In the 1960s and 1970s the use of sterilization procedures as a form of family planning, left low-income and minority women vulnerable to coerced sterilization. The sterilization abuses that these women endured were the result of pejorative interpretations of the impoverished, that emerged from the political discussion about poverty in the 1960s. This Independent Study examines the effects of the interpretations of the causes of poverty, emerging in the 1950s and 1960s, on the autonomy of the low-income and minority women who used government aid. The writings of anthropologists and sociologists, such as Oscar Lewis and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, provided the background for the government poverty-relief programs. Exploring the definitions of low-income women in poverty, in these writings, reveals an explanation for poverty that focused on the reproductive behaviors of these women. These definitions of women in poverty incorporated race, gender, and class stereotypes about African American women that classified them as the undeserving poor. My independent study then examines the role of these characterizations of low-income women in the changing political landscape of the 1970s, when the writings of concerned scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, created an overpopulation crisis that made family planning an important part of government aid programs. The rise in sterilization abuse reveals that by focusing on the reproductive behaviors of low-income and minority women, the government policies and programs attempting to aid these women, marginalized them.


King, Shannon




Cultural History | United States History | Women's History


sterilization abuse, government policy history, black feminism, overpopulation

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Njeri A. Jennings