North Carolina Capitol building
A panel at the North Carolina capitol has recommended compensation be given to victims of the North Carolina eugenics program. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The remaining survivors of North Carolina’s eugenics program may receive some fiscal compensation. The state had thousands of people, mainly women, surgically sterilized against their will.

Sordid chapter of American history

In 1977, the state of North Carolina ended its state eugenics program, a part of American history that normally doesn’t get discussed. Eugenics programs were launched by numerous states to sterilize people considered “unfit” to raise children, including the mentally disabled or women deemed “socially unfit” to be mothers.

According to the article “Disability, Eugenics and the Culture War” that appeared in the St. Louis Journal of Health Law and Policy in 2009, by Georgia State University College of Law professor Paul Lombardo, 33 states had eugenics programs in the 20th century. Eugenics programs ran from 1907, when Indiana passed the first, until the last compulsory sterilization occurred in 1981 in Oregon, according to the Eugene Register Guard.

In all, an estimated 65,000 people were surgically sterilized against their will.

North Carolina panel recommends compensation

At least 7,600 of those procedures, according to ABC, were carried out on people in North Carolina between 1929 and 1974. A state commissioned panel has been examining the effects of the program and the North Carolina Eugenics Board for some time, especially in regard to whether the victims are entitled to monetary compensation by the state. The committee was established in 2003, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, by then-governor Mike Easley.

That panel, the Eugenics Compensation Task Force, has just issued a recommendation to North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue. The group recommends that verifiable living victims, of which there are 72 known, be given $50,000 in a lump-sum payment. Gov. Perdue has to pass the panel’s recommendations to the legislature, who will decide whether to follow through.

More than 1,000 could still be living

It is estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 living people were sterilized by the state of North Carolina, though only 72 have been identified thus far, according to CBS. Most of the victims were women, as 85 percent of the procedures were carried out on girls. Some of them were as young as nine years old when their tubes were tied or hysterectomies were performed on them.

One victim, Elaine Riddick, was 14 years old when she gave birth to a son; she was impregnated while being raped. The state considered her “promiscuous” and got her to agree to sterilization by saying they would perform “a procedure” after she gave birth. She said she was “raped twice … once by the perpetrator and once by the state of North Carolina.”

Eugenics, largely conceived by English scientist Francis Galton, was a social doctrine of the early 20th century. The idea was that better people would come about by better breeding, and thus, the mentally infirm and socially irresponsible should be forcibly prevented from breeding.




Winston-Salem Journal

Eugene Register-Guard:,4132204

St. Louis Journal of Health and Policy through Social Science Research Network (Article is in PDF – Requires Adobe Reader):


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