Indiana Supreme Court Legal History Lecture Series
"Three Generations of Imbeciles are Enough":
Reflections on 100 Years of Eugenics in Indiana
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Eugenics in Indiana

Warren Smith
Warren Smith
Healthy Children
Caption reads: "These healthy children were born of healthy, normal parents. Weak, diseased parents produce weak, diseased children."

Eugenics in Indiana
The Indiana Supreme Court held a live event regarding "Eugenics in Indiana" on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 3:00pm.

About the Event
This was originally a Free CLE Event sponsored by Courts in the Classroom, Legal History Series and the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education.

This Court-hosted event focused on issues relating to the history of eugenics laws in Indiana. A three-member panel was present to discuss issues regarding Eugenics which included: Paul Lombardo,  J.D.,  Ph.D,  Professor of Law, Georgia State University; Eric M. Meslin, Ph.D, Center for  Bioethics,  Indiana University School of Medicine and Peter Marcus, M.D.,  M.A.,  Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

In 1907, Indiana adopted the first eugenical sterilization law in the world, paving the way for similar laws in more than thirty other states and nearly a dozen countries around the world. The pioneering statute was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1921 (the subject of the case, Warren Smith, is pictured at right), but a new law was enacted in 1927 following U.S. Supreme Court endorsement of eugenic sterilization in Buck v. Bell in which Justice Holmes declared, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” From 1907 to 1974 Indiana sterilized 2,500 institutionalized patients.

Attention was focused on sterilization again in 1978 when, in Stump v. Sparkman, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld judicial immunity for an Indiana judge whose ex parte order led to the sterilization of a 15 year old girl. This CLE course will involve a lawyer, a bioethicist and a physician who will discuss the still controversial topic of involuntary sterilization in historical context and also reflect on how the new insights from the Human Genome project have affected it.

View the Eugenics PowerPoint Presentation presented by Paul A. Lombardo, Georgia State University College of Law Adobe PDF Document

Get a Printable Flyer for this Event Adobe PDF Document

Read the Announcement published in Res Gestae Adobe PDF Document


  • Paul Lombardo, J.D., Ph. D [bio]
    Professor of Law, Georgia State University
  • Eric M. Meslin, Ph. D [bio]
    Center for Bioethics, Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Peter Marcus, M.D., M.A. [bio]
    Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology

For more information or to make a reservation contact:

Dr. Elizabeth Osborn
Assistant to the Chief Justices for Court History & Public Education
Phone: 317-232-2550

Supporting Materials

Indiana Eugenics Legislation: 1907, 1927, 1931, 1973, and 1974
Adobe PDF
1.2 mb
Indiana Supreme Court Opinions in Eugenics Cases: 1921, 1927, and 1978
Adobe PDF
1.4 mb
Examples of Eugenics in the Media: News and Opinion, 1927-1996
Adobe PDF
1 mb
The Topic of Eugenics in Peer-Reviewed Journals: Three Articles
Adobe PDF
4.5 mb

PHOTO: Ft. Wayne School for the Feeble-Minded
Fort Wayne School for the Feeble-Minded


"Three Generations of a Feeble-Minded Pauper Family"

Caption Read: The woman seated at the left is feeble-minded. Her father was feeble-minded. Her daughter, standing next to her, inherited her mother's mental defect and in turn transmitted it to her seven children. These children with their father appear in the picture. The oldest daughter has borne two illegitimate children. The little two-room shanty has sheltered eleven members of the family at one time. Since this photograph was taken, five of the children have become public charges.


Indiana Eugenics: History and Legacy, 1907-2007

To mark the centennial anniversary of Indiana's eugenics legislation, a forum held on April 12, 2007 provided reflections on the legacy and relevance of eugenics history to current discussions on reproductive rights, applications of genetic science, and our best intentions to improve the lives of people in our communities.

Events sponsored by: Indiana University New Frontiers Grant, Program in Medical Humanities-Health Studies and Department of History, IU School of Liberal Arts, Herron School of Art and Design, Departments of Pediatrics and of Medical & Molecular Genetics, and the IU Center for Bioethics, IU School of Medicine.

Get the Full Agenda on a Printable Flyer for this Event Adobe PDF Document

Visit the IUPUI Center for Bioethics website for more information

Last modified on Thursday, January, 08, 2009