Number of Victims
The eugenics project in Mississippi resulted in a total of 683 sterilizations.  Of these sterilizations, 160 were performed on males, while 523 were performed on females. Through 1944 women made up seventy three percent of the total individuals sterilized in Mississippi (Cahn, p. 160). Individuals considered mentally ill made up approximately nine tenths of the sterilization victims; those deemed “mentally deficient” made up close to one tenth of the sterilized victims.  A small percentage did not fall into either category. Mississippi ranks number eighteen, when ranking the states by total number of sterilizations.

Period during which sterilizations occurred
Sterilizations took place in Mississippi between the early 1930s and 1963.

Temporal pattern of sterilizations and rate of sterilization
(Graph of sterilizations in Mississippi)
After the passing of Mississippi’s sterilization law in 1928, the number of sterilizations remained very small until the mid 1930s. In the second half of the 1930s sterilizations were performed at a much higher rate, followed by the war and post-war years’ decline in operations (Paul, p. 399).  It seems that the last sterilization in Mississippi was performed in 1963.  The rate of sterilization per 100,000 residents was about three per year during the peak years of 1938 to 1941.

Passage of laws
Mississippi passed a sterilization law in 1928 that was very similar to Virginia’s sterilization law. The sterilization statute passed in Mississippi right before the onset of the Great Depression. Consequently “the state did not even have the money to distribute printed copies of the law” (Larson, p. 121). The first sterilizations were performed in the early 1930s. Mississippi was the twenty-sixth state to pass a sterilization law.

Groups identified in the law
In the sterilization law that Mississippi adopted and passed, the following groups are identified: “persons who are afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy” (Landman, p. 91).
Process of the law
The superintendent of one of Mississippi’s institutions for the mentally ill or disabled could recommend to the board of the institution that an inmate be sterilized. Notice would be given to the inmate and a hearing had to be held within 30 days after notice. The inmate, legal guardian, or counsel could be present at the hearing, seeking to dispute the charges and dissuade the board from a recommendation for sterilization (Landman, p. 91). Appeal of an order for sterilization all the way to the state Supreme Court was allowed (Paul, p. 399). The law was compulsory, although an early report stated that it was carried out only on a “voluntary” basis (Paul, p. 399).

The procedural safeguards of the Mississippi sterilization law caused H. H. Ramsey, superintendent of the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feebleminded, “to proceed cautiously under [the law’s] provisions and sterilize only such cases as consent from parents or guardians can be secured” (Larson, p. 121). The necessity of family consent to perform sterilizations frustrated those interested in sterilizing as many patients as possible as later superintendents “[stressed] the importance of a simplified Sterilization Law”—wanting the freedom to sterilize whomever they pleased.

Commitment Procedures
In Mississippi commitment procedures began with application to chancery courts. Judges were allowed to give jurisdictions to clerk of court in many cases. The feeble minded person in question or his or her family was allowed to demand a trial by jury if necessary (Noll, Feeble-minded, p. 34).

Unlike most states in the United States “Mississippi[…]showed little faith in medical judgments, instead relying on a jury to determine the necessity of commitment” (Noll, Feeble-minded, p. 33). Mental deficiency verification was not required by any medical doctor in order to commit the feeble-minded to an institution in Mississippi. Patients of these institutions would often never see a physician before being admitted; many would not leave without first being sterilized.

Precipitating factors and processes
Mississippi had in common with other states in the Deep South certain conditions that mitigated against the adoption of eugenic policies: concerns for the integrity of the family, the reliance on the family (instead of state agencies) to provide for the welfare of individuals, little concern for immigration, religion’s universalistic views, and the relatively weak impact of progressivism (see, for example, Alabama on this web site).

Eugenic sterilization in Mississippi came on the heels of progressive reform efforts, specifically, the eugenic surveys of the “feeble-minded” carried out by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in the 1910s (see Larson, 61-71; Noll, Feebleminded, pp. 16-17). The discovery of a putative social problem consequently led to the establishment of segregated but under-funded facilities for the mentally disabled, who would subsequently not be released back into the community without sterilization.

The Southern Sociological Congress, also known as the SSC, was organized in 1912 and “provided a regional forum for much of [the] urban-based [social] reform movement[s]” (Noll, Feeble-minded, p. 13). The SSC was established with the goal of “tackl[ing] the South’s social problems, ‘admittedly more difficult than those in other sections of the Nation’” (Noll, Feeble-minded, p. 13). The SSC provided a forum via which many eugenic ideas were expostulated. “[The] SSC operated as a clearinghouse for reform thought” during a time in which most reforms involved institutionalizing and sterilizing as many second-rate citizens as possible in order to eradicate social problems like extreme poverty and feeble-mindedness (Noll, Feeble-minded, p. 13).

Many state governments, even those with passed sterilization laws, documented as many sterilizations as they could as therapeutic so to avoid the safe guards of the Mississippi sterilization laws. “State governments […] misrepresented the number of mandated sterilizations they performed by labeling a significant number of them ‘therapeutic’ rather than ‘eugenic’” (Cahn, p. 173.) Many physicians who supported eugenic sterilization would use “the event of childbirth or nongynecological surgeries, like appendectomies, to perform a tubal ligation” and “these operations had become so common in Mississippi that they were nicknamed ‘Mississippi appendectomies’” (Cahn, p. 174).

Groups targeted and victimized
In Mississippi, those targeted for sterilization were the same as elsewhere in the Deep South: those considered unfit to produce, particularly those with mental illnesses and mental disabilities.

Women were particularly targeted in the typical eugenic fashion in Mississippi. Haines described to the Mississippi Mental Hygiene Commission an “imbecile white woman […] who has more children than she can count, both white and black” as a perfect example of why Mississippi needed houses for the mentally retarded so that sterilizations could be performed (Larson, p. 61).

In Mississippi, the higher likelihood of a legal challenge and compliance of family members at institutions for the mentally ill meant that many sterilizations were carried out on such patients, especially in the late 1930s. In the 1940s, most victims of sterilization policies were mentally disabled. The rate and number of eugenic sterilizations dropped at the institutions for the mentally ill because of a shortage of physicians.

Other restrictions placed on those identified in the law or with disabilities in general
Mississippi followed a regional trend, in that with the exception of miscegenation, “southern states traditionally imposed fewer restrictions on marriage than did northern states” (Larson, p. 98). Marriage contracts of “Idiots” or “lunatics” were invalidated on the basis of the argument that a lack of legal capacity prevented them from executing such contracts (Larson, p. 98).

Major proponents
H.H. Ramsey, superintendent of the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feebleminded, originally advocated against sterilization in favor of permanent segregation and control—“sterilization [is not] a safe and effective substitute for permanent segregation and control” (Trent, p. 200).  However, by 1931, he, like so many others, had changed his mind.  He stated that “selective sterilization [should become] an ally to the parole system of the institution” (quoted in Trent, p. 200).  Ramsey suggested “traveling clinics,” which would be composed of psychiatric experts and would travel around Mississippi to all the schools every four years.  They would test all of the children for feeblemindedness or other “undesirable” traits.  According to Ramsey, this system would “enable the state to assume charge of its defectives during the formative period, before they have become a menace and social liability” (Larson, p. 95), where presumably they could be sterilized more easily.

Some other superintendents also supported sterilization, particularly C. D. Mitchell, of the large Mississippi State Hospital, who, as Edward Larson notes, “wanted to sterilize every patient” (p. 121).

“Feeder institutions” and institutions where sterilizations were performed
Institutions for the mentally impaired were advocated for by well-educated, upper-class women—usually members of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs in the second part of the second decade of the twentieth century across the Deep South; Mississippi established such a facility in 1920 (Larson, p. 75): the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feebleminded, near Jackson.

History of Ellisville State School (originally the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feebleminded)
The Mississippi School and Colony for the Feeble-Minded opened in rural and remote Jones County (Trent, p. 200). A remote location allowed the Colony to operate under its own rules, away from the scrutiny of mainstream society.

In 1920, Governor Lee Russell signed the “Law of Mental Deficiency” that established the institution. The Colony opened in 1921 and originally consisted of eight individuals who were transferred from Mississippi State Hospital.

For much of the first decade only males were admitted. There was no facility for African Americans until 1968 (Larson, pp. 91-92, pp. 122-23). By 1923 the population was up to one hundred and two but was all male. The first female dormitory was constructed in 1928 and by 1929 the Colony’s population consisted of fifty-one males and eighty-eight females. The fact that only a year after the construction of the female dormitory there were more females than males at The Mississippi School and Colony for the Feebleminded reflects the manner by which eugenicists vigorously pursued female institutionalization—based on the popular “girl problem” ideas at the time.

Despite efforts by Ramsey and his successor in the 1920s and 1930s, compulsory sterilization was never implemented there on a large scale, largely due to the lack of funds to address potential legal review that was part of the procedural safeguards of Mississippi’s sterilization law. It did carry out a significant number of sterilizations in the 1940s, apparently largely due to the efforts of then superintendent T. Paul Haney (Larson, p. 153).

The facility was renamed Ellisville State School in 1929, which is still its present name.  Unlike many institutions with similar history who attempt to deny their past altogether, Ellisville State School “addresses its history[…]by the creative rehabilitation and reuse of some of its older buildings” (Noll, “Public Face,” pp. 29, 39-40). The attempt to blend the old with the new through the reuse of old buildings reflects Ellisville’s attempt to “appreciate the structures without accepting the treatment philosophy that went along with them” (Noll, “Public Face”, pp. 39-40). The Ellisville State School does not mention its past except for its founding in its literature available to the public (Ellisville State School).

Picture of Mississippi State Hospital

Picture of the Mississippi State Hospital (Photo origin: Mississippi State Hospital; available at http://www.msh.state.ms.us/tour/history.htm)

History of The Mississippi State Hospital
Mississippi’s State Hospital was able to sterilize more patients than the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feeble-Minded apparently because fewer patients’ families objected to sterilization procedures (Larson, p. 121).
C. D. Mitchell, superintendent of the large Mississippi State Hospital, “announced an ambitious program under which ‘it is to be hoped that […] every patient who comes to the institution […] will be sterilized” (Larson, p. 121). Mitchell wanted to sterilize every patient who came to the Mississippi State Hospital.
The large Mississippi State Hospital for those with mental illness, which moved from Jackson to a newer facility in Whitfield, sterilized larger number of patients in the mid-to-the late 1930s, including African Americans, apparently in part due to the fact that fewer families objected and legal challenges were not anticipated as often (Larson, p. 121). Surprisingly, “although Black patients […] received significantly worse treatment than […] White patients and suffered appalling death rates, no evidence exists of a different sterilization rate for the two groups (Larson, p. 123).
Between 1933 and 1935 the Mississippi State Hospital and the East Mississippi State Hospital together performed 163 sterilizations (Larson, p. 121).

Picture of East Mississippi State Hospital
Picture of the East Mississippi State Hospital
(Photo origin: Rootsweb.com; available at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/meridian_ms/index.html)

History of the East Mississippi State Hospital
The East Mississippi State Hospital was able to sterilize more patients than the Mississippi School and Colony for the Feeble-Minded apparently because fewer patients’ families objected to sterilization procedures (Larson, p. 121).

Between 1933 and 1935 the Mississippi State Hospital and the East Mississippi State Hospital together performed 163 sterilizations. This small hospital lost its only surgeon during World War II, causing sterilizations to not be able to be performed at the Hospital anymore (Larson, p. 121).

As far as racism goes, the sterilization program at the all-White East Mississippi State Hospital “paralleled the program at the racially mixed Mississippi State Hospital”—though Mississippi eugenicists were likely racist, for whatever reason they do not seem to have pursued the sterilization of blacks more vigorously than whites (Larson, p. 123). During that period, the East Mississippi State Hospital, an all-white facility for the mentally ill, also sterilized higher numbers of patients than the Colony. It now has a museum.

The websites of these facilities today either do not address the institutions’ past at all (Mississippi State Hospital) or do not refer to sterilizations in their institutional history (East Mississippi State Hospital).

Very little is known about opposition to Mississippi’s program beyond the general opposition by the Catholic Church.

Cahn, Susan K. 2007. Sexual Reckonings: Southern Girls in a Troubling Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

East Mississippi State Hospital. “History of ESMH.” Available at <http://www.emsh.state.ms.us/index_files/Page1134.htm>.

Ellisville State School. “Ellisville State School.” Available at <http://www.ess.state.ms.us/> and <http://www.ess.state.ms.us/ESSHistory.html>.

Landman, J. H. 1932. Human Sterilization: The History of the Sexual Sterilization Movement. New York: MacMillan.
Larson, Edward. 1995. Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mississippi State Hospital. “Mississippi State Hospital.” Available at <http://www.msh.state.ms.us/index.htm>.

Noll, Steven. 2005. “The Public Face of Southern Institutions for the ‘Feeble-Minded.’” The Public Historian 27, 2: 25-42.
Noll, Steven.  1995.  Feeble-Minded in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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.

Trent, James W. 1994.  Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.