RICHMOND, Va. -- It is a shameful chapter in Virginia history: the forced sterilization of men and women deemed "feeble-minded" and "mentally unfit" from 1924 through 1979....
Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, hoped to provide reparations for victims of the state’s eugenics program when he filed House Bill 1529 in January. The bill was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee. But the committee failed to act on the measure by the General Assembly’s Feb. 5 deadline, effectively killing it for this legislative session.
HB 1529, which Marshall called the “Justice for Victims of Sterilization Act,” would have allowed for payments of $50,000 to victims of the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924. North Carolina is the only other state that has researched proposed reparations for sterilization victims. In connection with similar legislation there, North Carolina officials determined that about 20 percent of the people sterilized would be alive and possibly fewer would seek reparations.
However, reparations could have a bigger financial impact in Virginia. Virginia had the second highest sterilization count in the nation and sterilized many more individuals in the 1930s and 1940s than North Carolina. Virginia officials estimate that HB 1529 would have cost $76 million over the next five years for the reparations, victim research and administrative fees. Virginia would have funded the program only if it had a state budget surplus.
The Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act lasted from 1924 through 1979. During this period, 7,325 Virginians were sterilized on grounds that they were “feeble-minded” or “mentally unfit” to have children. Of the victims, 62 percent were women. Many of the individuals were held in state institutions, such as mental institutions, and sterilized as young as 13 years old.
Karen Rader, director of the Science, Technology and Society program at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that during this time period in Virginia, race mixing was of concern as well as fears over maintaining the integrity of the middle class.
In 2002, then-Gov. Mark Warner issued a formal apology to victims of the Sterilization Act.
This legislative session marks the 11-year anniversary of the apology. Marshall discussed the reparations bill at a press conference last month.
Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, joined Marshall in sponsoring HB 1529.
The bill would have established a eugenics museum at the Central Virginia Training Center, formerly known as the Lynchburg Colony for Epileptics and the Feeble Minded. Rader said that would have been an educational tool and possibly an aid in identifying victims.
The Justice for Sterilization Victims Project is dedicated to providing relief to victims of state-lead eugenics sterilization programs. The project’s website is at: