Online Resource: Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement

•November 20, 2009 • 1 Comment

Click here to visit an online archive drawing on materials from the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor (the center of American eugenics research from 1910-1940). The archive contains photos, reports, articles, charts, etc. representing the history of the American Eugenics movement.

Although the focus is not on women of color (as is the focus of this site) this online archive nonetheless provides a wealth of valuable historical resources for those interested in the history of coercive sterilization in the US.

A Short Video on Forced Sterilization of Native American Women

•November 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Elaine Riddick Trent

•November 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment


At the age of 19 Elaine Riddick Trent learned that she would never be able to conceive and bear a child of her own. Her sterility was the result of a tubal ligation performed on her without her knowledge or consent 5 years earlier.  Trent’s sterilization was performed on March 1, 1968 during her stay in an Edenton, North Carolina hospital where the fourteen-year-old went to deliver her first child.


The procedure was ordered by the North Carolina Eugenics Board which declared her “mentally incompetent” on the basis of her unmarried pregnancy – without psychological evaluation or even a formal hearing (Trent was later determined to be of normal intelligence on the basis of psychological testing). The consent form for her sterilization was “signed” by Trent’s illiterate grandmother, who marked an “A” on the document – though it is unlikely that her grandmother was fully informed about the procedure itself or the significance of her mark.  


  • Original: ACLU News, For Immediate Release, January 21, 1974 & American Civil Liberties Union, Reproductive Freedom Project, 1982 Annual Report – American Civil Liberties Union Papers, Records, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University. 
  • Cited In: Kluchin, Rebecca M. 2004. “Fit to be tied?: Sterilization and reproductive rights in America, 1960-1984.” Unpublished Dissertation. Carnegie Mellon University.

3 excerpts of survivor testimonies from Madrigal v. Quilligan case

•November 18, 2008 • 2 Comments

The following testimonies were featured in Jessica Enoch’s (2005) study of the Madrigal v. Quilligan case. Jovita Rivera, Helena Orozco, and Maria Hurtado were 3 of the 10 plaintiffs in the Madrigal v. Quilligan case who were sterilized at the USC-LA Medical Center between 1971 and 1974 without their informed consent :


Jovita Rivera:

“While I was in advanced labor and under anesthesia with complications in my expected childbirth and in great pain, the doctor told me that I had too many children, that I was poor, and a burden to the government and I should sign a paper not to have more children. [. . .] The doctors told me that my tubes could be untied at a later time and I could still have children.” (Madrigal v. Quilligan, 35-36)

Helena Orozco:

“[A] doctor said that if I did not consent to the tubal ligation that the doctor repairing my hernia would use an inferior type of stitching material which would break the next time I became pregnant, but that if I consented to the tubal ligation that the stitches would hold as proper string would be used. No one ever explained what a tubal ligation operation was, I thought it was reversible.” (Madrigal v. Quilligan, 25)

Maria Hurtado:

“I was told by members of the Medical Center’s Staff, through a Spanish-speaking nurse as interpreter, that the State of California did not permit a woman to undergo more than three caesarean section operations and that since this was to be my third caesarean section, the doctor would have to do something to me to prevent my having another caesarean section operation. No explanation nor description of the tubal ligation, which was later performed on me without my knowledge and free and informed consent, was given to me.” (Madrigal v. Quilligan, 48-49)



Enoch, Jessica. 2005. “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilization Abuse.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly (Summer 2005). 

Madrigal v. Quilligan. No. 75-2057. Ninth Circuit U.S. District Court. 30 June 1978.

Fannie Lou Hamer

•December 6, 2007 • 2 Comments

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was the youngest of 20 children in her family. She began picking cotton at age 6 and left school at age 13 in order to help support her family full-time. In 1942, Ms. Hamer married, settled in Sunflower County, Mississippi as a sharecropper (her husband drove a tractor, and she worked first as a field worker and later as the plantation’s timekeeper), and later adopted 2 children.

“Mississippi Appendectomy” 

Diagnosed with a small uterine tumor in 1961, Ms. Hamer checked into the Sunflower City Hospital to have it removed. Without her knowledge or consent, without any indication of medical necessity, the operating physician took the liberty of performing a complete hysterectomy.

Three years later, as a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Ms. Hamer spoke about her experience to an audience in Washington D.C. – telling them that she was one of many black women in her area that had been a victim of a “Mississippi appendectomy” (an unwanted, unrequested and unwarranted hysterectomy given to poor and unsuspecting Black women). According to her research, 60% of the black women in Sunflower County, Mississippi were subjected to postpartum sterilizations at Sunflower City Hospital without their permission. A number of physicians who examined these women after the procedure was performed confirm that the practice of sterilizing Southern Black women through trickery or deceit was widespread.

Civil Rights Movement Work 

Ms. Hamer was also very active in other aspects of the Civil Rights movement. In 1962, she volunteered to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) registering black voters in the South. As a result of her involvement in the voter registration drive, she and her husband had been evicted from the plantation.

The SNCC then hired Ms. Hamer as a field secretary – she tutored other poor rural black people in her area to help them prepare to take the required literacy test, and helped to organize the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi (a campaign sponsored by the SNCC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP). In 1963, Ms. Hamer participated in a protest of a local restaurant’s “Whites Only” policy during which she was arrested, jailed, assaulted in police custody, and refused medical treatment.

Despite the hardships and struggles she and her fellow organizers faced during this time, Ms. Hamer is frequently remembered for her beautiful singing voice which she raised often at meetings, protests, and rallies singing Christian hymns about freedom – in particular “This Little Light of Mine.”

Since African Americans were not permitted to join the Mississippi Democratic Party, she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). In 1964, the MFDP sent an alternate delegation to the Democratic National Convention comprised of 64 black and 4 white delegates. At the Convention Ms. Hamer gave a nationally-televised speech (mentioned above) that brought public attention to the issues of sterilization abuse against black women in Mississippi and violence and discrimination faced by black people who attempted to register to vote.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Fannie Lou Hamer brought a Head Start program to her local community, worked to form a local Pig Bank cooperative (1968) with the help of the National Council of Negro Women, and later to found the Freedom Farm Cooperative (1969). In 1970, Ms. Hamer filed a lawsuit (Hamer v. Sunflower County) demanding school desegregation. She also helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda. During this time, Ms. Hamer lectured extensively, and became known as a powerful speaker and for a signature line she often used, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” In 1972 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism, passing 116 to 0. Fannie Lou Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977, after long battles with breast cancer, diabetes, and heart problems.

  Serena Sebring - Last updated December 6, 2007.


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