Controlling the Feebleminded Population: The Sterilization Eugenics Debate in Maryland, 1900-1960

Jessica Simpson


States surrounding Maryland passed laws in favor of sterilization, why didn’t Maryland? While scholars have focused much attention on states such as Virginia and California where eugenics laws were passed, states such as Maryland have been left out of the conversation among historians about the popularity of eugenics in the twentieth century. Many writings have excluded Maryland because there was never a law that passed legalizing sterilization, nor a challenge to a state law that resulted in a Supreme Court case such as Buck v. Bell in 1927. Buck v. Bell upheld Virginia’s sterilization law and sterilization laws soon became more prevalent in states across the United States. Scholars write about states such as California, Virginia, and many other southern states for exactly that reason: there were laws passed legalizing sterilization, Supreme Court cases, and evidence of multiple mass sterilizations. However court cases, state legislation, and news paper articles reveal public views in Maryland on Sterilization, both in favor and against, and show that there was a debate over eugenic ideas. If scholarship on eugenics has focused mainly on the movement’s successes, it is equally important to investigate the movement’s failures and examine the nature of opposition to eugenics. Maryland provides an important case because it did not choose the same path as its neighboring states and an examination of the eugenics debate in Maryland shows how state politics and opposition to sterilization played an important part in defeating the misguided movement to sterilize the “incurable idiots, imbeciles and morons.”


Eugenics; Maryland; Sterilization

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