Eugenic Rubicon


Many people are surprised to learn that in the 20th century over 60,000 people in the United States, mainly patients in state asylums and hospitals, were sterilized based on eugenics laws. A number of excellent books and articles and a few web resources on the history of eugenics and sterilization have appeared in recent years, but very little known is about the demographics and experiences of people sterilized, often against their will. Eugenics, the effort to shape and limit populations through sterilization and other forms of reproductive control, was popularized and institutionalized in 20th century America. While eugenics laws have largely been struck down and/or removed, the legacies of these practices have shaped communities and relationships between communities throughout the U.S.

This digital resource draws from and complements the demographic and social science research on eugenic sterilization in California being carried out by the  Sterilization and Social Justice Lab at the University of Michigan. Working with a unique resource -- nearly 50,000 patient records from California institutions from the period 1921 to 1953 -- our project seeks to make this history visible. Additionally we are working to make the dataset we've developed accessible and interactive. These records were microfilmed by the California Department of State Hospitals in the 1970s and only recently discovered; The Sterilization and Social Justice Lab has digitized these reels and are using them in compliance with state and university regulations to create a dataset that adheres to protocols around sensitive health data. These materials create opportunities as well as challenges for storytelling and possibilities for humanizing stories of reproductive injustice. It also raises important legal questions about how to balance the “right to know” with the “need to protect” in the realm of medical and health histories.

Eugenic Rubicon is a developing prototype that uses mixed media and digital storytelling methods to share portions of this history. We have both examples of primary documents and newly authored materials that help to give a sense of children's experiences of these practices, of different kinds of resistance enacted by patients, and how local practices at Sonoma State shaped this history.

A word on navigating the site:

At the top-left of the Scalar header,you'll find a series of icons. Rolling over the compass icon Media iconreveals a number of options for readers to orient themselves in the current book, including recently viewed items and a set of global visualizations.

Rolling over the menu icon Media icon in the Scalar header will reveal the Index Media icon icon, located just below the main table of contents. The index contains a hyperlinked catalog of all content in the current book. The content is divided up, for the reader's convenience, into tabbed categories (Paths, Pages, Media, Tags, Annotations and Comments).

Paths are sequences of pages--like chapters in a book, but more flexible. You'll know you're about to embark on a path when you see a "begin this path button" at the bottom of a page, with a table of contents just above. Clicking the button (or on any of the listed pages) will take you into the path. Once you're on a path, additional navigation at the top and bottom of the page identifies the name of the path you're on, how far you've traveled, and provides links to move stepwise along the path. Right now this book is one single path, with three sub-paths. 

Embedded media, like the two articles above, can be viewed in the page where they are located by scrolling in the smaller window, or can be clicked on to view in full frame.

Any reader is free to submit a comment on any page or media file in a Scalar book by clicking the "Comment on" link at the bottom of the content, whether or not they have a Scalar account. New comments, however, will not be visible within the book until approved to go live by an author user for the book.

This is very much a work in progress and we welcome your feedback and thoughts.

This page has paths:

This page references:

  1. When California Sterilized 20,000 of its citizens
  2. Remembering Sara Rosas Garcias