April 4, 2018 | Jerry Bergman

Darwinian Eugenics Hit Latinos Hard

A Remnant of the Toxic Effect of Darwinian Eugenics

by Dr Jerry Bergman

It is well-known that forced Darwinian eugenic sterilization programs targeted Blacks, but evidence is surfacing that the Latinos were also targets. An article titled “Forced sterilization programs in California once harmed thousands – particularly Latinas” [i] supports this conclusion. In the first half of the 20th century, a University of Vermont study concluded U.S. eugenics programs sterilized an estimated 60,000 people that public health and social works deemed “unfit.” [ii] This study was a continuation of the work by Professor Nancy Gallagher as part of the book she wrote titled Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State. [iii]

Professor Gallagher found eugenics was being applied to a wide variety of putative social problems, in this case in an attempt to solve the “problem” of Vermont’s rural poor in the 1920s. The inherent application of eugenics to a wide variety of problems also was used in response to prejudice against certain ethnic groups. In the study by Novak, et al., reviewed here, the case of “Latinas” in California was reviewed.[iv] Between the early 1920s and as late as the 1950s, California sterilized about 20,000 people, fully one-third of the entire American total.

California led the nation in the effort to apply evolution in order to help create a superior race in harmony with Darwinism. Amazingly, the records of the sterilization requests of over 20,000 people still existed after all of these years. These records were examined to determine the role that race played in the sterilization decisions. Novak and Lira concluded the goal of the movement was Darwinian because:

Eugenics was seen as a “science” in the early 20th century, and its ideas remained popular into the midcentury. Advocating for the “science of better breeding,” eugenicists endorsed sterilizing people considered unfit to reproduce.

The eugenic laws varied, but, amazingly for us today, California passed a eugenic law in 1909 that allowed anyone committed to a state institution for whatever reason to be sterilized. The problem was many of the institutional residents were committed by court order or even by family members who would not, or could not due to poverty or other reasons, care for them. Once admitted, medical superintendents could authorize the sterilization largely at their own discretion. The criteria to sterilize patients was the judgement of “feebleminded” or “having conditions thought to be likely transmitted to descendants” – a vague category that included a wide variety of conditions from physical to mental diseases.

The researchers summarized their findings in a peer reviewed study published in The American Journal of Public Health, a leading scientific journal. They were able to use the data from a total of 17,362 forms recommending institutionalized patients for sterilization between 1920 and 1945. The larger the number of Latinos in the general population, it would be expected that a larger number of Latinos would be in the study. They controlled for this population level problem by using U.S. Census data from 1920 to 1940.

Illustration from Novak and Lira, 2018.

The results include the finding that Latino men were far more likely to be sterilized than were non-Latino men, and Latina women experienced an even greater disproportionate risk of sterilization then non-Latinas. In short, Latinas women were at a 59% greater risk of sterilization than non-Latinas. The same finding has been found in other studies with other groups, including Jews and Blacks.

A 1918 report published by the state of California found the “ratio of feeble-mindedness was far higher among Mexicans, Negroes, and recent immigrants from Europe than among those of native American stock. The former three groups make up about three-fifths of those tested, but they account for nearly nine-tenths of the feeble-minded and border zone cases.” [v]

The conclusion of the Novak and Lira study was “Eugenic sterilization laws were disproportionately applied to Latina/o patients, particularly Latina women and girls.” Furthermore, “Eugenic thinking inscribed “scientific” legitimacy to racial stereotypes of Latinas/os as inferior and unfit to reproduce… ‘hyper fertile,’ inadequate mothers, criminally inclined, and …  prone to feeblemindedness.” The latter category “prone to feeblemindedness” was especially problematic because this criteria was so vague that it could include almost anyone.

[i] Nicole L. Novak and Professor Natalie Lira. 2018.  Forced sterilization programs in California once harmed thousands – particularly Latinas. The Conversation, March 22, 2018.

[ii] https://www.uvm.edu/%7Elkaelber/eugenics/

[iii] Nancy Gallagher. 1999. Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State. Hanover, VT: University Press of New York State.

[iv] Novak, Nicole et al., 2018. Disproportionate Sterilization of Latinos Under California’s Eugenic Sterilization Program, 1920-1945. American Journal of Public Health. March 22. E1-E3.

[v]  Surveys in Mental Deviation in Prisons, Public Schools, and Orphanages in California. Sacramento: California State Printing Office. 1918. p. 19.


Dr Jerry Bergman, professor, author and speaker, is a frequent contributor to Creation-Evolution Headlines. He is currently a staff scientist at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). See his Author Profile for his previous articles and more information.


Dr Bergman’s book explains the rise of eugenics from Britain to America to Nazi Germany

Attaching the term “scientific” to what is a very subjective judgement occurs not only in these eugenic cases, but in other areas as well, including the issue related to biological origins determined by Darwinism. The eugenics program was a classic case of the powerful domination of the less powerful, exactly like the powerful scientist establishment today dominates the largely powerless creationist and Intelligent Design supporters. The harm of eugenics is covered in more detail in Jerry Bergman’s book  The Darwin Effect: Its influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism & Sexism. 2014. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books a Million.

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