Number of Victims
685 people were sterilized in the state of Washington under the 1921
law (Talkingsticktv, "Interview: Joanne Woiak"; Paul, p. 530). 501 of those sterilized
were women and the remaining 148 were men. Therefore, almost 75% of the
victims were women. The majority of the sterilizations were performed
on people deemed mentally ill (256 women and 147 men) or mentally
deficient (243 women and 33 men). A small number of rapists or habitual
criminals also appear to have been sterilized. Recordkeeping for
these sterilizations was not very reliable and it is likely that many
more people were sterilized than can be dependably determined
(Talkingsticktv, "Interview: Joanne Woiak").
Period During Which Sterilizations Occurred
had two different sterilization laws. The first was passed in 1909 and
allowed for the sterilization of any person who was “guilty of carnal
abuse of a female person under the age of ten years, or of rape” and of
habitual criminals. Very few sterilization operations were performed
under this law. A broader sterilization law was passed in Washington in
1921 and sterilizations occurred beginning with the passage of that law
through the year 1942. The final sterilization took place by 1942 when
the 1921 sterilization law was declared unconstitutional (Paul, pp.
Temporal Pattern of Sterilizations and Rate of Sterilization
The eugenics program was implemented quite slowly at first
in the 1920s. The numbers increased significantly in the mid and particularly
the late 1930s. The final sterilization took place by 1944. Sterilization was declared
unconstitutional in 1942 (Paul, p. 526). During the peak period of 1938 to 1940,
sterilizations occurred at a rate of approximately 124 per year for ten years,
which means that the sterilization rate per 100,000 was about 7 per year.
Passage of Laws
Washington was the
second state to pass a sterilization law. The first law was passed in
1909. It was punitive in nature and referred only to habitual criminals
and those who were convicted of rape, for whom sterilization would be a
punishment (Laughlin, p. 6; Landman, p. 56). The 1909 law was
challenged and upheld in 1912 in the case of State v. Feilen (Fenning,
p. 806; Laughlin, p. 149). Peter Feilen was convicted with the
a female under the age of ten on September 30, 1911. Feilen was
given a life sentence and ordered to have an operation for the
“prevention of procreation” (Mosby, p. 118). The defendant
on the claim that sterilization for criminals was cruel and unusual
punishment. Nevertheless, the Washington Supreme Court found that
it could not qualify as cruel and unusual because “the operation of
vasectomy is a very simple one” (Fenning, p. 806). What should be
considered is that “ it seems very clear from a careful reading of the
decision that the court confined its interpretation of cruelty to the
actual physical pain incident at the time of the operation” (Fenning,
p. 806). The Feilen case was the “first time a sterilization
had been challenged in a high court” in the U.S. (Talkingsticktv,
“Talk: Joanne Woiak”). The
1909 sterilization law is still on the books as of March 2011
(Washington State Legislature, “RCW 9.92;” Washington State
Legislature, "RCW 9.92.100;” Talkingsticktv, "Interview: Joanne
Woiak"). It is in
the Revised Code of Washington in Title 9 and is listed under two
categories: Crimes and Punishments (Washington State Legislature, "RCW
9.92) and Prevention of
Procreation (Washington State Legislature, "RCW 9.92.100").
However, the law appears to be used
very rarely (Talkingsticktv, "Interview: Joanne Woiak"; Paul, p. 528).
A bill was introduced
in January of 1915 that aimed to sterilize every patient in Washington
mental hospitals and the state institution for the feeble-minded.
If the superintendent of the institution decided that an individual
“would produce children with an inherited tendency to crime, insanity,
feeble-mindedness, idiocy, or imbecility, and there is no probability
that the condition of such person will improve to such an extent as to
render procreation by such person advisable,” the patients would not be
discharged unless they were sterilized or they won an appeal to this
decision in the Superior Court (Rucker, p. 221).
more comprehensive law was passed in 1921. This law included a much
broader group in state institutions (see below) and was in place until
1942, when it was invalidated (Paul, pp. 525-526).
was repealed in 1942 in the Hendrickson case on the grounds that there
was not due process of law for the individuals being sterilized
(Talkingsticktv, “Talk: Joanne Woiak";
Paul, p. 526). However, the judges in the case continued to
support the concept of sterilization, just not the unconstitutional way
it was being carried out.
Groups identified in the Law
The 1909 law was aimed only at habitual criminals
and those who had committed crimes of rape and sexual abuse of a female
younger than ten years old (Paul, p. 525). The 1921 law identified
those who were in institutions and “feebleminded, insane, epileptic,
habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sexual perverts” (Laughlin,
p. 6; Landman, p. 56; see also Paul, p. 526).
Process of the Law
Under the 1921 law, inmates in
state institutions could be selected and have their cases examined by
the Board of Health, subsequent to superintendents of state
institutions having given quarterly reports about those who could be
candidates for sterilization (Landman, p. 56). Those approved by the
Board of Health could be sterilized, with a notification prior to the
operation. Individuals had fifteen days to protest the ruling and no
sterilization could be carried out while the protest was being
reviewed. As soon as an order from the superintendent of the Board of
Health was received, sterilization could be carried out (Laughlin, pp.
Groups Targeted and Victimized
People who were targeted were often those who were
deemed socially degenerate. These included “reform-school girls,
welfare moms, the retarded, gays, and the physically disabled”
(Berger). Many homosexuals who faced imprisonment also faced
sterilization under the 1909 law (Boag, p. 207).
element of race inherent to the practice of sterilization.
Washington “heartily embraced the association between illegitimacy,
mental incompetence, and poverty among black women” (Kluchin, p.
92). Kluchin claims that Washington even sterilized one black
woman twice. The woman underwent a tubal ligation surgery at
fifteen years old after her first pregnancy, but the operation was
unsuccessful. The state forced her to have both a hysterectomy
and an abortion when she became pregnant a second time at nineteen
years old (Kluchin, p. 92).
Bethenia Owens-Adair was a physician and avid supporter of
eugenics throughout the Northwest. She advocated sterilization as a form of
punishment, as it was used in the 1909 sterilization law (Boag, p. 207; see
Oregon for more information).
Many activists supporting sterilization laws were
Progressive women who lobbied on behalf of the 1921 law (Brown et al.).
“Feeder Institutions” and Institutions Where Sterilizations Were Performed
to the currently available information, all individuals who were
sterilized were those living in state institutions (Laughlin, p. 15).
Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla and the State Reformatory
at Monroe were prisons in which a small number of prisoners were chosen
for sterilization (Laughlin, p. 91). Some institutions cannot be
determined with certainty, but the state psychiatric hospitals are
likely locations where sterilizations were performed (Brown et al.;
Foster, p. 6187). Goldsmith/Reed’s report of Washington’s state institutions of
1912 identifies the above state prisons as well as two state asylums
for those with mental illness, state schools for the deaf and the
blind, and two places for those deemed mentally deficient and/or
deviant: the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded at Medical Lake,
and the State Training School at Chehalis.State Training School at Chehalis
institution opened on June 10, 1891 as “The Washington State Reform
School” (also known as the State Training School at Chehalis), but its
name changed a couple times. After being called “Washington State
Reform School” it was renamed “Washington State Training School” in
1907, and finally, “Green Hill Academy.” It began as a “school
for youth ages 8 to 18 who commit[ted] crimes or are orphaned”
(Ott). It was an agricultural school and its inmates were
required to work. The land that was used to farm was
eradicated when Interstate 5 was built, but the inmates continued to
labor at other tasks such as doing carpentry work and repairing
automobiles ("Fast Times as Green Hill High," "Two New Buildings at State
Training School"). The school was overcrowded by 1911 and healthy food was
a luxury for inmates “Severe corporal punishment was the norm” (Washington State Department, "A
History of Human Services"). It began as a coed institution and
the females apparently did not live in better conditions than the
males. “The girls' dormitory was in a wooden building with no
fire escapes. Girls were locked in the dormitory without any
supervision from 8 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. In order to ensure that girls
and boys did not mix, girls were never allowed to go outdoors” (Washington State Department, "A
History of Human Services"). In 1913 a separate school was made
for girls only, called the Maple Lane School. The Washington
State Training School continues to operate under the name “Green Hill
School” and is run by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.
Green Hill is now solely an institution for youth who commit
crimes. It does not accept young children any longer. The
school’s original stated aims have not changed and it continues to
educate and reform male youth (Washington State Department, "A History of Human Services"). Source: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/%7Epaxson/graphics-pax/greenhill_school.jpg
Maple Lane School
Maple Lane School was officially opened on December 22, 1914 in Grand
Mound, Washington as an offshoot of the State Training School at
Chehalis. It was originally named the “State Training School for
Girls” (changed to Maple Lane School in 1959) and was for delinquent
girls. In 1951 the school’s purpose evolved from mainly trying to
punish girls to trying to help them (“History of Maple Lane High School”).
The Maple Lane School later functioned as an institution to treat and
educate male offenders, “typically [. . .] with various mental health
or cognitive functioning issues, in addition to chemical dependency
and/or sex offending treatment needs” (Washington State Department, "Institutions"). In 2010 there was a section in
Washington’s state operating budget that, if passed, would allow the
closure of Maple Lane (Schrader). The legislation was passed in
2011 and the closure set for June of 2013, but the current governor of
Washington, Chris Gregoire, expedited the closure to June of 2011
(Photo origin: Maple Lane High School, available at http://www.rochester.wednet.edu/MLHS/history.htm)
State Institution for the Feeble Minded
State Institution for the Feeble Minded was opened in 1905 near Medical
Lake and had a capacity of 600 beds (Haber, p. 223; Remington, p.
1499). It was
established to help the overcrowding situation at other mental
institutions and was meant to serve individuals with “more severe
mental retardation,” both male and female. However, this
institution would only care for people through age twenty-one and would
discontinue care afterwards except under certain circumstances
(Washington State Department, “A
History of Human Services;” Remington, p. 1501). The school
clerks were to report all children who were “feeble-minded” or
“defective” to this institution (Remington, p. 1500). The State
Institution for the Feeble-Minded at Medical Lake changed its name to
[Eastern State] Custodial School in 1933, subsequently renamed Lakeland Village. Lakeland Village operates
today as a provider of services for developmentally disabled persons
(Washington State Department, “Lakeland”).
Woiak ("Public History") presents evidence that at this institution eugenic sterilizations were performed.
Due to overcrowding, a second custodial school [Western State Custodial School] was opened in Buckley,
subsequently renamed Rainier State School (Washington State Department,
“A History of Human Services”).
Woiak ("Public History") presents evidence that at this institution served as a "feeder institution" for eugenic sterilization.
(Photo origin: Lakeland Village, available at http://www1.dshs.wa.gov/DDD/lakeland.shtml)
Western State Hospital
State Hospital opened in 1871 as the “Insane Asylum of Washington
Territory.” It is located at Fort Steilacoom, which was a
military post from 1849 to 1868 and was purchased by the Washington
Territory in order to build an insane asylum (Roberts; Washington State Department, “What is Western
State Hospital?"). Patient neglect was very prominent between 1871
and 1875 because a local businessman was running the hospital.
The hospital was renamed Western State Hospital in 1889 when Washington
became a state. The hospital is still functioning today, but is
currently treating patients using “psychotropic drugs, counseling, and
behavior modification therapies” instead of the older practices that
had been used. It is one of the two state-owned adult psychiatric
hospitals and “provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for
individuals with serious or long-term mental illness that have been
referred to the hospital through the Regional Support Network system”
and “serves the needs of western Washington for all individuals who
have been committed as a result of a criminal proceeding” (Washington State Department, “What is
Western State Hospital?”).
Woiak ("Public History") presents evidence that at this institution eugenic sterilizations were performed. (Photo
origin: Western State Hospital, available at
Eastern State Hospital
State Hospital, located at Medical Lake, was a psychiatric hospital
opened in March of 1891 to alleviate the serious overcrowding at
Western State Hospital (Wikipedia). It functioned as a mental
hospital (Washington State Department, “A History of Human Services”). “Feebleminded and
epileptic persons acquitted of crime by reason of mental
irresponsibility” were sent to the “criminal insane department”
here. The hospital currently still specializes in treating mental
disorders, but its standards of care are much better than in the past
(Haber, p. 223). (Photo origin: Eastern State Hospital, available at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/medlake_wa/index.html)Northern State Hospital
State Hospital was a psychiatric facility constructed in 1909 in
Sedro-Woolley. It was built to take some of the burden of the
overcrowding at the Western and Eastern State Hospitals and was meant
to be a completely self-sustaining institution (Bourasaw; Davis, p.
238). It included housing, facilities, and livestock and
agricultural operations. The Olmstead brothers designed the
campus (“Northern State Hospital”). The hospital opened to
patients in December of 1912 (Bourasaw; Davis, p. 238). The patients
here were “treated” with physical labor, lobotomy, electroshock
therapy, and sterilization (Davis, p. 238). In 1973, the hospital
closed its doors and some of the complex was converted for use for Job
Corps and a drug treatment center (Davis, p. 241). After that, the
main buildings became the North Cascades Gateway Center, but the
outbuildings were not being used for another purpose. The
agricultural area was converted into the Northern State Recreation Area
(“Northern State Hospital;” Read). On December 20, 2010 the Hospital was
listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of its
“connection to the broad patterns of institutionalizing the mentally
ill at the turn of the 20th century as expressed in the Pacific
Northwest.” The listed area was on the market for seventeen
million dollars as of March 16, 2011 because of a budget shortfall in
Washington state (“Northern State Hospital Listed in the National
Register of Historic Places”).
Woiak ("Public History") presents evidence that at this institution eugenic sterilizations were performed. (Photo origin: Northern State Hospital, available at http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/NearbyS-W/NSH/NSH1-Intro.html)Notes
a quick and accurate overview of eugenics in the U.S. and Washington
state, see Joanne Woiak, professor in the Disabilities Studies Program,
University of Washington in the Disability Studies Program: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s86CCiSAuI8> <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f204e9VtXfk>.
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