Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Woodrow Wilson and eugenics - he supported it - here's the details

In researching Wilson's support for eugenic ideas, I was surprised how little there actually was to find. It took quite a few different search terms to come up with anything substantive. He apparently never spoke on the issue, at least not in any of his currently public writings. Who knows what's locked away in Link's volumes of Wilson's writings. But the law he passed in New Jersey can't be locked away, thankfully. It took some time to dig out the title of the law, but once I did the doors started opening.

It was approved April 21, 1911, by Governor Woodrow Wilson.

It appears on the New Jersey statutes of 1911 as Chapter 190.

The title of the law: "AN ACT to authorize and provide for the sterilization of feeble-minded (including idiots, imbeciles and morons), epileptics, rapists, certain criminals and other defectives"

It was overturned by the NJSC on November 18, 1913, here is the final decision. "Smith v. Board of Examiners of Feeble-minded (including idiots, imbeciles and morons), Epileptics and other Defectives", wheras "Smith" is Alice Smith, who was the prosecutrix of the case.

I'm going to end this blog entry with what appears to me to be the full text of the bill from the first link, but before I do that, here are some of the appointments that Woodrow Wilson made to said "Board of Examiners of Feeble-minded (including idiots, imbeciles and morons), Epileptics and other Defectives":

Hon. John D. Prince, President of the Senate:

Sir-I hereby nominate for appointment, with and by the advice and consent of the Senate, the following persons for the following offices:

To be State Superintendent of Weights and Measures: William L. Waldron of the county of Mercer.

To be members of the Board of Examiners of Feeble-Minded, Epileptics and other Defectives: Alexander Marcy, Jr., M.D., of the county of Burlington; Henry B. Costill, M.D., of the county of Mercer,




Here is the preface of the bill(alternate link has it, as opposed to the link above):

WHEREAS, heredity plays a most important part in the transmission of feeble-mindedness, epilepsy, criminal tendencies, and other defects:

Be it enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. Immediately after the passage of this act, the Governor shall appoint by and with the advice of the Senate, a surgeon and neurologist, each of recognized ability, one for a term of three (3) years and one for a term of (5) years; their successors each to be appointed for the full term of five years, who in conjunction with the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections shall be known as and is hereby created the "Board of Examiners of Feeble-minded (including idiots, imbeciles and morons), Epileptics and other Defectives," whose duty it shall be to examine into the mental and physical condition of the feeble-minded, epileptic, certain criminal and other defective inmates confined in the several reformatories, charitable, and penal institutions in the counties and state. Any vacancy occurring in said Board of Examiners shall be filled by appointment of the Governor for the unexpired term.

2. The criminals who shall come within the operation of this law shall be those who have been convicted of the crime of rape, or of such succession of offenses against the criminal law as in the opinion of this board of examiners shall be deemed to be sufficient evidence of confirmed criminal tendencies.

3. Upon application of the superintendent or other administrative officer of any institution in which such inmates are or may be confined or upon its own motion, the said board of examiners may call a meeting to take evidence and examine into the mental and physical condition of such inmates confined as aforesaid, and if said board of examiners, in conjunction with the chief physician of the institution, unanimously find that procreation is inadvisable and that there is no probability that the condition of such inmate so examined will improve to such an extent as to render procreation by such inmate advisable, it shall be lawful to perform such operation for the prevention of procreation as shall be decided by said board of examiners to be most effective, and thereupon it shall and may be lawful for any surgeon qualified under the laws of this state, under the direction of the chief physician of said institution, to perform such operation; previous to said hearing the said board shall apply to any judge of the Court of Common Pleas, of the county in which said person is confined, for the assignment of counsel to represent the person to be examined, said counsel to act at said hearing and in any subsequent proceedings, and no order made by said board of examiners shall become effective until five days after it shall have been filed with the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of the county in which said examination is held, and a copy shall have been served upon the counsel appointed to represent the person examined, proof of service of the said copy of the order to be filed with the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. All orders made under the provision of this act shall be subject to review by the Supreme Court or any justice thereof, and said court may upon appeal from any order grant a stay which shall be effective until such appeal shall have been decided. The judge of the Court of Common Pleas appointing any counsel under this act may fix the compensation to be paid him, and it shall be paid as other court expenses are now paid. No surgeon performing an operation under the provisions of this law shall be held to account therefor, but the order of the board of examiners shall be a full warrant and authority therefor.

4. The record taken upon the examination of every such inmate, signed by the said board of examiners, shall be preserved in the institution where such inmate is confined, and a copy thereof filed with the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, and one year after the performing of the operation the superintendent or other administrative officer of the institution wherein such inmate is confined shall report to the board of examiners the condition of the inmate and the effect of such operation upon such inmate. A copy of the report shall be filed with the record of the examination.

5. There shall be paid, out of the funds appropriated for maintenance of such institutions, to each physician of said board of examiners, a compensation of not more than ten ($10) dollars per diem for each day actually given to such work or examination, and his actual and necessary expenses in going to, holding and returning from such examination. When in the judgment of the board of examiners it is necessary to secure the assistance of a surgeon outside the medical staff of the institution to perform or assist in said operation, the necessary expenses of such surgeon shall be paid from the maintenance account of such institution.

6. If any provisions of this act shall be questioned in any court, and the provisions of this act with reference to any class of persons enumerated therein shall be held to be unconstitutional and void, such determination shall not be deemed to invalidate the entire act, but only such provisions thereof with reference to the class in question as are specifically under review and particularly passed upon by the decision of the court.

7. This act shall take effect immediately.


  1. What's supposed to be so bad about eugenic sterilization? You mean that three generations of imbeciles are NOT enough?

  2. I'm sure Stalin used much the same rationalization when he locked away those who disagreed with him as mental defectives.