Eugenics and the American Experience

book cover titled eugenics with background image of a large tree

The leading proponent of sterilization in the United States was Harry Hamilton Laughlin, superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located on Long Island, New York. Those states that adopted sterilization laws usually were modeled after Laughlin's conceptual framework. Laughlin's list of "socially inadequate classes" included 'the deaf' and was listed as a target for sterilization. However, none of the states that adopted sterilization laws in the United States included deaf people. What is the rationale for leaving deaf people out of state eugenic programs? Why was deafness, a condition typically started as a category eligible for sterilization but never actually written into law? This research project seeks to answer questions critical to United States history. Why did states not include deafness as a trigger for sterilization? What was the impact of eugenic studies on deaf individuals? Examining these questions, the Center will develop a virtual exhibit mapping the emergence of eugenic laws in the United States.