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Image of a hospital hallway

Photo by Ante Samarzija on Unsplash

As young girls, the Relf sisters were sterilized without consent. What does the government owe them — and the thousands of other living victims?

I keep a sepia-tone photograph of the Relf sisters folded up and tucked in my wallet. It’s from a 1973 issue of Ebony magazine. The older of the two sisters, Minnie Lee, stares hard at the camera, her gaze direct and unsmiling but pleasant, almost quizzical. Her hair is freshly pressed, hot-curled and brushed into place, making her look older than 14. In a clean white dress with lacy zigzags, she seems ready for Sunday school. Her left arm is draped around her baby sister, Mary Alice, age 12, anchoring her in place. The younger Relf sister cracks a big, playful smile, her hair in braids — and not the usual three unruly braids from other pictures of the sisters during this time. Instead they are pinned down, neat and tidy for the Ebony shoot. The bottom of Mary Alice’s schoolgirl dress is hiked up as she reaches up to... see more