Karitane nurses holding babies and toddlers outside the Karitane Hospital, Whanganui, in 1929. The Karitane movement, like the Plunket Society, had been founded by the renowned health reformer Frederic Truby King, whose strong eugenic beliefs helped set the public health agenda in the 1920s. He urged New Zealanders to do all they could to breed an ‘Imperial race’ and condemned birth control and abortion as instruments of ‘race suicide’.
Truby King was also a member of the 1924–25 Committee of Inquiry into Mental Defectives and Sexual Offenders, whose report concluded that the ‘unchecked multiplication of the feeble-minded and epileptic’ was causing ‘the serious deterioration of the race’ and was ‘a most serious menace to the future welfare and happiness of the Dominion’. Among its recommendations were the compulsory segregation and sterilisation of ‘incurable’ mental defectives.