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Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980 (Critical Issues in Health and Medicine) Paperback – February 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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 2010-01-01)

"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 2010-02-01)

"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."
(Choice 2010-05-01)

"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 2011-06-01)

"Kluchin has added an important contribution to the history of sterilization."
(Journal of American History 2010-03-01)

"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 2009-01-01)

"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 2009-01-15)

"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 2009-01-15)

"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 2008-08-12)

"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 2010-01-01)

From the Inside Flap

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. 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.

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Product Details

  • Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press; Revised edition (March 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081354999X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813549996
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Worddancer Redux VINE VOICE on December 16, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is marred by the author's quite slipshod research. The consequence is that explanations are too often sloppy, thin, and unilluminating, and there are important inaccuracies. The author's discussion of Roe v. Wade and subsequent USSC abortion decisions is a case in point. After doing a sloppy, once-over job characterizing the history of abortion regulation, the author provides her readers with inaccurate glosses of important abortion-related decisions. We hear nothing whatsoever about Griswold (privacy, anyone?). And the author does not mention the (critical, game-changing) Casey decision at all.....while attributing quotes from that decision to the Webster decision. It matters to get these things right.

Readers who want to have an accurate understanding of the antecedents of Roe v. Wade and the restricting decisions that followed it should read Riva Siegel & Linda Greenhouse's book (the title is something like 'The Roots of Roe').

The same at-a-distance sloppy use of sources also mars the chapter on eugenics. That was enough for me. If the chapters on areas I know well are poor, then how can I trust the author's assertions on areas I don't know as well?
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Format: Hardcover
I came across this title from a feminist blog and thought it would make an interesting read. I had heard of the "Mississippi Appendectomy" performed on young, poor, and typically black women of the south in the mid-20th century and thought this would be a good start in learning about what occurred to these women whose fertility was stolen from them. However, Fit to be Tied is much more than a story about forced sterilization. Instead, it is the author's thesis/PhD work that was published for more eyes than just the author's university.

The foundation of this book is on the eugenic and what the author calls the neo-eugenic movements in the US during the early to mid-20th century and it's impact on permanent sterilization, both forced and voluntary. She covers how these movements influenced the medical, welfare, and social services sectors of communities and their personal impact on the reproductively "fit" and "unfit". Cases studies are presented which illustrate how the "unfit" were typically forced into sterilization, or even sterilized without consent or knowledge and other cases in which other women (typically white, middle or upper class) were denied access to sterilization. Major organizations involved in either promoting access or assisting those affected by sterilization are significant aspects of each chapter.

The author weaves in other movements that occurred during this time in the US, such as the feminist, civil rights, and other minority rights and their impacts on access to sterilization. The majority of the book focuses on tubal ligations, however vasectomy is also discussed.
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