How Sonoma County became the dark center of America’s forced sterilization movement


Her fertilized egg did not reach the uterus, but instead implanted in a fallopian tube.

Because unbeknownst to Ruth, her tubes had been clamped or removed. She knew she had undergone surgery during her institutionalization, but never realized that she had been sterilized during the procedure.

“We talked about it when I was older,” Currie said. “Because it’s something that really bothered her. “

Ruth’s desire for motherhood was too strong to deny, however. She and her husband, Charles Blood, adopted two daughters. The state of California unilaterally removed Ruth’s ability to raise children, then reinstated the privilege by approving adoptions.

Cindy Blood passed away last year. Joyce Blood Currie lives in Napa.

Unfortunately, Ruth Rodriguez was not an ideal adoptive mother. Currie says her mother physically and mentally abused her daughters and was prone to violent fits of rage.

This is an example that eugenics would have brandished above their heads as proof of the need to filter out “bad parents”. And certainly, the pregnancy would have been a huge burden, perhaps scarring, for any Sonoma State Home resident with profound disabilities. Even Marian Rose White, Veal said, “was an adult but also a child” who needed help becoming a mother.

There are of course counter arguments to the selection of parents. A longitudinal study of people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities in San Francisco in the 1930s found that 40 years later, over 67% were leading normal lives – working, raising families, paying mortgages.

Who was a reasonable candidate for compulsory sterilization, and who was not? Stern says that’s the wrong question.

“Finding people and telling their stories is really important,” she said.

“But it’s also important to keep in mind that this was a systematic thing. If we look at the types of processes used, the quoted consent given by patients or parents – in an institution like Sonoma in the 1940s, that would in no way be considered consent by today’s bioethical standards. .

Currie is also convinced that much of her mother’s rage and instability was triggered by her experience in the institution and knowing that a potentially healthy baby was left to rot in her tubes. fallopian.

“I think the baby was meant to be a little boy,” Currie noted. “I had to have an older brother. My mother suffered psychological damage because of it. She would try to fight everyone.

Currie got off at 62 with three jobs. His life has not been smooth. It took years of therapy and recovery from drug addiction for her to come to terms with her childhood.

This kind of family trauma is at the origin of the demand for reparations.

They will arrive a few years too late for Ruth Rodriguez, and three decades too late for Lucy. But others can still benefit from it. Stern’s revised estimates for 2022 are 383 surviving victims from California institutions, and more than 200 specifically from Sonoma – who, thanks to Fred Butler, practiced the practice later than most facilities.

And Currie balanced the ledger. She has two children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Her daughter runs a wine tasting room and currently lives with Joyce while she searches for a home. Currie’s son lives in Fairfield and works for Multi-Color, a company that makes wine labels.

They all come together regularly to laugh, empathize, and bicker – the mundane connection that defines an enduring human family.

Susan Hetrick is happy to hear that Lucy’s modern family is thriving. Named Susan Noonan as a child, she grew up three doors down from the Sonoma house where Lucy Rodriguez worked as a housekeeper – and where Lucy later lived as the wife of the man who employed her. , former Sonoma Police Chief Art Lavin.

Hetrick, who now lives in North Carolina, agrees with others who knew Lucy that describing her as “weak-minded” or something similar would have been not only cruel, but inaccurate. She remembers a kind and generous woman who cooked like an angel and smelled of carnation, and who spoke openly about her sterilization.

“I thought it was awful,” Hetrick said. “Every little girl can’t wait to grow up and can be a mom too. And these ladies did not become moms. Later, when I had kids, it just pissed me off. How dare the state do that to anyone?

Hetrick finds some comfort in knowing that the California government will finally recognize that it had no business in guiding procreation, at least not in the absence of genuine consent.

“Lucy and everyone like her deserves respect,” Hetrick said. “They may only get it in their afterlife, but it’s better than not at all.”

(Editor’s note: While the original mechanism for payments to victims of institutional sterilizations was California Assembly Bill 1007, legislation was approved and funds were earmarked, through two more bills. The original version of this story twisted the process.)

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or [email protected] On Twitter @Skinny_Post.


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