New Hampshire


Number of Victims

The total number of people sterilized under New Hampshire’s sterilization law was 679, of whom 152 were male and 527 (i.e., close to 90%) were female. About 37% of those sterilized were considered mentally ill, and 56% “mentally deficient,” while the remaining 17% belonged to neither category. Given the language of New Hampshire's 1929 sterilization law, this targeted group likely included epileptics.


Period When Sterilizations Occurred

Sterilizations occurred between the 1910s until 1959 (Paul, p.  418).


Temporal Patterns which Sterilizations Occurred:

 Picture of a graph of New Hampshire sterilizations

While a comparatively small number of people were sterilized until 1928, between 1928 and 1931, 39 people were sterilized, but the number soared to 80 in 1932, making this the peak year for sterilizations (Paul, p. 418), with 17 people sterilized that year for every 100,000 residents. Between 1933 and 1937, 188 people were sterilized, which results in about 8 people sterilized for every 100,000 residents per year.


Passage of Laws

New Hampshire’s first sterilization law was enacted in 1917, but it was voluntary and not widely used (Paul, p. 415). In 1921 legislation tried to enact new and revised sterilization laws, which included a more in-depth procedure to prevent the patient from losing their rights. However, not a single one passed (Lombardo, p.97).  In 1929, the sexual sterilization act was reenacted as compulsory.


When the law passed, doctors and people in the institutions where sterilizations occurred began to look at ways to have a rapid turnover of people admitted, sterilized and then released from the institution (Reilly p. 98). 


Groups Identified in the Law

The first sterilization law of 1917 provided for the sterilization of the “feeble-minded and patients suffering from certain mental diseases, in institutions and at large” (Stone, p. 537).  The 1929 law concerned inmate confined in state institutions “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy” (Stone, p. 537). It allowed for the sterilization of these individuals if “by law of heredity” they were “likely” to produce offspring with similar traits, and further that the best interests of the individual and state would be served by sterilization. It was notable that the removal of organs was strictly forbidden (Brown, p. 26).

Marriage Laws

The insane and feeble-minded were barred from marriage in New Hampshire unless they were sterilized (Stone, p. 540). Unlike many states, New Hampshire did not have a statute expressly prohibiting the marriage of  the “mentally deficient,” and viewed common law marriages between these individuals as legal ( Schuler, p. 304). New Hampshire did try to restrict the marriage of “idiots”, “imbeciles”, and “feebleminded” persons (Schuler, p. 305). Schools were required to file the names of all of these persons who were either 14 years old and in school, or had left school with the state board. Furthermore, the superintendents of State institutions were required to file the names of all people discharged or paroled. This list was used to ensure that people applying for marriage licenses were not “incompetent” (Schuler, pp. 306-307).  If an individual had been sterilized, the restrictions would be lifted (Schuler, pp. 310, 315). Any “unfit individual” could marry only if his wife was older than 45 (Schuler, p. 310). If a couple married in violation of these restrictions, the issuer of the marriage license could be fined anywhere from $50-$500, serve 30 days in jail, or both (Schuler, pp. 311, 316).


Process of Law

A portion of the 1929 reenactment states as follows: “Whenever the superintendent of any state or county institution shall be of the opinion that it is for the best interest of the inmate and society that any inmate of the institution under his care should be sexually sterilized, such superintendent is hereby authorized to cause to be performed by some capable surgeon the operation of sterilization on any such inmate [as stated above]” (quoted in Stone, p. 537). Those affected had the right to appeal the sterilization decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court within 14 days of when the order is issued (Stone, p. 537)


Precipitating Factors and Processes

In 1927 the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell was decided in favor of the state of Virginia.  Around that time, “the [Vermont eugenics] advisory committee agreed to promote a sterilization law and to study the laws in Maine and New Hampshire” (Gallagher, p. 78). On April 18, 1929, New Hampshire re-enacted its sterilization law (Stone, p. 536).

The right of the state to sterilize inmates or patients it determined to be a burden was affirmed in the court case in re Penny N,  wherein the New Hampshire Supreme court attempted to outline a way in which sterilization could be approved. This case, in turn rested largely on the decision of a New Jersey court in In re Grady. These cases were very similar in that they both involved a conflict between the guardians of the patient and the state, and that both established the importance the patient’s interest as paramount (Calibey, p, 15).


Groups Targeted and Victimized

For patients sterilized at the New Hampshire State Hospital between 1916 and 1935, one researcher found that sterilizations were primarily performed on women of childbearing age (Stone, p. 538). Little else is known about the socio-economic status.


One victim of Laconia State School for the Feeble-minded is known: Robert Thomas (Bob) Crawford.  A video documentary was created, based on his experience there, entitled “Valley of Darkness.” Deemed retarded due to a severe head injury he sustained as an infant, he was abandoned by his parents at Laconia School for the Feeble-minded at age 8, for economic reasons. Though not sterilized, his experiences there shed light on the abusive treatment of many individuals who were sterilized a generation before him.  He was confined to Baker residence at Laconia for 17 years from 1960-1977 and released thereafter.


Another such victim was Roberta Gallant, her testimony was taken in 2007by the Community Support Network, Inc. Gallant was born in 1951 and, due to an injury during birth, was diagnosed by a doctor with a “significant disability” along with her sister. Her parents sent her to the Laconia School at the age of five due to their inability to properly care for her and her four other siblings (only one of whom was committed with her). Gallant remained at the school for almost twenty-five years, enduring years of abuse by hospital staff and patients, and beginning work for the school at the age of twelve. Gallant was finally released in 1981, and despite others’ views to the contrary, was able to live independently (Disability Rights Center).

Major Proponents

One proponent was Dr. Charles P. Bancroft, the Superintendent of New Hampshire State Hospital between 1882 and 1917. He was among New Hampshire’s earliest major eugenics advocate and the first in the state to compile heredity data, searching for conditions such emotionalism, hysteria, Huntington's disease and alcoholism. He concluded that genetic factor played a major role in explaining how these disorders arose but conceded the influence of “environmental conditions” (Stone, pp. 536-7).


Betsy Scott Johnson was another proponent for New Hampshire sterilization.  She was a social worker for the Laconia State School between the years of 1917-1947.  She supported New Hampshire compulsory sterilization program in an article she wrote in 1950 titled “A study of sterilized persons from the Laconia State School.” In it, she claims that the state of New Hampshire saved an estimated 388,974 dollars between the years of 1917 and 1947 due to sterilization (Paul, pp. 416-7). 

John Hiram Gerould, a professor of biology at Dartmouth College from 1894 to 1938 was a vocal supporter of positive eugenics. That is, he advocated the encouragement of those with “fit” genes to reproduce. However, Gerould was also a noted supporter of negative eugenics as well, and of sterilization in particular. He did, in fact, teach ongoing courses in eugenics for much of his time at the college, through which he impressed upon his students the importance of eugenics in society. It should, however be noted that, as a eugenicist, Gerould often held more liberal views towards measures that should be taken in the name of eugenics than his colleagues, often advocating birth control and changes to societal structure to encourage “positive” eugenic change (Bongers).

“Feeder Institutions” and Institutions Where Sterilizations Were Performed


Picture of the New Hampshire State Hospital

(Photo origin: Rootsweb.org; available at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/concord_nh/index.html)

The New Hampshire State Hospital in Concord became the institution where the highest number of sterilizations occurred up to 1936 (Stone, p. 537).  155 of the 310 operations were performed there. The number of sterilization at the hospital decreased thereafter compared to Laconia.  By 1947, a total of 170 people had been were sterilized there (Paul, p. 415, 418). It is still in operation today. The State of New Hampshire’s website provides a 15-page booklet on the history of the hospital, which does not mention the hospital’s involvement in eugenic sterilizations (New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services).


Picture of the Laconia State School for the Feeble-minded

(Photo origin: Weirsbeach.com; available at http://www.weirsbeach.com/topten/reason8frame.html)

The Laconia State School for the Feeble-minded is the other noted institution (for an institutional history, see Krumm). 106 of the 310 operations up to 1936 were performed there up until 1936 (Stone, p. 537).  By 1947 that total had risen to 264 sterilizations (Paul, p. 415).  The School closed formally in 1991, but, nowadays the Laconia School is a prison (Lee) and its website makes no note of its past as a mental institution (New Hampshire Department of Corrections). A few parts of the institution, including the Baker residence where Bob Crawford was confined, remain but are run down today (Lee). 


Between 1929 and 1936, 49 sterilizations were performed at “the various county farms of the state” (Stone, p. 537).



By the 1950s eugenic ideology had became unfashionable among physicians. Dr. G. Donald Niswander, the acting superintendent for the New Hampshire State Hospital, stated: “I believe that this reduction in operations over the years, with the changes in the hospital administration, likewise there have been changes in the philosophy regarding the sterilization of the mentally ill…if relatives request sterilization they urge to take the matter with their family doctor” (Paul, p. 417). In addition there was a realization that mental illness also has an important environmental component (Stone, p. 537).


Present Day

As recently as 1985, New Hampshire has offered sterilization services, however, these were not compulsory, but instead were offered as birth control services. The state received $1,232,000 from the federal government, $15,000 of which went towards sterilizations (Gold and Macias 1985, pp. 260-262). Despite the seeming shift in New Hampshire’s policies and attitudes toward its eugenic history, there are organizations, such as the Community Support Network, Inc. that attempt to keep the memory of the Laconia School and New Hampshire State Hospital fresh in the minds of the public. Through public forums with showings of the film Lost in Laconia as well as maintenance of a virtual memorial and information center (Community Support Network).



Bongers, Kale S. “Eugenics at Dartmouth College: John Hiram Gerould and Human Heredity” Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2007S/bongers.pdf

Brown, Frederick W. 1930. "Eugenic Sterilization in the United States Its Present Status." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 149, 3: 22-35.

Calibey, Kathryn A. 1981. "Nonconsensual Sterilization of the Mentally Retarded: Analysis of Standards for Judicial Determinations." Western New England Law Review 33,. 4:  689-714.

Community Support Network. “Laconia State School History.” Available at http://www.csni.org/LaconiaStateSchool/index.htm

Disabilites Rights Center. “Memories of A former Resident of Laconia State School, Roberta Gallant.” Available at http://www.drcnh.org/Robertastory.pdf

Gallagher, Nancy L. 1999. Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Gold, Rachel B. and Macias, Jennifer. 1985. "Public Funding of Contraceptive, Sterilization and Abortion Services." Family Planning Perspectives 18, 6: 259-64

Krumm, Janet M. 1994. "The History of the Laconia State School." The New Hampshire Challenge 7, 1: 1-8.

Lee, Heather. “His Name is Bob: A Documentary Film: Valley of Darkness” (3Frog Productions). Available at <http://www.hisnameisbob.com/>.

Lombardo, Paul. 2008. Three Generations, No Imbeciles, Baltimore:. Johns Hopkins University Press.

New Hampshire Department of Corrections. “State Prison: Lakes Region Facility.” Available at <http://www.nh.gov/nhdoc/index.html>.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. “History of New Hampshire Hospital.” Available at <http://www.dhhs.state.nh.us/NR/rdonlyres/eqgxy64y5elzzunzesjtrnvgepuoe6kdfyrofkcok5qnizjrowrrayg7jq26zzwl2gez7opwki4er5ruojzo4zszdcd/History+of+NHH.pdf>.

Paul, Julius. 1965. “State Eugenic Sterilization Laws in American Thought and Practice: New Hampshire.” Washington D.C.: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Reilly, Philip R. 1991. The Surgical Solution: The History of Involuntary Sterilizations in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schuler, Ruth V. 1940. “Some Aspects of Eugenic Marriage Legislation in the United States.” The Social Service Review 14, 2: 301-16.

Stone, Simon. 1936. “Sexual Sterilization in New Hampshire.” The New England Journal of Medicine 215, 12: 536-46.