Number of Victims

A total of 326 individuals were sterilized in Maine (Paul, p. 370). Of this total, 280 were female and 46 were male. 86% of the victims were female, while 14% were male. 72% of the victims were deemed feeble-minded, 6% were considered insane, and 22% were neither.

The Assistant Attorney General of Maine was quoted saying that many more operations had been performed than had been reported but that they "shall go by the records" in 1936 (Reilly, p. 162).


Period When Sterilizations Occurred

Sterilizations in Maine occurred from 1925 through 1963 (Paul, p. 370).


Eugenics courses were taught at the University of Maine from about 1913 until about 1930 (Glenna et al, p. 288).


Temporal Pattern of Sterilizations

Graph of sterilizations in Maine

After relatively few sterilization up to 1932, the period of 1933 to 1940 marked a peak period, during which time 149 people were sterilized. After that, the number of sterilizations declined, although there was a two-year spike of 43 sterilizations in 1954/1955 (see Paul, p. 370). During the peak period in the 1930s, the sterilization rate per 100,000 residents per year was about 2, whereas the same rate could be observed in the short peak period in the 1950s.

Passage of Law

Maine passed its sterilization law in 1925 and was the 25th state to do so. It was slightly amended in 1929, and a new sterilization law was passed in 1931 (Landman, p. 90).

In Maine, if a court regarded written material regarding contraception as “obscene, vulgar, and indecent” then there were laws they could use to illegalize it (Laughlin, p. 347). Maine law mentioned nothing about a jury to determine the question of insanity (Laughlin, p. 351).

Marriage Restrictions

Prior to the 1930’s Maine’s marriage laws prevented the marriage of “idiots”, “imbeciles”, and “feebleminded” persons, but did not define each of the categories (Schuler, p. 305). Maine failed to address the validity of the marriage of a person of unsound mind, and assumed marriages to be void based on that person’s inability to comprehend the nature of the contract they were making (Schuler, pp. 312, 313). Moreover, abortion was a key issue included in Maine’s eugenics laws. Maine allowed abortions in situations where it would save the mother’s life. However, Maine acknowledged abortion as a crime throughout pregnancy, but as the state of pregnancy varied so did the penalty (Caron, p. 24).

Groups Identified in the Law

Maine’s 1925 law provided for the sterilizaton "for eugenic purposes or for therapeutic treatment on feebleminded and others suffering from certain forms of mental disease, " and the 1931 law referred to residents of any institution for the instane or feebleminded (Landman, p. 90; see also Paul, p. 366).


Process of Law

It appears that core elements of the 1925 law remained intact after the 1931 law had passed, in so far as, Julius Paul notes, a voluntary sterilization request could come from those identified in the 1925 law (or relatives or legal guardian) and was extramural and voluntary, and it involved state authorities only in so far as a committee of three doctors at Pownal State School (later: Pineland Hospital and Training Center) ascertained consent (Paul, p. 366). However, Landman and Paul also both note that under the 1931 law any physician at an institution for the "insane or feebleminded" could recommend  to the board of such institution that a resident be sterilized, upon which the board and two other state hospital superindentents could confirm the recommendation and order a sterilization after a waiting period of at least 50 days. The resident had a right to appeal to the state's superior courts (Landman, pp. 90-91; Paul, p. 366).


Groups Targeted/Victimized

The group victimized most was females deemed feeble-minded and who were residents of a state-run institution.

 Picture of a pedigree of a woman sterilized by the state of Maine(Digital picture origin: Eugenics Archives, available at http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/images/958.html)


“Feeder Institutions” and Institutions where Sterilizations were Performed

 Picture of Pownal State School, ca. 1937(Cumberland Hall at Pownal State School circa 1937. Photograph origin: The New Gloucester Historical Society, available at http://www.vintagemaineimages.com/bin/Detail?ln=25633)

189 sterilizations were preformed at the Pineland Hospital (Paul, p. 367). Also, doctors submitted their decisions to questions of consent, in the case of voluntary sterilization, at the Pineland Hospital and Training Center (Paul, p. 366). It originally opened as the Maine School for the Feeble-minded in 1908.  In 1925 its name changed to the Pownal State School and by 1957 it was renamed Pineland Hospital and Training Center (Vintage Maine Images). The school’s definition of feebleminded included those who were mentally deficient from birth or early childhood, whose defect was due to delayed or arrested development rather than a disease acquired later in life. The people admitted were typically unable to manage their affairs with “ordinary” prudency (Dunnack, p. 280).

The Pineland Center located in New Gloucester, Maine, was established in 1908. After it closed in 1996 it was bought by the Libra Foundation who have since renovated the property and purchased additional adjacent property to expand the center. The Foundation hopes to create a community of non-profit and for-profit businesses, organizations, and services by leasing space in the buildings. The Pineland Center, otherwise known as Pineland Farms, Inc., is currently a fully operational farm; it offers public educational programming, outdoor recreation, and a world-class equestrian center. The website for Pineland Farms, Inc., mentions nothing about its history of sterilizations and eugenics (Pineland Farms).

Other Notable Institutions and Hospitals

Though no sterilizations are known to have occurred in these places, they are important in recognizing how the “unfit” were social outcasts and segregated from normal society. However, 137  sterilizations remain  unaccounted  for (Paul, p. 370). 


Augusta State hospital, formerly the Maine Insane Hospital, opened in 1834 for the care and treatment of people with mental and nervous disorders (Dunnack, p.271). In 1907 the hospital was modified to be suitable to house people that were criminally insane as well (Dunnack, p.272). At one point the rated capacity of the institution was 942. However, on January 21, 1920 there was a total of 1,121 patients; 573 men and 548 women (Dunnack p. 272).


Bangor state Hospital, formerly the Eastern Maine Insane Hospital, opened in July 1901 in response to a greater need of space for people with mental disorders. This hospital received patients from Penobscot, Hancock, Washington, Aroostook, and Piscataquis. Between 1907 and 1910 the hospital underwent many expansions, including adding two additional wings to house male and female patients (Dunnack, p. 273).  All other patients from different regions of Maine were sent to the Augusta State Hospital (Dunnack, p.274). The capacity of the hospital was rated at 600. However, on January 21, 1920, there was a total of 684 patients; 355 men and 329 women (Dunnack, pp. 273, 274).


There were also two state schools, one for boys and one for girls. The boys’ school was established as a detention center for boys between the ages of eight and sixteen who needed restraint and correction. However, the school did not admit subjects considered to be feebleminded, insane, deaf, dumb, or blind (Dunnack, p. 283). The girls’ school, named the Maine Industrial School for Girls and in 1915 was renamed The State School for Girls, was not a “house of correction” but was designed for girls between the ages of six and twenty-one who were in danger of becoming “outcasts of society”. Subjects were admitted into The State School for Girls if they were deemed to be leading an “idle or vicious life” by the municipal officers, or three respectable citizens of the town where they live. Once committed, the girl became a ward of the state, and could only be discharged by a vote of the trustees (Dunnack, pp. 286, 287).


Maine also established specific schools for people who were deaf and blind respectively (Dunnack, pp. 291, 300).

Although no sterilizations seem to have occurred at Maine’s Jackson Labs, the institution’s founder, C.C. Little, promoted medical eugenics. His research was usually conducted on mice. It does not appear that he ever used wards of the state for experiments (Engel).



Maine’s eugenics sterilization program appears to have encountered little opposition, which was said to have been religious in nature (Paul, p. 368). Roman Catholic priests in Maine are reported to have managed to defeat some proposed eugenics laws (Reilly, p. 164).



Caron, Simone M. 2008. Who Chooses? American Reproductive History Since 1830. Gainsville: University Press of Florida

Dunnack, Henry E. 1920. The Maine Book. Augusta, ME. Librarian of Maine State Library.

Engel, Randy. “Eugenics and the History of Bar Harbor, Maine’s Jackson Labs/ How the Inbred Lab Mouse Helps Reprogram the Human Genome.” Alex Constantine’s Anti-Fascist Encyclopedia. Available at http://www.antifascistencyclopedia.com/allposts/eugenics-and-the-history-of-bar-harbor-maines-jackson-labshow-the-inbred-lab-mouse-helps-reprogram-the-human-genome

Landman, J. H. 1932. Human Sterilization: The History of the Sexual Sterilization Movement. New York: MacMillan.

Laughlin, Harry H. 1922. Eugenical Sterilization in the United States. Chicago: Psychopathic Laboratory of the Municipal Court of Chicago.

Leland L. Glenna, Margaret A. Gollnick and Stephen S. Jones. 2007. “Eugenic Opportunity Structures: Teaching Genetic Engineering at US Land-Grant Universities since 1911.” Social Studies of Science 37, 2: 281-96.


Paul, Julius. 1965. "'Three Generations of Imbeciles Are Enough': State Eugenic Sterilization Laws in American Thought and Practice." Washington, D.C.: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Pineland Farms. "Pineland's History." Available at <http://www.pinelandfarms.org/visitors/history.htm>.

Reilly, Philip R. 1987. “Involuntary Sterilization in the United States: A Surgical Solution.” The Quarterly Review of Biology. 62, 2: 153-70.

Schuler, Ruth V. 1940. “Some Aspects of Eugenic Marriage Legislation in the United States.” The Social Service Review. 14, 2: 301-316.

Vintage Maine Images. “Cumberland Hall, Pownal State School.” Available at  <http://www.vintagemaineimages.com/bin/Detail?ln=25633>.