New Jersey 

Number of victims

There were no legal sterilizations recorded in the state of New Jersey (Paul, p. 557).


Passage of law(s)

Although New Jersey did pass a sterilization law in 1911, by 1913 it was the first such statute in the nation to be declared unconstitutional (Paul, p. 556). In Smith v. Board of Examiners the New Jersey Supreme Court found that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment (Carlson, p. 248). Declaring it unlawful did not discourage several organizations from continuously pushing for an amendment to be made or a new bill to be passed legalizing sterilizations (Dowbiggin, p. 37). The sterilization law that Harry H. Laughlin proposed in 1914 was also rejected (Paul, p. 559).


Groups identified in the law

The groups identified in the 1911 law covered the “feeble-minded, epileptic, criminals convicted of rape and other crimes that under the law constitute habitual criminality” (Paul, p. 556).


Precipitating factors and processes

Although no law was passed, the eugenics movement was very alive in New Jersey as demonstrated by the fact that several attempts were made to legalize compulsory sterilization (Dowbiggin, p. 37; Paul p. 559). Although the state had a high percentage of Catholics who were opposed to the movement, there were many who believed eugenics to be a genuine and necessary science (Dowbiggin, p. 38). Psychiatrists and superintendents at the state institutions generally agreed that a sterilization law would bring about “biological, humanitarian, and socioeconomic” improvements across the spectrum (Dowbiggin, p. 37). They reasoned that this would occur because it would help to selectively decrease the chances of certain genes being passed on, it would allow patients to leave the institution without fear of becoming parents, and it would ideally save the “depression-era government” a considerable sum of money (Dowbiggin, p. 36). 


Major Proponents

Marian Olden gained public renown for her campaigns regarding the dissemination of birth control as well as for founding the Sterilization League of New Jersey and advocating the passage of bills legalizing eugenic measures (Dowbiggin. pp. 35-36). She is considered a controversial figure because of how much she admired Nazi programs well into the late 1930s (Dowbiggin, p. 37). Many attribute the ultimate failure of her many proposed sterilization bills to her abrasive and offensive way of advertising them to the public (Dowbiggin, pp. 38-39).


Picture of Henry H. Goddard (Photo origin: UC Davis, available at http://www.biotech.ucdavis.edu/TBCWebsites/TBC07/Forensics/Thatcher&Vejnovic-Benicia/site/history.html)

Henry H. Goddard was another leading proponent of the eugenics movement in New Jersey and an influential actor throughout the nation. He is most famous for his study of the Kallikak family (Gould, p. 198). This study examined two hereditary lines that had evolved from the same person, "Martin Kallikak." In one of the lines, this person had married a Quaker woman and produced strong, intelligent offspring. In the other, he had relations with a "wayward" girl which resulted in a weak and feeble-minded line of people (Goddard, p. 17). Much of his data was derived from Deborah, a member of the "feeble-minded" line who, conveniently, was a patient at the Vineland Training School where Goddard carried out his research (Goddard, p. 33). Goddard’s study has widely been discredited for the unsubstantiated conclusions he made and because he “doctored” photographs of the Kallikak line to make them look more feeble-minded (Gould, p. 59). He is also credited with having coined the term “moron” (Dakwa, p. 1)


“Feeder institutions” and institutions where sterilizations are performed

 Picture of the Maxham Administration Building (Photo origin: The Training School at Vineland, available at http://www.thetrainingschool.org/main.htm)

There were at least ten mental health institutions in New Jersey by 1960 (Laughlin, p. 80). Although none of these institutions performed compulsory sterilizations on their patients, the one in Vineland stands out because Henry H. Goddard worked as their director of research and based his studies on intelligence testing and the Kallikak family on research directed from those offices for several years (Gould, p. 188). This Institution has been known by many names; currently it goes by The Training School at Vineland and is still operating today (The Training School at Vineland). The website of the Training School does not mention Goddard.



The two primary sources of opposition to the passage of a compulsory sterilization law were the Roman Catholic Church and “organized medicine” (Dowbiggin, pp. 38-39). The Church was so successful at blocking these bills in the Legislature because state politicians knew that they would ruin their careers if they voted against the wishes of their primarily Catholic constituents (Dowbiggin, p. 38). Many of those in the medical profession were adverse to eugenic measures because they tended to have more traditional views. Because the fertility rate was actually dropping in the United States, most believed women should have more, not less, children (Dowbiggin, p. 39). 




Carlson, Elof. 2001. The Unfit: The History of a Bad Idea. Cold Spring Harbor, New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.


Dakwa, Kwame. 2001. “The Kallikak Family.” Available at <http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/kallikak.shtml>


Dowbiggin, Ian. 2008. The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Goddard, Henry H. 1912. The Kallikak Family. New York: Macmillan.


Gould, Stephen Jay. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton.


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


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.


The Training School at Vineland. 2000. “Serving People with Disabilities and Disadvantages.” Available at <http://www.thetrainingschool.org/main.htm>.