Promoting involuntary sterilization: early hints of problems in the 1930s
A 1930s article published in The Journal of Heredity, “Beginnings of Sterilization in America,” is notable for the way it portrayed sterilization, particularly when it is compared to an earlier account of the same interview with Dr. Sharp that formed the basis of the article and that has been preserved in the archives of California’s Human Betterment Foundation.
E. S. Gosney Papers and Records of the Human Betterment Foundation
As part of my dissertation on privacy and technology, I’m looking into sterilization in the early part of the twentieth century. The E. S. Gosney Papers and Records of the Human Betterment Foundation have a number of archival records capturing information about these patients, especially those who were institutionalized.
Privacy, autonomy, and birth control in America, 1860-1900
Access to birth control became, controversially, protected by the “right to privacy” in 1965; a hundred years before, “procreation was a matter of public concern.” Yet, contradictorily and confusingly, Victorian women — and their bodies — were protected (and limited) by a powerful social division between private and public spheres.
Victorian domestic specialization and gender roles
As the Victorian version of separate spheres solidified in the mid-nineteenth century, the “idea of wifely sainthood gained ever more credence as housewives found themselves increasingly isolated from the male-operated world.”
Justice Scalia on the Constitution, privacy, and criminality
Justice Scalia once noted that “the Constitution sometimes
insulates the criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us all.”
Prohibition and the domestic home
The Volstead Act (implementing Prohibition), in keeping with American legal tradition, gave special recognition to the home and the private, domestic sphere.
Eugenic sterilization in California: practicing “good medicine”
Indiana may have passed the first sterilization law in 1907, but before World War II, it was California that led the nation in eugenic sterilizations in an attempt to “apply science to social problems.” Such legislation was part of a wave of Progressive Era public health activism that encompassed pure food, vaccination, and occupational safety.
Surveillance and Sodomy in 1918 Sacramento
A “cleanup” of 1918 Sacramento resulted in an intensified “[p]olice surveillance of boardinghouses, brothels, pubs, and gambling houses” and effectively turned these areas — none of which were traditional domestic homes — into “semipublic” spaces.
Women, public health, and the police power
The early twentieth century saw working men left free from government protection in the name of “liberty of contract”; women, on the other hand, received such protection, but at the cost of second-class status.