The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century

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Overview

Many would be surprised to learn that the preferred method of birth control in the United States today is actually surgical sterilization. This book takes an historical look at the sterilization movement in post-World War II America, a revolution in modern contraceptive behavior. Focusing on leaders of the sterilization movement from the 1930's through the turn of the century, this book explores the historic linkages between environment, civil liberties, eugenics, population control, sex education, marriage counseling, and birth control movements in the 20th-century United States. Sterilization has been variously advocated as a medical procedure for defusing the "population bomb," expanding individual rights, liberating women from the fear of pregnancy, strengthening marriage, improving the quality of life of the mentally disabled, or reducing the incidence of hereditary disorders. From an historical standpoint, support for free and unfettered access to sterilization services has aroused opposition in some circles, and was considered a "liberal cause" in post-World War II America. This story demonstrates how a small group of reformers helped to alter traditional notions of gender and sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Reviewer: Lisa A Ennis, MA, MS (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
Description: In this book, Ian Dowbiggin, Professor and Chair of the Department History at the University of Prince Edward Island and author of A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America (Oxford University Press, 2003), traces the sterilization movement from its beginnings in the 1930s to the start of the 21st century.
Purpose: The author does an exceptional job of tracing the development of the sterilization movement and makes a good argument that it is a major cause of the present day "birth dearth." Throughout the work, he shows how sterilization efforts tended to target the poor and less fortunate. He also makes a compelling argument for what the legacy of the sterilization movement means for the future, as fewer and fewer young workers are available to support the aging baby boomers.
Audience: An accomplished historian and scholar, the author has crafted a book that is appealing to a variety of readers. Historians will be pleased with the accuracy and quantity of the notes while general readers will find the writing style accessible.
Features: Seven chapters cover the topic in chronological order. One of the strengths of this work is that the author discusses the events through the lens of the people that were involved. For instance, he begins with the life of Marian Olden, a contemporary of Margaret Sanger, giving the work context and humanity. A section of photos of the main personalities discussed in the book is included, as is an index, end notes for each chapter, and a bibliography.
Assessment: Painstakingly researched and well written, this book is a good addition to the growing body of work on eugenics. Of particular note is the author's use of archival materials. Overall, this book is recommended for all libraries, especially those with history of medicine and global issues collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195188585
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents


Prologue     1
Up from Eugenics     17
A New League     46
The Poverty Bomb     73
House on Fire     110
A Great Wave     135
Tarred and Feathered     167
Going Global     202
Bibliography     235
Abbreviations     241
Index     243
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