The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda: 1921
by Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966)
Editor’s Note: This article by Margaret Sanger was used with permission and derived from the research of Linda S. Stuhler at http://inmatesofwillard.com/
Seemingly every new approach to the great problem of the human race must manifest its vitality by running the gauntlet of prejudice, ridicule and misinterpretation. Eugenists may remember that not many years ago this program for race regeneration was subjected to the cruel ridicule of stupidity and ignorance. Today Eugenics is suggested by the most diverse minds as the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems. The most intransigeant and daring teachers and scientists have lent their support to this great biological interpretation of the human race. The war has emphasized its necessity.
The doctrine of BIRTH CONTROL is now passing through the stage of ridicule, prejudice and misunderstanding. A few years ago this new weapon of civilization and freedom was condemned as immoral, destructive, obscene. Gradually the criticisms are lessening-understanding is taking the place of misunderstanding. The eugenic and civilizational value of BIRTH CONTROL is becoming apparent to the enlightened and the intelligent.
In the limited space of the present paper, I have time only to touch upon some of the fundamental convictions that form the basis of our BIRTH CONTROL propaganda, and which, as I think you must agree, indicate that the campaign for BIRTH CONTROL is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical in ideal with the final aims of Eugenics.
First: We are convinced that racial regeneration, like individual regeneration, must come “from within.” That is, it must autonomous, self-directive, and not imposed from without. In other words, every potential parent, and especially every potential mother, must be brought to an acute realization of the primary and central responsibility of bringing children into this world.
Secondly: Not until the parents of the world are thus given control over their reproductive faculties will it ever be possible not alone to improve the quality of the generations of the future, but even to maintain civilization even at its present level. Only by self-control of this type, only by intelligent mastery of the procreative powers can the great mass of humanity be awakened to the great responsibility of parenthood.
Thirdly: We have come to the conclusion, based on widespread investigation and experience, that this education for parenthood must be based upon the needs and demands of the people themselves. An idealistic code of sexual ethics, imposed from above, a set of rules devised by high-minded theorists who fail to take into account the living conditions and desires of the submerged masses, can never be of the slightest value in effecting any changes in the mores of the people. Such systems have in the past revealed their woeful inability to prevent the sexual and racial chaos into which the world has today drifted.
The almost universal demand for practical education in BIRTH CONTROL is one of the most hopeful signs that the masses themselves today possess the diving spark of regeneration. It remain for the courageous and the enlightened to answer this demand, to kindle the spark, to direct a thorough education in Eugenics based upon this intense interest.
BIRTH CONTROL propaganda is thus the entering wedge for the Eugenic educator. In answering the needs of these thousands upon thousands of submerged mothers, it is possible to use this interest as the foundation for education in prophylaxis, sexual hygiene, and infant welfare. The potential mother is to be shown that maternity need not be slavery but the most effective avenue toward self-development and self-realization. Upon this basis only may we improve the quality of the race.
As an advocate of BIRTH CONTROL, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the overfertility of the mentally and physically defective.
BIRTH CONTROL is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.
But to prevent the repetition, to effect the salvation of the generations of the future-nay of the generations of today-our greatest need is first of all the ability to face the situation without flinching, and to cooperate in the formation of a code of sexual ethics based upon a thorough biological and psychological understanding of human nature; and then to answer the questions and the needs of the people with all the intelligence and honestly at our command. If we can summon the bravery to do this, we shall best be serving the true interests of Eugenics, because our work will then have a practical and pragmatic value.”
SOURCE: The Birth Control Review, Dedicated To Voluntary Motherhood, 5(10), Oct. 1921, p.5. Margaret Sanger, editor.
1. Information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
2. The deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
3. The particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement. (1)
Race Suicide – The extinction of a race or people that tends to result when, through the unwillingness or forbearance of its members to have children, the birthrate falls below the death rate. (1)
Infanticide – The practice of killing newborn infants. (1)
Abortion – Also called voluntary abortion. the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy. (1)
Feticide – The act of destroying a fetus or causing an abortion. (1)
Eugenics – Selective breeding. The study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics). (1)
Birth Control – Voluntary limitation or control of the number of children conceived, especially by planned use of contraceptive techniques. (1)
Privation – 1. Loss or lack of the necessities of life, such as food and shelter.
2. Hardship resulting from this. 3.The state of being deprived. (1)
Progressive Movement – A movement for reform that occurred roughly between 1900 and 1920. Progressives typically held that irresponsible actions by the rich were corrupting both public and private life. They called for measures such as trust busting, the regulation of railroads, provisions for the people to vote on laws themselves through referendum, the election of the Senate by the people rather than by state legislatures, and a graduated income tax (one in which higher tax rates are applied to higher incomes). The Progressives were able to get much of their program passed into law. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were associated with the movement. (1)
Prophylactic – A protective measure against disease. A device, usually a rubber sheath, used to prevent conception or venereal infection; condom. (1)
Venereal Disease – Any of various diseases, such as syphilis or gonorrhoea, transmitted by sexual intercourse. (1)
Neo-Malthusian – Designating, or pertaining to, a group of modern economists who hold to the Malthusianism doctrine that permanent betterment of the general standard of living is impossible without decrease of competition by limitation of the number of births. (2)
SOURCES: 1. Dictionary.com, 2. Fine Dictionary.com.
Woman And The New Race by Margaret Sanger, 1920.
The Birth Control Review, Volumes 1-3.
The Birth Control Review, Volumes 5-6.
The Trend Of The Race by Samuel J. Holmes, 1921.
Definitions In Political Economy by Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus, 1827.
An Essay On The Principle Of Population by Rev. T.R. Malthus, 1888.
Studies In The Psychology Of Sex by Havelock Ellis, Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, Publishers, 1922.
Planned Parenthood 2013.
1912-1920 Eugenics in New York State.
1922 Eugenics New York State.