The Margaret Sanger Papers Project lists a series of quotes attributable to the founder of Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger. Given the current debate on infanticide it may be appropriate to revisit what Margaret Sanger said about her beliefs on eugenics, women, race, the weak and birth control.
Here are Margaret Sanger’s own words:
“America . . . is like a garden in which the gardener pays no attention to the weeds. Our criminals are our weeds, and weeds breed fast and are intensely hardy. They must be eliminated. Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce. All over the country to-day we have enormous insane asylums and similar institutions where we nourish the unfit and criminal instead of exterminating them. Nature eliminates the weeds, but we turn them into parasites and allow them to reproduce.” – Burbank, quoted by Sanger in “Is Race Suicide Possible?” (1925)
On poor and “unfit” women
“The poor woman is taught how to have her seventh child, when what she wants to know is how to avoid bringing into the world her eighth.” (Pivot of Civilization, 116).
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 over-fertility 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. – Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Birth Control Review, Oct. 1921, 5.
Give the women of the poorer classes a chance also to limit and control their families, and it will be found that in very many cases the material is equally good. The difference is that, like plants crowded too close together on poor soil, there is no chance to develop and the whole families are left impoverished in mind and body. Give room for each [to] grow and all may become fine and healthy American citizens. – “A Better Race Through Birth Control” (Nov. 1923)
On white supremacy
“The object of civilization is to obtain the highest and most splendid culture of which humanity is capable. But such attainment is unthinkable if we continue to breed from the present race stock that yields us our largest amount of progeny. Some method must be devised to eliminate the degenerate and the defective; for these act constantly to impede progress and ever increasingly drag down the human race.” – A Better Race Through Birth Control” (Nov. 1923)
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. – Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Birth Control Review, Oct. 1921, 5.
The Negro Project & FDR’s New Deal
By the late 1930s, the birth control activists began to focus on high birth rates and poor quality of life in the South, alerted to alarming Southern poverty by a 1938 U.S. National Resource Committee report which asserted that Southern poverty drained resources from other parts of the country. Starting in the mid-1930s, Sanger sent field workers into the rural South to establish birth control services in poor communities and conduct research on cheaper and more effective contraceptive….The birth control movement also looked to Southern states as the ideal region in which to secure funding under New Deal legislation and to establish birth control services as part of state and federal public health programs….
In 1937, North Carolina became the first state to incorporate birth control services into a statewide public health program, followed by six other southern states. However, these successes were clouded by the failure of birth controllers to overcome segregated health services and improve African-Americans’ access to contraceptives. Hazel Moore, a veteran lobbyist and health administrator, ran a birth control project under Sanger’s direction and found that black women in several Virginia counties were very responsive to birth control education. A 1938 trip to Tennessee further convinced Sanger of the desire of African-Americans in that region to control their fertility and the need for specific programs in birth control education aimed at the black community. (Hazel Moore, “Birth Control for the Negro,” 1937, Sophia Smith Collection, Florence Rose Papers.)
On Forced Sterilization
“I admire the courage of a government that takes a stand on sterilization of the unfit and second, my admiration is subject to the interpretation of the word ‘unfit.’ If by ‘unfit’ is meant the physical or mental defects of a human being, that is an admirable gesture, but if ‘unfit’ refers to races or religions, then that is another matter which I frankly deplore.”
Eugenics today is known as the study of “genetics.” Merriam-Webster defines genetics as, “a branch of biology that deals with the heredity and variation of organisms.” So did Eugenics.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Margaret Sanger, seated behind desk. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Margaret Sanger Collection [reproduction number, e.g. LC-USZ62-12345].