Eli Lilly Pharmacist Helped Pass Indiana Eugenics Law of 1907: Dr. John Hurty, David Starr Jordan


By Cassius Kamarampi

(Era of Wisdom) This is an excerpt from our documentary, “Toddlers on Amphetamine: History of Big Pharma and the Major Players.” Watch the full documentary for free here.

Individuals involved with the earliest roots of American eugenics also majorly influenced the medical industry’s creation and big pharma.

America’s academic, scientific class was tainted with the philosophy of eugenics. Figures such as David Starr Jordan and Dr. John Hurty were prominent in both the medical industry and big pharma.

Eli Lilly is a massive pharmaceutical company which created Prozac. Dr. John Hurty was a pharmacist at Eli Lilly at the end of the 1800’s, and he went on to influence the passing of Indiana’s 1907 mandatory sterilization law.


To understand the origin of pharmaceuticals, we must understand the academic culture and scientific era of the early 20th Century.

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Not only did Rockefeller and Carnegie pay America’s most prominent academics to pioneer pharmaceuticals, but their funds were poured into racist, eugenic laws and practices.

Their brand of science was often veracious, unrelenting, and unsympathetic to the poor, blacks, Native Americans, misunderstood, and disabled.

This attitude of cold ambition led to unforgiving condemnation of people considered unproductive or useless: it tainted the scientific, academic culture of the early 1900’s.

One of the only schools praised by the Flexner Report was Indiana University School of Medicine, which was founded under the direction of Dr. William Lowe Bryan. In March 1903, Bryan proposed it’s creation.

William Lowe Bryan was the 10th president of Indiana University, an original organizer of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Bryan worked with Indiana eugenicist David Starr Jordan to create the very concept of a “major,” to study in college. When you “major” in a field, you are using the template pioneered by David Starr Jordan and William Lowe Bryan.

David Starr Jordan was president of Indiana State University 1879- 1891. He would become the first president of Stanford, bringing the eugenics philosophy to California.

Indiana State University, tied to Eli Lilly, was a center of American eugenics.

What is the meaning of “eugenics?”

Eugenics was well summarized by Lutz Kaelber, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont. As he wrote in “Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States”:

“American eugenics refers inter alia to compulsory sterilization laws adopted by over 30 states that led to more than 60,000 sterilizations of disabled individuals. Many of these individuals were sterilized because of a disability: they were mentally disabled or ill, or belonged to socially disadvantaged groups living on the margins of society. American eugenic laws and practices implemented in the first decades of the twentieth century influenced the much larger National Socialist compulsory sterilization program, which between 1934 and 1945 led to approximately 350,000 compulsory sterilizations and was a stepping stone to the Holocaust. Even after the details of the Nazi sterilization program (as well as its role as a precursor to the “Euthanasia” murders) became more widely known after World War II (and which the New York Times had reported on extensively and in great detail even before its implementation in 1934), sterilizations in some American states did not stop. Some states continued to sterilize residents into the 1970s.  While Germany has taken important steps to commemorate the horrors of its past, including compulsory sterilization (however belatedly), the United States arguably has not when it comes to eugenics. For some states, there still is a paucity of reliable studies that show how and where sterilizations occurred. Hospitals, asylums, and other places where sterilizations were performed have so far typically chosen not to document that aspect of their history.”

Some earliest roots of American eugenics are found in Indiana: in 1907, the first mandatory sterilization law was passed in the United States, to forcibly prevent the reproduction of those people deemed unfit to live. It was the first such law in the world.

Along with David Starr Jordan and his ilk, a man who worked with Eli Lilly greatly influenced the passing of this law: Dr. John Hurty.

Dubbed the “Hoosier Health Officer,” some considered him a heroic, vigilant, tireless crusader for better hygiene and health. Others considered him nosy or intrusive. The poor and disadvantaged, non-whites and misunderstood, would see him as a threat to the continuation of their species.

Reading from a paper by Lutz Kaelber:

As seen in the law’s explicit statements, those with various degrees of mental disability were targeted for sterilization, though the rural poor often ended up as targets as well.  Poor whites from Kentucky and Tennessee were often singled out as disproportionately degenerate as well, especially those living in the back country.  These groups were not only outsiders, but had been left behind by the developmental forces sweeping Indiana in the early 20th century.  Their social stagnation could easily be characterized as due to innate inferiority compared to the rest of the state. Another group that was also targeted by Indiana’s sterilization laws were the  Ishmaels, a local community whom lived in Indiana. In Stern’s book, its mentioned how Oscar Mcculloch, observes this tribe and concluded they were subhuman, referring them as “devil grass” since they were burdening the state of Indiana due to their way of living. The studies done on the group known as the Tribe of Ishmael by eugenic researchers helped show society why compulsory sterilization regulation was needed for degenerative families to preserve society and rid them of all defective traits

The Ishmaels were composed of individuals and families from freed or escaped African slaves, Native American tribes and Europeans who had escaped indentured servitude. It could be that from this diverse mix in the group of Ishmaelites unique norms and behaviors formed, which were seen as taboo by the rest of society. Ishmaelites wore colorful garments and embraced their norms within their culture. But all these clashed with norms from the lifestyle of mainstream society from that time.  McCulloch depicted this group as a “parasitic race with a peripatetic lifestyle””

Blacks, native people, mixed race groups, the poor, and the disabled were all unfit for reproduction in the eyes of Hurty and his class.

In their eyes, they were not human beings, but a burden upon the state to be sterilized and ultimately exterminated, be it through what they called “positive eugenics” or “negative eugenics.”

This eugenics crusader got his start at Eli Lilly, as a pharmacist. The 1906 law mandating the creation of the FDA itself was a law “almost word for word” identical to a law written by Hurty, as Eli Lilly also influenced the FDA’s creation.

While hygiene and supposed public health measures were aggressively sought after by David Starr Jordan and Dr. John Hurty, they also gave birth to American Eugenics.

The actions of these people would lead to the involuntary sterilization of upwards of 60,000 people in the United States, all the way into the 1970’s.

Harvard, Princeton, Indiana University, Indiana State University, Stanford, and other prestigious academic institutions in the US pioneered Eugenics.

One figure to come from this academic class was the racist eugenicist Madison Grant. He was close friends with several presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover Madison.

Grant’s book “The Passing of the Great Race“ was referred to by Adolf Hitler as his “bible” in a fan letter written to him.

In the book, Grant first proposes what Hitler would act on: the idea to segregate “unfavorable” races in ghettos, under the guise of charity through the public health system, offering welfare in exchange for their agreement to be sterilized.

The dark underbelly of corporate philanthropy and welfare, is perfectly exemplified by the philosopher Grant, and the regime which put it into action.

Not only did the eugenics philosophy originate in America, under Rockefeller, Carnegie funds, but the Rockefeller Foundation funded researchers were literally involved with the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, including Otmar Freiherr Verschuer, working with Josef Mengele.


Rockefeller Foundation and Eugenics, Eugenics in California, as explained by Edwin Black

William Lowe Brian, Indiana University School of Medicine, APA

The concept of a “major” to study in college originated with David Starr Jordan and William Lowe Brian

David Starr Jordan was a prominent Indiana eugenicist, brought eugenics to California, ect

Eugenics was well summarized by Lutz Kaelber, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont

Indiana sterilization law of 1907

Dr. John Hurty influenced Indiana’s 1907 mandatory sterilization law, was a pharmacist at early Eli Lilly

Dr. John Hurty influenced Indiana’s 1907 mandatory sterilization law (2)

In 1899, Dr. Hurty wrote a bill that became the first comprehensive food and drug legislation to be enacted in the United States.  It was not only used as a model by other states, but the Federal Law of 1906 is taken almost word for word from Dr. Hurty’s bill.”

60,000+ were sterilized in the US into the 1970’s

Harvard and eugenics

Princeton and eugenics

Princeton and eugenics (2)

Indiana University and eugenics

Indiana State University and eugenics

Madison Grant

This article (Eli Lilly Pharmacist Helped Pass Indiana Eugenics Law of 1907: Dr. John Hurty and David Starr Jordan) via NB is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Era of Wisdom.org.

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