In the graph above, each box represents a person who was sterilized at Sonoma. Women are coded as red squares and men are blue squares. As you scroll down this page, you can see and read about the demographic patterns of sterilization. Use the arrows above next to the graph to scroll left and right and view the entirety of Sonoma’s sterilization records from 1919 to 1953.
From 1919 to 1953, 2,952 women, or 54.5% of Sonoma’s total population were sterilized. Their ages ranged from seven to seventy, with a median age of 17.
A disproportionate number of these operations were on Spanish-surnamed, primarily Mexican-origin, adolescents and adults.
Immigrants from countries such as Italy were also over-sterilized. The above graph now shows individuals whose country of origin was listed as foreign born.
Each of the boxes in the graph represents a single person sterilized at Sonoma who had a significant experience at the institution. Records of these individuals are available on microfilm at the California State Archives. Please note that per the California Code, records 75 years or older are publicly accessible and records younger than this are protected to maintain confidentiality and privacy. Below is a selection of some of these patients who who were sterilized.
Henrietta Brooman was sterilized in 1922 at the age of 32. At the time, she had already been a patient at Sonoma for nearly 8 years and had been classified as “Borderline” feebleminded. In the year of her operation, Henrietta was one of 143 patients sterilized at Sonoma. The majority of these patients (105) were women. Henrietta’s sister had also been a patient at Sonoma. Eugenicists, who believed in sterilization to “improve” American society by limiting who could have children, believed that mental illness and feeblemindedness were passed down within families, and so placing multiple family members in hospitals was fairly common. Over 9% of all patients had at least one family member who was also in a state hospital.
In 1926, 18 year old Inez Cesena became one of the approximately 1,450 Latinas sterilized between the years of 1919 and 1952. She was labeled a "Middle Moron," the most common diagnosis of patients sterilized at Sonoma. In fact, over half of all patients who were sterilized at Sonoma were labeled "Morons."
At the age of 15, native Californian and Protestant John Douglas Young completed 7th grade. He was also epileptic and in 1935, he became 1 of the 344 patients who were sterilized across the state due to epilepsy that year. At Sonoma, 1935 would go on to be one of the years with the highest number of male sterilizations. That year, John was 1 of 108 men, and 1 of 233 patients, sterilized.
In 1936, Richard Lopez was admitted to the Sonoma State Hospital and given the category “Low Moron.” He was Catholic, born in California, and had attended an “ungraded” school, where students of several ages were in the same classroom. After 7 months at Sonoma, Richard was sterilized. He was 1 of 99 boys and men in Sonoma and 1 of 387 males in all of California’s hospitals who were sterilized in 1936. He would ultimately be 1 of 431 Latinxs in Sonoma and 1 of 1325 Latinxs overall who were sterilized at the institution.
You can also explore the data from Sonoma yourself. Use the dropdown menu to filter the data or draw a box over the chart below to filter by age.