Number of victims 


557 people were sterilized up to 1963, of whom 92% were female. 74% were considered mentally ill and 26% were deemed “mentally deficient.” 


Period during which sterilizations occurred


Sterilizations in Connecticut began after the passage of the state’s sterilization law in 1909 and continued up to around 1963. The two major periods of increased sterilization were between 1920 and 1929 and 1930 and 1940 (including the peak period 1930-1932), during which 173/218 operations were performed.


Temporal pattern of sterilizations and rate of sterilization


 Picture of a graph of eugenic sterilizations in Connecticut

Although Connecticut’s sterilization law was passed in 1909, sterilization was not implemented on a larger scale until the early 1920s. In the 1920s, the 1930s, and the early 1940s, there were on average about 20 sterilizations per year. Although sterilizations continued to occur after 1943, the numbers were not as high (Paul, p. 304). During the peak period 1930-1932, the rate of sterilizations per year per 100,000 residents was about 3.

Passage of law(s)


Connecticut was the second state to adopt eugenic laws using Indiana Plan as a model (Reilly, p. 34). First introduced in February of 1909 by Representative Wilbur F. Tomlinson, the Connecticut sterilization statute was passed on August 12, 1909 (listed in the 1918 General Statues of Connecticut and cited as Title 22, Chapter 137, Sections 2691 and 2692 (Landman, p. 60)) (Laughlin, p. 19), and concerned “operations for the prevention of procreation” (Laughlin, p. 19).  It was one of the shortest sterilization laws in the country (Paul, p. 295). Connecticut's sterilization policy was also one of the nation's oldest (Paul, p. 294) and most curious in that it was simultaneously highly conservative and vague, ambiguous, and lacking in procedural safeguards. The law allowed for the sterilization of certain patients in the state hospitals for the insane at Middletown and Norwich. The law also gave the staff at the two hospitals permission to examine the patient’s family tree to help decide if the patient should be sterilized (Black, p.67-68). The law permitted either male or female sterilizations through vasectomies or ovariectomies respectively (Black, p. 67-68). Once the law was established, medical officials became interested in ways to sterilize massive groups of people (Reilly, p. 100). The locations for operations extended to the Mansfield State Training School and Hospital at Mansfield Depot in a 1919 amendment (Laughlin, p. 20).  On July 1, 1965, the governor signed a bill that replaced the word oophorectomy with tubal surgery and required consent of an individual prior to the operation.  Under this new law, a “competent” person who gives consent of her own surgery must also have the written consent of “‘the responsible next of kin or guardian of such persons or, if there is none, with the approval of the board of trustees of the institution’” (Paul, p. 299).

In the 1965 Griswold vs. Connecticut lawsuit, the Supreme Court overturned the Connecticut law prohibiting contraceptive use, paving the way for a nation-wide transition in the interpretation of sterilization laws as inclusive of voluntary rights rather than as exclusively compulsory (Robitscher, p. 63). In the past, Connecticut had laws explicitly forbidding doctors from performing voluntary sterilizations on patients (Robitscher, p. 64). The verdict of Griswold stated that “intimacies of the marriage bed were beyond control of the law” (Robitscher, p. 63). This meant that individuals had a right to privacy and freedom from state authority when it came to reproductive control. Justice Goldberg of the case decreed that in order to force couples to be sterilized against their will, the evidence supporting sterilization had to be compelling, and of subordinating interest (Robitscher, p .73). This brought an end to intra-marriage sterilization without sound reasoning.

In the past, Connecticut had laws limiting sterilization solely for the purposes of medical necessity, but in 1965 and 1969, new legislation that removed all previous restrictions was passed. This effectively changed Connecticut's sterilization laws from being compulsory to being voluntary (Robitscher, p. 25-26). This law went into effect in October 1971 (Gonzales, p. 2581).

 In 1982, the state amended its 1979 sterilization statute to specify necessary factors needed to make appropriate judicial decisions in regard to sterilizing individuals. The statue asks of the court to take "sexual maturity, understanding of reproduction and contraception, capability to perform sexual activity, ability to care for a child, and nonpermanent contraceptive methods" into account when considering sterilization (Bush, p.113). Furthermore, in 1979, hysterectomies became prohibited for contraceptive and permanent birth control purposes (Bush, p.114).

Groups identified in the law


In the United States, sterilization laws generally targeted those whose monitored procreation would allow for the preservation of morality, improvement in financial and social sectors, and general betterment of society (Largent, p. 32).

The original law included “inmates of State prisons and State Hospitals at Middletown and Norwich” and who “would produce children with and inherited tendency to crime, insanity, feeble-mindedness, idiocy, or imbecility” (Laughlin, p. 8, 20). These groups were considered to be "in a class by themselves" (Paul, p. 305), as explicitly stated by one Attorney General John H. Light in 1912, and as such necessitated the state's "different relationship to them than to any other classification of a part of [the] people" (Paul, p. 305).


Process of the law


Three surgeons would examine the mental and physical capabilities of the individuals at hand, consider the person’s chances of improvement, examine his or her family history, and weigh the chances of negative procreation.  The board would then come to a decision about whether or not sterilization was necessary.  Females who were ordered to be sterilized underwent oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) while males were sent to have vasectomies (Laughlin, p. 8; Paul, p. 298).

Connecticut was the only state requiring the more intrusive oophorectomy operation for females; a 1965 amendment to the state sterilization law lists "tubal surgery" or salpingectomy as the accepted procedure (Paul, p. 307). The process of the law as detailed above is described very similarly by Deputy Commissioner of Health Bert W. Schmickel years later in 1965, in regards to the procedure for approving sterilization operations at Southbury Training School (Paul, p. 306). In addition to being reviewed by the Children's Committee, Medical Committee, Social Service committee of the institution, and two unaffiliated physicians, a request for the sterilization of a patient required a supporting written statement of consent from the legal parents or guardians of the individual it concerned (Paul, p. 306).

Precipitating factors and processes


In Connecticut in the early 19th century, “enlightenment humanism, republic civic concern, and religious enthusiasm” spread the idea that asylums were an effective way to improve the behavior of mentally and physically challenged individuals. This idea led to the creation of the American School for the Deaf in 1817 and the Retreat for the Insane in 1824 in Hartford, and the Hospital for the Insane at Middletown in 1868 (known today as the Middletown State Hospital). Mass institutionalization was a phenomenon that predated the American eugenics movement and precipitated the transition from segregation to sterilization policies. In 1868, in response to overcrowding at the private Hartford Retreat for the Insane, the state of Connecticut established the larger Middletown Hospital for the Insane. Developing social conceptions of racial, moral, and eugenical purity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries broadened the criteria for which patients were referred to the state's first public institution, including "insane immigrants, long-lived lunatics, crazed alcoholics, the senile, and almshouse denizens" (Goodheart, 2010, p. 127) among the "insane". Due to a substantially increasing patient population (over 2000 patients had been committed by 1900 (Goodheart, 2010, p. 109), this institution, among others in Connecticut and other states, experienced a transition from patient care ideals of nurture and improvement to "custodianship" of the masses. On a related note and as a consequence of this transition, however, patients in these facilities did not produce the expected results after taking part in various levels of education, and connections between diseases in different generations in families were made (Goodheart, 2004, p. 93, 96). In the late 1800s, concerns about the dangers of the “feeble-minded” class were voiced in the context of mass immigration, urbanization, and labor unrest, combined with an economic depression in 1893 (Goodheart, 2004, p. 105). Numerous laws were passed at this time to separate the pure native stock from the "tainted immigrant", and included the quarantine of ships and regulation of vaccinations (Caron, p. 36). 

Groups targeted and victimized


Sterilization policies and related laws primarily targeted paupers, criminals, imbeciles, and idiots. (Goodheart, 2004, p. 107).


Other restrictions places on those identified in the law or with disabilities in general


An Act Concerning Crimes and Punishments was passed in 1895. It banned the marriage of “epileptics, imbeciles, and the feebleminded” (Goodheart, 2004, p. 106). Additionally, men who had sexual intercourse with these same victimized groups of women would be fined $1,000 and sent to prison (Goodheart, 2004, p. 107).


Marriage Restrictions
Other western states also started to establish laws to prohibit whites from marrying Asians, and then epileptics, imbeciles and feebleminded people as well (Caron, p. 53). This fear of “degeneracy” led to the passing of the eugenic marriage restriction law in 1895 and preceded the passing of the eugenic sterilization law. Connecticut was the first state to prohibit marriage of “defective” people (Reilly, p. 26). Though the state did not have a statute expressing the prohibition of marriage of those who were “mentally deficient”, it was inferred that such marriages were void (Schuler, p. 304). The state did, however, have a law that restricted a person who was under guardianship due to perceived "incompetence" from being able to enter into marriage (Schuler, p. 305). Connecticut prohibited issuing a marriage license if either person is under guardian control/supervision without written consent from the guardian (Schuler, p. 309). However, a woman past 45 years old and the age of child bearing, would be able to get married (even if she had been previously or was presently committed to an institution. Those considered to be insane and who had been under guardianship were also included in the ban against marriage (Schuler, p. 313), except in cases where written consent from a guardian was obtained.

Violations of marriage restriction laws could be punished with a maximum sentence of three years in prison (Schuler, p. 310). Also, individuals accused of assisting “defectives”, whether "feeble-minded" or insane, with getting married would be fined $1000 or sentenced to five years in prison (and possibly both) (Schuler, pp. 311, 316). Furthermore, any individual who engaged in intercourse with female of "defective" nature under 45 was subject to three years in prison (Reilly, p. 26). This particular age was pivotal because at 45 years the likelihood of pregnancy was dramatically reduced and these individuals presented minimal risk for the propagation of “defective” offspring (Lombardo, p. 45). While high-ranking officials such as James C. Carter (president of the American Bar Association at the turn of the century) and William T. Belfield (a Chicago medical doctor) praised Connecticut for its marriage restrictions (Largent, pp. 32, 64), which would curtail the perceived threat of "racial degeneration", enforcement of these laws was for the most part weak and irregular (Reilly, p. 27). A shift in legislative activity was observed in 1910 as marriage restriction policies fuelled more extreme eugenical legal tools that incorporated compulsory sterilization policies (Reilly, p. 65).

Abortion and Birth Control
Connecticut marriage laws ultimately did not seek to prevent "defective" individuals from marrying, but rather to control reproductive activity that would potentially lead to unhealthy and undesirable children (Largent, p. 65). As far back as the mid-1800's, Connecticut struggled with issues of adapting birth control and other contraceptives. In Connecticut, abortion was a crime only if it happened post quickening (Caron, p. 24). By the end of WWII, Connecticut and Massachusetts were the only two states where doctors were not allowed to prescribe contraceptives as an alternative to sterilization for birth control measures (Caron, p. 117). Catholic groups prevented limited birth control options and prevented the establishment of clinics where people could undergo sterilization as a form of permanent birth control, resulting in abortion tourism in Rhode Island where such procedures were legal (Caron, p. 145).

Major proponents


Dr. George H. Knight undoubtedly shaped the eugenics movement in Connecticut. He was a proponent of colonies for the “feebleminded” and encouraged confining and segregating “the custodial class” (Goodheart, 2004, p. 102-104).  He played a role in an epileptic asylum and worked to pass An Act Concerning Crimes and Punishments, which, among other restrictions, prohibited disabled people from marrying (Goodheart, 2004, p. 106). He preached eugenics to various audiences and expressed how education in asylums, as presented by his father, Dr. Henry M. Knight, founder of the private Connecticut School for Imbeciles in 1858, was not an effective solution to the problems of the disabled (Goodheart, 2004, p. 107). He supported the passing of Connecticut’s sterilization law in 1909 (Goodheart, 2004, p. 109).

In addition to Knight, eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin played a substantial role in the advancement of Connecticut eugenic ideologies and sterilization policies and frequency. Under commission by governor Wilbur Cross, Laughlin conducted a 1936 "Survey of the Human Resources of Connecticut", collecting data from 160 towns in eight counties across the state and drafting a plan to sterilize approximately 175,000 Connecticut residents according to 21 "cross-classifications" including "Race Descent" and "Nativity and Citizenship" (Black, 2003). The first sterilizations were to be performed on 11,960 "weak, disabled, morally unacceptable or otherwise 'socially inadequate'" individuals residing in state prisons (Black, 2003).

Edwin A. Down, president of the Connecticut State Board of Charities, presented the idea of sterilization as an act of charity during the first annual State conference of Charities and Corrections (Largent, p. 37). He claimed that it would be beneficial to the greater community to sterilize "degenerates", and the potential harm that could come to the inadequate individual through the process of sterilization was minimal in comparison to the damage a "degenerate" person could inflict on society (Largent, p. 37).

Connecticut native Charles Davenport was a noted biologist who studied heredity in the 1890s. He became very interested in the American eugenics movement and was involved with the American Breeders Association Committee on Eugenics (Lombardo, p. 42). Davenport urged for people to contribute family pedigrees to establish genetic databases and aid in the understanding of genetic transmittance of familial traits and diseases. Perhaps his most significant contribution the eugenics campaign was his founding of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor, New York in 1910 (Lombardo, p. 30). Through the activity of this "scientific" organization, Davenport became a mentor to his successor as superintendent, Harry Laughlin. Following Davenport's retirement in the mid-1930s, the ERO experienced an onslaught of attacks on its methods and scientific legitimacy, its collected records of heredity described as being a "vast and inert accumulation...unsatisfactory for the scientific study of human genetics" (Lombardo, p. 205).


“Feeder institutions” and institutions where sterilization were performed


In 1855, following Massachusetts, the Connecticut legislature set in motion the development of institutions to provide care for the "mentally deficient" (Reilly, p. 12).

Picture of the Norwich State Hospital (Photo origin: abandonedbutnotforgotten.com; available at http://www.abandonedbutnotforgotten.com/norwich_state_hospital_sub_pics.htm)


The Norwich State Hospital housed the mentally ill beginning in 1904 and had 3,180 patients by the 1950s. All eugenical sterilizations in Connecticut occurring before the end of 1920 took place at this institution; most sterilizations also took place here up to1925. The facility closed in 1996 and is abandoned (Opacity).


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


Sterilization operations also occurred at the General Hospital for Insane. In 1866, legislation called for the establishment of a hospital for the insane that resulted in the 1867 opening of the General Hospital for Insane in Middletown. Over the years, the institution has undergone a series of name changes, becoming the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in 1874 and the Connecticut State Hospital by 1879, finally assuming its current title, the Connecticut Valley Hospital, in 1961 (Connecticut State Library). In 1995 and 1996, this institution accepted patients from both Fairfield Hills Hospital and Norwich Hospital upon both hospitals' closures (Connecticut State Library). Currently, it contains a psychiatric region, a forensic area, and a substance abuse assistance division (Rootsweb).


Picture of the Southbury Training School (Photo origin: http://2007newenglandtrip.blogspot.com/2008/03/southbury-connecticut.html)


Almost all sterilizations after World War II took place in the Southbury Training School (Paul, p. 306 n. 5), which was an institution for mentally challenged individuals.  A total of at least 60 people were sterilized in this facility after World War II (Paul, p. 303), which presently is a facility that has 696 residents and is located in Southbury, CT (Kasprak). Julius Paul notes that, in fact, “many requests for sterilizations [were] refused because the children do not fall into the category of familial mental retardation” (p. 296).


The Mansfield State Training School and Hospital was also a place where sterilizations were performed, but the number of sterilizations was apparently very small, due to the fact that a former superintendent only once consented to such an operation on a resident (see Paul, p. 310 n. 17). The facility closed in 1993 (Connecticut State Library).

It is also worth mentioning the Undercliff Sanatorium of Meriden, originally known as the Meriden Sanatorium. Established in 1910 to provide institutional care for children suffering from tuberculosis, the Undercliff State Hospital was active until 1976 and over the decades housed individuals that by eugenical standards would have been deemed "defective" (i.e. the chronically ill, tubercular, mentally ill, etc.) (Connecticut State Library). While there appear to be no official records or documentation that suggest the use of eugenical sterilization, many institutions are reluctant to disclose any such history for fear of negative public response. Thus, and especially so because many of the patients housed at Undercliff fit the criteria used by other institutions for selective sterilization, it remains that this hospital may have in fact participated in the eugenics movement in some way. However, further research is needed to justify these claims.

The sources used for this research did not include any information about the facilities’ eugenic pasts or use of sterilization methods.


The Connecticut sterilization laws were not as drastic as those drawn up in other states, partly due to the high levels of opposition that the proponents faced. They dealt with religious group opposition that is reported for the early period (Paul, p. 310 n. 14), the concern over court reviews of a sterilization law that provided procedural safeguards and appeal process, and early on also the reluctance of some leaders of institutions to participate (see Paul, p. 301).

A bill to repeal Connecticut's 1909 sterilization statute was at one point introduced by state Representative Katharine A. Evarts of Kent in collaboration with Dr. Wilfred Bloomberg, Commissioner of Mental Health (of the Department of Mental Health), however the bill was opposed by the Department of Health (represented by Commissioner Dr. Franklin Foote), which held equal jurisdiction over sterilization policies (Paul, p. 298).

Julius Paul's 1965 article on state eugenic sterilization laws reported that despite initial opposition, the law remained relatively unchallenged after 56 years in effect (p. 301). Paul himself describes the state's sterilization policies of 1965 as being "careful [and] selective", although still vague and highly subjective, with little modifications having been made to the original policies of decades earlier to address the loopholes and lack of procedural safeguards (p. 302).

By the 1920s, the Catholic Church had established itself as the most prominent opponent of eugenical sterilization proposals and Connecticut's birth control bills (Reilly, p. 118). Abortions were only permitted for life-endangering situations and clinics were prohibited from operating in the state (Caron, pp. 124, 142, 239). Predominating religious beliefs were such that "inferior beings" (that is, those who were "feebleminded" or imbecilic, for example) would eventually yield to more "superior" beings, but that human intervention through sterilization procedures was an unnatural way to achieve this result (Rosen, p. 49).


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