of the attorney general's office on the board, claimed that sterilization, "'protected society and it protected the individuals... who fight fall into the role of having to care for a child if the mentally retarded person had a child'".[10] The eugenics board read cases provided by social workers and then decided whom to sterilize. The eugenics board had the final say in whom to or not to sterilize.

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Doctors, social workers, and members of the Eugenic Board believed that the actions they took in sterilizing many women were in their best interest. As a result of these beliefs, women's power over their bodies was stripped away. Instead of 'bothering' to deal with economic, racial, or gender problems, eugenics and sterilization became the answer. Johanna Schoen, a professor at the University of Iowa, explained this method as the "Band-Aid solution - sterilization is the easiest way to deal with it".[11] The effects of such a solution are seen in the current American society. Instead of having politicians that answer questions in regards to economy, race, and gender, they attack certain groups and place blame on that group. Information about eugenics and sterilization of many women needs to continue to be taught and not overlooked because it makes American history look unpleasant.

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A Historical Background in the Scientific Concept of Eugenics. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from
“A Historical Background in the Scientific Concept of Eugenics.” GradesFixer, 05 Nov. 2018,
A Historical Background in the Scientific Concept of Eugenics. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2023].
A Historical Background in the Scientific Concept of Eugenics [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Nov 05 [cited 2023 Dec 5]. Available from:
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