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Fit to Be Tied

Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980
Rebecca M. Kluchin (Author)
288 pages, 1, 6 x 9
Cloth, May 2009 $49.95   ADD TO CART
Paper, March 2011 $30.95   ADD TO CART
epub, May 2009 $26.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine
Subject Area:
History: Medicine and Nursing, Women's Studies
Winner of the 2010 Keller-Sierra Book Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians for best monograph published in 2009


The 1960s revolutionized American contraceptive practice. Diaphragms, jellies, and condoms with high failure rates gave way to newer choices of the Pill, IUD, and sterilization. Fit to Be Tied provides a history of sterilization and what would prove to become, at once, socially divisive and a popular form of birth control.

During the first half of the twentieth century, sterilization (tubal ligation and vasectomy) was a tool of eugenics. Individuals who endorsed crude notions of biological determinism sought to control the reproductive decisions of women they considered "unfit" by nature of race or class, and used surgery to do so. Incorporating first-person narratives, court cases, and official records, Rebecca M. Kluchin examines the evolution of forced sterilization of poor women, especially women of color, in the second half of the century and contrasts it with demands for contraceptive sterilization made by white women and men. She chronicles public acceptance during an era of reproductive and sexual freedom, and the subsequent replacement of the eugenics movement with "neo-eugenic" standards that continued to influence American medical practice, family planning, public policy, and popular sentiment.


"In Fit to Be Tied, Rebecca Kluchin impressively navigates a critical period in the history of reproductive health in America. Fit to Be Tied is very innovative in a subtle and understated way: Kluchin is one of the first historians of gender and medicine to provide a sophisticated framework for mapping the sterilization practices of the pre-World War II period into the post-Roe V. Wade culture."
—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"In Fit to be Tied, historian Rebecca Kluchin offers a thoroughly researched, nuanced analysis of sterilization, reproductive rights, and what she calls 'neo-eugenics.' An important and powerful book that fills a critical gap in the literature on postwar reproductive rights."
—American Journal of Human Biology

"A welcome addition to the history of sexuality, birth control, medicine, and politics in the US. The writing is compelling, and the story Kluchin tells, particularly of forced sterilizations, is harrowing. Highly recommended."

"A compelling and original account of eugenic steralization. This study adds many significant strands to the densely interwoven history of global efforts to control human populations and regulate reproduction."
—American Historical Review

"Kluchin has added an important contribution to the history of sterilization."
—Journal of American History

"Kluchin's nuanced and thoughtful study shows how sterilization was too often foisted upon poor women of color to reduce economic 'dependency' and racial 'degeneracy' while too often denied to middle-class white women who hoped to secure reliable, permanent contraception. Fit to Be Tied makes a much-needed contribution to our historical understanding of women's never ending attempts to secure reproductive control. It is a terrific and important book."
—Judith A. Houck, author of Hot and Bothered: Women, Medicine, and Menopause in Modern America

"Much more has been written on the history of birth control and abortion than on the history of sterilization in the second half of the twentieth century. Kluchin's excellent study fills this crucial gap in the scholarly literature, adding breadth and depth to our understanding of the history of reproductive rights and wrongs in America."
—Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, author of The Estrogen Elixir

"Fit to Be Tied is a refreshing and vital addition to the history of reproductive politics and sexuality in America. Kluchin's analysis is both compelling and smart, demonstrating how race and class affected reproductive policy and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. Her composite portrait of sterilization is particularly interesting and important because it assesses both those who were victims of sterilization abuse and those who fought for the right to sterilization as a contraceptive. Such a study is long overdue."
—Wendy Kline, author of Building a Better Race

"Kluchin should be congratulated for her highly readable, well-researched study of this important, but largely neglected aspect of postwar women's health history. This book makes a valuable contribution to the literature on women's studies, social policy, and the history of medicine and public health."
—Molly Ladd-Taylor, York University

"Kluchin has produced a much-needed study of the social and legal status of sterilization from the 1950s through the 1970s, based on a wealth of official documents and archival materials and featuring the voices of women from across the social spectrum who were adversely affected. Her narrative is a meticulous and compelling account of the legacies of negative and positive eugenics for reproductive politics and the lives of American women differentially marked by race, ethnicity, and class."
—Journal of the History of Biology

Author / Editor Bio

Rebecca M. Kluchin is an assistant professor of history at California State University, Sacramento.

Table Of Contents

List of Illustrations
From Eugenics to Neo-eugenics
"Fit" Women and Reproductive Choice
Sterilizing "Unfit" Women
"Fit" Women Fight Back
Unfit" Women Fight Too
Irreconcilable Conflicts
The Endurance of Neo-Eugenics


Colonial Strangers
Phyllis Lassner
Comrades in Health
Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Theodore M. Brown
Manic Minds
Lisa M. Hermsen
Breeding Contempt
Mark Largent