Kansas 105

Today's trivia (August 28)

In Kansas and across the nation, the late 19th century was a time when people who were into reforming the soul believed that was accomplished through reforming the body.

Populism was sweeping the nation, the Pentecostal movement was born in Topeka, a free-love society flourished in Valley Falls, and a vegetarian colony took root in southeast Kansas during this era.

This progressive social climate, however, fueled one of the more offensive chapters in medical history: the forced sterilization of 60,000 people nationally - including 3,000 in Kansas - deemed genetically inferior, a movement historically referred to as eugenics.

During the first half of the 20th century, social scientists feared the nation's gene pool would be diluted if so-called inferior people were allowed to reproduce.

Those sometimes targeted for sterilization were people with epilepsy, non-English speaking immigrants, teenage girls who may have been raped or were pregnant out of wedlock, people suffering from depression or some form of mental illness, gays and lesbians, and, most frequently, criminals.

At one time, Kansas ranked third nationally in the number of sterilizations. The procedures were phased out in 1952, but the law allowing them remained on the books until the 1970s.

"There was a period of time when people thought this was the thing to do," said former Kansas Secretary of Social Rehabilitation Services Robert Harder, when he was interviewed by The Eagle in April 2000.

Harder, who served in that position from 1973 to 1987, said he was one of the people who finally insisted that the forced-sterilization law be repealed.

"By then, we had begun to develop a more humane understanding of people and viewed sterilization as an inhumane practice," Harder said.

Question: What leading Kansas family helped change the law regarding forced sterilization?


Answer to Saturday’s question: Kansan Almon Strowger, inventor of the automatic telephone exchange, was an undertaker.

Check back at Kansas.com on Monday for the answer to today’s question.