In 1907, a new law passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor of Indiana provided for the involuntary sterilization of "confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists." Although it was eventually found to be unconstitutional, this law is widely regarded as the first eugenics sterilization legislation passed in the world. In 1927, a revised law was implemented and before it was repealed in 1974, over 2,300 of the State’s most vulnerable citizens were involuntarily sterilized. In addition, Indiana established a state-funded Committee on Mental Defectives that carried out eugenic family studies in over twenty counties and was home to an active "better babies" movement that encouraged scientific motherhood and infant hygiene as routes to human improvement.
The centenary of the 1907 legislation provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the far-reaching significance of this event by exploring the largely untold history of eugenics in Indiana, and the relevance of this history to contemporary issues in human genomics, public health genetics, and reproductive health in other parts of the country. An expert project team has been assembled of historians, bioethicists, lawyers, and art/design faculty to undertake a series of scholarly and public projects to mark the 100th anniversary of the Indiana eugenics legislation. These included:
- A book, Indiana and the Legacy of State and Local Eugenics, 1907-2007, with contributions by a dozen scholars from around the U.S.
- A formal apology from the Senate and House of Representatives of the 115th Indiana General Assembly
- Award-winning articles on the history of eugenics in Indiana appearing in the Indiana Magazine of History and Traces (February 2007)
- A panel presentation on the history of eugenics in Indiana at the Indiana Association of Historians annual meeting (Indiana University, Bloomington, Feb. 23-24, 2007)
- Digitally-archived materials made available to the public and research community
- An exhibit at the Indiana State Library on the history and implications of eugenic policies (April-October 2007)
- A public symposium (April 12, 2007) in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit with invited speakers:
- Governor of Indiana or representative
- Indiana Legislature representative
- Chief Justice, Indiana Supreme Court
- Daniel Kevles, historian and author of In the Name of Eugenics
- Joe Palca, award winning science journalist
- A state historic marker (unveiled April 2007)