How Much Are US Victims of Forced Sterilization Owed?

From 1933 to 1977, over 7,600 people in North Carolina — including girls raped by older men, individuals with epilepsy, individuals determined to be “feeble-minded,” teenagers from poor families, a 10-year-old boy, individuals with disabilities including blindness — were forcibly sterilized. While 31 other states also had eugenics programs (California and Virginia both sterilized more people), North Carolina‘s was the most aggressive. The state officially apologized to the victims in 2002 and has promised to provide some sort of compensation. Governor Bev Perdue has vowed to include funds in the 2012 budget for victims and has set up a task force whose final report is due in February. But the question of how much to compensate those who were forced to endure tubal ligation or a vasectomy has become a point of contention and all the more so in a year of budget cutbacks.

“How can you quantify how much a baby is worth to people?” asked Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, which is financed by the state. “It’s not about quantifying the unborn child, it’s about the choices that were taken away.”

85 percent of those sterilized were girls and women, most from poor families; 40 percent were from racial minorities, as black Americans were more likely to be poor, uneducated and from rural families. North Carolina was the only state to give social workers the power to choose people for sterilization. Social workers often relied on I.Q. tests but “for some victims who often spent more time picking cotton than in school, the I.Q. tests at the time were not necessarily accurate predictors of capability.”

Wealthy businessmen created the Human Betterment League of North Carolina in 1947.  James Hanes, the hosiery magnate, and Dr. Clarence Gamble, heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune, were both members and supporters of the eugenics movement.  As the director of the Mecklenburg County welfare department from 1945 to 1972, Wallace Kuralt, the father of the television journalist Charles Kuralt, drew “extensively” on the eugenics program, and more sterilizations were carried out in that county than any other.

65-year-old Nial Ramirez was the first to file a lawsuit against North Carolina’s eugenics board with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1973. She received a $7,000 settlement from the doctor. Ramirez was sterilized at 18 years old after giving birth to a daughter; a social worker from the Washington County Department of Public Welfare suggested she be sterilized and, not realizing that the procedure was irreversible and thinking that she had no choice for the sake of her siblings and her mother, Ramirez underwent the operation. Saying “you don’t know what my kids were going to be. You don’t know what kids God was going to give me,” she says that she does not want an apology and that she will not settle for any of the amounts mentioned.

Some have suggested $20,000 for a settlement. 57-year-old Elaine Riddick, who was sterilized at 14 after becoming pregnant from rape and whose illiterate grandmother signed the consent form with an X on the urging of social workers, has sued the state for $1 million. While her case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, it has refused to hear it.

62-year-old Charles Holt thinks $30,000 might be enough. Sent to a state institution for people with mental and emotional issues after “fighting at school and masturbating openly,” Holt undergoing a vasectomy seems to have been a condition of his being able to leave to begin his adult life. A social worker convinced his mother that he have the surgery, noting that it would protect him “in case he were falsely accused of having fathered a child.”

It takes my breath away to think that, had my teenage son Charlie, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, lived just half a century earlier, he could have suffered the same fate as Ramirez, Riddick and Holt.

The Winston-Salem Journal has an extensive report about forced sterilizations in North Carolina, including records from the Eugenics Board. Whatever settlements the state of North Carolina decides on, I don’t think it can ever be enough truly to compensate for the pain, suffering and inhumane treatment experiencing by too, too many.


Related Care2 Coverage

China’s “Leftover” Women

Academia’s Favorite Group of Racists Holds Annual Meeting

N.H. State Senator: Mentally Ill Should Be “Shipped To Siberia”


Photo by A.M/ Kuchling


Pat B.
Pat B5 years ago

I know I won't be popular saying this, so I'll start by saying I love multiculturalism. I wouldn't ever want to live in a white only city. I enjoy walking down a street and hearing a variety of languages. That said, I don't owe anyone in the past for what was done in the past. I'm tired of this white guilt we almost have been steeped in. I am not responsible for what my ancestors may or may not have done.

Have the Japanese ever 'apologized' for their death marches and the brutal treatment of Allied soldiers? Have they ever apologized to the Chinese for their attempts at genocide?

But if you insist on doing this because you feel guilty, well I want compensation from the French Catholics for taking my Huguenot ancestor's lands, their possessions and drove them out of France or killed them outright. I'm sure there are other atrocities and indignities my ancestors faced so how much government guilt money can I expect?

Helpful Friend
christina webb5 years ago

forcably steralizing the mentally ill is not a bad idea. No that there are more checks and balances in our medical system. And the civil rights movement is well underway, having politicians of color, there are less chance of error and wrongful accusation. Of course not without due process and fair reasoning.
Very unfair for Ms. Riddick to not be heard. @ 14 they know it was wrong for them to treat her as the perpetrator as many women are.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

Quite a lot, I suppose. (Would the US budget go bankrupt?)

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

As I read this, it is just sad, sad, sad. The human race has been barbaric for so long, and once in a while in a generation, a brave soul will speak out at injustice, and cause change, ... but this was so recent, it boggles the mind, that we were so primitive in our social thinking. I have no answers about compensation, because the horror of it, is so much more than money could recompense. Just sorry for the victims who have had to live in a time when this was done to them. so sorry

Elisabeth P.
Past Member 6 years ago

Whether or not to deprive anyone of a God given right is a monumental question, especially with such a significant action as sterilisation. As is usual, it's not the rule but the interpretation that's the problem.

At sixteen I went out with a boy whose older sister was severely mentally challenged. At 24 she started disappearing with boys/men who really only used her for sex and she often ended up a surprisingly long way from home with no idea of where she was or where to go.

She had no concept of reproduction other than babies were made while having sex so she believed she was pregnant. It was suggested to her parents she should be sterilised, an agonising thought for them, but her disappearances were traumatic, all the more so because of her incapacity, and had she fallen pregnant the baby would become the family's responsibility, or be adopted out.

They were not in a position to raise another child, they still had an 8yo late comer and were just scraping by financially. Pregnancy itself would have been extremely challenging and she would have been devastated to have the baby taken away. Mentally compromised people have human feelings and drives we all do.

Could they have given her the pill? Maybe, but maintaining that can be easier said than done and it's not infallible. In the end it was the best solution for all concerned. She continued to believe she could have babies but there was no longer the worry that she actually would.

Hunter W.
Hunter W6 years ago

I certainly know some people who should be sterilized. My family ended up with my step-sister, only to find out that her drug addicted mother is pregnant, and homeless again. Should she be sterilized and her current children be taken away? Definitely!!

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

I tend to agree with you, Linda V. I know a few who should not have procreated, and does the name Michelle Duggar mean anything? Let's see, how about Octomom? I know a few men as well, who should have been forced to be sterilized, and do think there are situations which advocate for doing that to a person, whether female or male. It shouldn't JUST because of race, poverty level, education or intelligence, although if one is absolutely unable mentally to care for a child, then yes, they should not create one. Same if they cann't afford to support a child............don't CREATE one. There needs to be some common sense used, and if I was told just because I didn't have "X" amount of money in the bank, or I was lacking a college education, then I shouldn't have a child, I'd be fighting tooth & nail about it. I think I have enough common sense, MYSELF to not want to do that if I couldn't support a child at that time, however, and nobody should make that decision for me. Now, IF I wasn't able t make such a decision, then maybe others should be given that ability. Does that make sense?

Linda V.
Linda V6 years ago

Really Teri - so have you volunteered to be sterilized? Stupidity is a family trait as is ignorance. I would think along with caring about Animals you should care about maintaining the human gene pool at its highest possible levels. Clearly, based on your statements your contributions should be minimized.

Terri B.
Terri B6 years ago

it's about time!!! there are way too many people in the world as it is, and i for one am tired of supporting every damn public aid baby and immigrant just because they were born in the united states and their ignorant parents can't provide for them. I DON'T WANT TO PROVIDE EITHER!! i totally support forced sterilization, especially for stupid people who continuously breed and breed and breed, just because they can and have someone supporting their unwanted offspring.

Brian M.
Past Member 6 years ago

A reasonable assessment would have to take into account that the average American family has two children and would deduct the expenses saved by not having said children.