Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Joseph November


This paper aims to uncover the history of forced sterilization in South Carolina. Compulsory sterilization of the feebleminded, a form of eugenics, gained prominence in the United States throughout the early twentieth century. It was both an ableist and misogynistic movement that targeted women because they were seen to be responsible for reproduction. Sterilization was regarded as a solution to halting the reproduction of feebleminded individuals, who would otherwise continue to depend on the state financially. South Carolina was slow to implement a sterilization law, becoming the thirty-first (and second-to-last) state to pass one. Although South Carolina shares a border with North Carolina, whose aggressive sterilization program has attracted many scholars, it has typically been overlooked in the historical narrative. North and South Carolina had quite different numbers of sterilizations despite their geographic proximity: almost 7,000 were sterilized in North Carolina compared to around 280 in South Carolina. This large disparity indicates that citizens, physicians, and state representatives in South Carolina had fundamentally different political and social values than residents of states that advocated for sterilization. Broadening the history of sterilization to include an in-depth analysis of South Carolina will demonstrate how values of anti-elitism and individual freedom, as well as educational and financial limitations, influenced the state’s hesitancy to adopt and implement sterilization.

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