Propagating Perfection: Eugenic Sterilization at the Utah State Training School, 1935 - 1974

Jennifer Rust, Utah State University


Compulsory sterilization as a tool of eugenics occurred in the United States from before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its’ constitutionality in 1927 until the early 1970s. Initial justification for removing a person’s ability to procreate was rooted in hereditarian assertions that disability was transmitted from parent to offspring, and incorporated an economic argument that individuals with disabilities placed a financial burden on the state for care. Due to scientific deconstruction of the hereditarian argument, rationalization for sterilization evolved into an anxiety over the perceived inability of the disabled to parent. The state of Utah sterilized 738 individuals with intellectual disabilities from 1935 to 1974. This paper explores how Utah was similar to other states in terms of implementing compulsory sterilization through the establishment of the Utah State Training School and the philosophy of its leadership team.