About Eugenics & Disabilities

The Eugenics and Disability project provides resources on the history and legacy of eugenics for communities interested in listening and responding to the voices of the past and present in Washington. By encouraging remembrance, research, and dialogue, the project will help expand our understanding of the significance of eugenics and open up avenues for advocacy to ensure that this history is acknowledged and never repeated.

Eugenics was the science and social movement that sought to improve human populations by controlling reproduction. A century ago Washington pioneered the practice of involuntary sterilization of the "unfit," guided by the belief that some people were born to be a burden on the rest.

Although today most disability policies aim to enhance inclusion and autonomy, predudices against disabled people still exist throughout our society. The specter of eugenics raises thorny ethical questions about, for example, the implications of genetic testing and the exercise of reproductive rights. The history of eugenics is especially compelling to individuals and communities that feel vulnerable or stigmatized in this era of rising health care and social service costs. Maintaining public dialogue about past and present viewpoints and practices is essential to furthering the right to self-determination and ensuring that citizens with disabilities are valued as human beings.

The following materials found on this website may be useful to students, educators, activists, and citizens:

  • The archive of the October 9, 2009 public symposium at the University of Washington.
  • Selected documents from the time period of the eugenics movement (around 1900-1945), and notes about how to conduct research on questions about Washington’s local history of eugenics and forced sterilization.
  • Selected resources from leading historians of eugenics, especially scholars who are exploring history through the lens of disability studies, as well as links to other web resources on the public history of eugenics and the history of disability.
  • Resources about disability rights and advocacy in Washington and academic organizations in the field of disability studies.

As this website grows, please look for the addition of:

  • A blog for collecting recent news and events relating to eugenics and genetics, and for sharing reflections on historical events and contemporary issues.
  • Curricular materials for teaching about the history and legacy of eugenics in relation to people with disabilities and other groups.
  • A documentary history of various aspects of the Washington eugenics movement.
  • Reports of ongoing research activities and findings about eugenics in Washington and other locales.
  • Announcements of upcoming events.