California's Sterilization Survivors: An Estimate and Call for Redress

Am J Public Health. 2017 Jan;107(1):50-54. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303489. Epub 2016 Nov 17.


From 1919 to 1952, approximately 20 000 individuals were sterilized in California's state institutions on the basis of eugenic laws that sought to control the reproductive capacity of people labeled unfit and defective. Using data from more than 19 000 sterilization recommendations processed by state institutions over this 33-year period, we provide the most accurate estimate of living sterilization survivors. As of 2016, we estimate that as many as 831 individuals, with an average age of 87.9 years, are alive. We suggest that California emulate North Carolina and Virginia, states that maintained similar sterilization programs and recently have approved monetary compensation for victims. We discuss the societal obligation for redress of this historical injustice and recommend that California seriously consider reparations and full accountability.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Compensation and Redress*
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Family Planning Policy / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Persons with Mental Disabilities / history*
  • Sterilization, Reproductive / history*