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A live weekly radio adventure through Indiana history with host Nelson Price.

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January 21, 2023

Eugenics in Indiana-Encore


During the early 1900s, advocates of eugenics contended that sterilization of people deemed "unfit", often including the mentally ill, "mentally deficient" and some crime in 1907, a national "first" occurred in Indiana, but it wasn't for an achievement that would be regarded with historic pride. Indiana passed the first state eugenics law in the entire country, mandating the sterilization of some men and women in state custody.

Although the 1907 law was found to be unconstitutional during the 1920s, a revised law was eventually passed. It wasn't until the 1970s that all of Indiana's mandatory sterilization laws were repealed.

In this encore of a show originally broadcast in October 2021, Nelson will be joined by his guest, the distinguished Dr. Richard Gunderman, a professor of radiology, pediatrics and medical education at the Indiana University School of Medicine, for insights into the eugenics movement and how it took hold in Indiana. Also in 2021, Dr. Gunderman, who has both MD and Phd degrees, did a virtual presentation about eugenics during the Spirit and Place Festival. That presentation was arranged by the Indiana Medical History Museum.

During the early 1900s, advocates of eugenics contended that sterilization of people deemed "unfit", often including the mentally ill, "mentally deficient" and some criminals, could prevent the propagation of traits deemed undesirable. Advocates also contended that some undesirable people were certain to become "bad parents".

An Indiana state history marker about the 1907 eugenics law in Indiana was erected 100 years later on the grounds of the Indiana State Library, 140 N. Senate Ave. The marker is within sight of the Indiana Statehouse, where Gov. J. Frank Hanley approved the 1907 eugenics law passed by the state legislature. Casey Pfeiffer, marker manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau, emphasizes that markers are not intended to celebrate their topics, but rather to inform and educate the public about significant events, people and places in history.

According to research by IUPUI, the state law allowed the involuntary sterilization of "confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists". The Indiana Supreme Court ruled the 1907 law was unconstitutional for violating the due process rights of people in mental hospitals, prisons and other state institutions. A revised law was implemented in 1927 that included more safeguards for the rights of patients and prisoners.

According to the IUPUI research, more than 2,300 of the "state's most vulnerable citizens" were sterilized under the 1927 law until it was repealed. Eugenics laws were eventually passed in 28 states, according to an article in the Indiana Law Journal

Our guest, Dr. Gunderman, has been researching the eugenics movement. He is the author of 15 books and is a 10-time recipient of the IU Trustees Teaching Award.

Roadtrip: Metzler Farm and Metlzer Woods

Guest Roadtripper Suzanne Rollins Stanis, Director of Heritage Education at Indiana Landmarks, suggests a Roadtrip to the Meltzer Farm southeast of Shelbyville where you may view from the road a wonderfully preserved Hoosier farmstead dating from the 1850s. The farm includes the original 1850s farmhouse and timber-frame barn, log barns, a log cabin, a one-room brick schoolhouse, gas well, artesian well, an outhouse, and a pumpkin patch. 

Frederick Meltzer moved from Germany to Shelby County and purchased the homestead in 1857, the first in a long line of Meltzers who continued to farm the land. For their role in preserving Meltzer Farm, siblings Kris Meltzer and Karen Meltzer-Armstrong won the 2021 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation, presented by Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Farm Bureau.

Just south of the farm is an old growth forest and nature preserve called Meltzer Woods, one of the many properties maintained by Central Indiana Land Trust. 'Old Growth' means the land has trees more than 150 years old and has been left as a forest for a century or more. Here you can walk under majestic trees, some dating back to the 1600s. Meltzer Woods is what much of Indiana looked like when the first European settlers arrived. Or, as Nelson says, "Years ago a squirrel could cross the entire state by simply jumping from tree to tree."

Unlike the Meltzer Farmstead, which is on private property and can only be seen from the road, Meltzer Woods is free and open to the public for hiking and exploring. It's located at 1522 South 600 East in Shelby County, and there is a free parking lot for visitors on the east side of 600 East. You can enjoy Suzanne's Roadtrip on this encore show!


Welcome to the team

Corene Nickel takes the reins as web designer and tech manager; she continues to keep the Hoosier History Live website updated and edits our weekly e-newsletter. She has also accepted the challenge of making our archives more accessible. 

Corene has a degree in Biology from Ivy Tech Community College and plans to continue her education. Originally from northwestern Ohio before moving to Indianapolis, Corene says she likes the diversity of her new hometown. She enjoys learning new things about Indiana by working with Hoosier History Live. Her hobbies include sewing, gardening, and baking, and she has an interest in video games, art, and music.

"I like the fact that she's willing to try new things", says executive producer Molly Head. "As a media group, we need to be able to explore new technologies."

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We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make this show possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit  Support the Show on our website.

  • Dr. William McNiece
  • Robin Winston
  • Ann Frick
  • James Fadely
  • In memory of William (Bill) Mihay by Bob Wakefield
  • Florence and John Stanton
  • Aleta Hodge
  • Peggy Hollingsworth
  • Lorraine Phillips Vavul
  • Margaret Smith
  • Jane Hodge
  • Jeff Price

Nelson Price, host and historian
Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Cheryl Lamb, administrative manager

Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager
Richard Sullivan and Ryan DeRome, tech consultants
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgments to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, The Indiana Album, Monomedia, Indiana Historical Bureau, Indiana Landmarks, Henri Pensis, Kielynn Tally, Genesis Brown, Leticia Vasselli, Heather McIntyre, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution at the yellow button on our newsletter or website. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in the show, contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org. Our media reach continues to grow via podcasting.

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