Introduction: Looking Back at Eugenics

Publication Title

A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era


Paul A. Lombardo

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Contribution to Book

Publication Date



In 1907, Indiana passed the first involuntary sterilization law in the world based on the theory of eugenics. In time, more than thirty states and a dozen foreign countries followed Indiana’s lead in passing sterilization laws; those and other laws restricting immigration and regulating marriage on “eugenic” grounds were still in effect in the United States as late as the 1970s.

The centennial of Indiana’s pioneering enactment provided an opportune time to evaluate the historical significance of eugenics in America. On April 12, 2007, a group that included scholars, state officials, and members of the public assembled in Indianapolis for the culmination of the Indiana Eugenics Legacy Project. The project was designed to advance historical research on eugenics, to deepen our understanding of the varied ways “eugenics” was expressed intellectually, legally, and socially, and to help draw lessons from history for current policy makers.

The volume described in this Introduction was the final product of the Indiana Eugenics Legacy Project. In the past twenty-five years, scholars have documented the wide appeal of eugenics and A Century of Eugenics, edited by Paul A. Lombardo (forthcoming from the Indiana University Press) builds on that growing literature. In contrast to the many wide-ranging scholarly and popular surveys of eugenics already available, this book is an exploration of the detailed and varied history of eugenics in America at the state and local levels. It contains original scholarship that probes practices in Indiana, Georgia, California, Minnesota, North Carolina and Alabama, along with other papers that explore eugenics from perspectives that include attention to bioethics, law, and race. We intend to contribute to the ongoing national discussion about the meanings of “eugenics” and how those meanings played out in specific and concrete contexts.


External Links

Recommended Citation

Paul A. Lombardo, Introduction: Looking Back at Eugenics, in A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era (Paul A. Lombardo ed., Ind. Univ. Press, 2011).



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