Archive for March 2014

Margaret Sanger quotes about race and eugenics

This post contains a sampling of documented quotes by Margaret Sanger on the topics of race and eugenics. I say “documented” because (unlike most other Web pages citing Sanger) in each case I provide a direct link to scanned pages from the original editions of books she wrote featuring these quotes, which have been put online by a politically neutral academic library whose impartiality is unimpeachable; furthermore, I provide photographs of each quote in situ from her various books, along with accurate transcriptions.

The reason for these extreme steps is that one must be very careful when researching online the intersection of Margaret Sanger, eugenics and race, because her modern defenders (that is, Planned Parenthood and other “pro-choice” advocates) do everything they can to suppress and deny Sanger’s racism, while on the other hand her detractors (“pro-life” advocates) often cite abbreviated quotes from her in order to make it look like she was only racist against blacks — when in fact she was also racist against immigrant groups, other minorities, and “defectives” of any skin color, all of whom threatened what Sanger saw as the “purity” of the educated white middle and upper classes.

The following quotes are all taken from two of Margaret Sanger’s books: The Pivot of Civilization, published in 1922; and Woman and the New Race, published in 1920. There are countless other Sanger quotes about race and eugenics, not just in these two books but in many of her other books as well, not to mention various letters and essays of hers which have been preserved. The quotes you see here, therefore, are not a thorough examination of her views on these topics, but rather just a few verified examples which researchers, pundits and advocates on either side can use, cite, republish, download or link to freely.

The Pivot of Civilization, by Margaret Sanger (1922)
Available online here in its original format at Open Library
or as searchable text at Project Gutenberg.

That Margaret Sanger was an enthusiastic eugenicist, and that her beliefs were essentially racist (and classist), is beyond dispute. Take for example this random quote from pages 175-6 of The Pivot of Civilization:

“[Eugenics] sees that the most responsible and most intelligent members of society are the less fertile; that the feeble-minded are the more fertile. Herein lies the unbalance, the great biological menace to the future of civilization. Are we heading to biological destruction, toward the gradual but certain attack upon the stocks of intelligence and racial health by the sinister forces of irresponsibility and imbecility? This is not such a remote danger as the optimistic Eugenist might suppose. The mating of a moron with a person of sound stock may, as Dr. Tredgold points out, gradually disseminate this trait far and wide until it undermines the vigor and efficiency of an entire nation and an entire race. This is no idle fancy.”

Sanger summarizes her guiding “Principles” on page 279, in which she declares that low-class children are “unwanted types” who “should never have been born”:

“Those least fit to carry on the race are increasing most rapidly. People who cannot support their own offspring are encouraged by Church and State to produce large families. Many of the children thus begotten are diseased or feeble-minded; many become criminals. The burden of supporting these unwanted types has to be borne by the healthy elements of the nation. Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilization are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born.”

Sanger founded Planned Parenthood to counteract the influence of the typical “maternity center” of the day, whose pro-life advice to lower-class pregnant women

“…encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.”

The phrase “human waste” in the quote above was no fluke; in fact, Sanger made a habit of describing the lower classes (i.e. children of immigrants and minorities) as “human waste“:

Sanger’s reflexively low opinion of blacks can be seen on pages 131-2 of The Pivot of Civilization, where she first writes

“Evidence of racial and biological degeneracy are apparent to this observer”

and then goes on to approvingly quote another eugenicist who claims that factory work has degraded the intellect of the British lower classes to the level of (gasp!) “the African negro”:

“‘Compared with the African negro,’ he writes, “the British sub-man is in several respects markedly inferior.”

There’s no question that in this context “negro” is cited as the benchmark for racial inferiority, a degenerate state to which the white British man is unfortunately descending.

On pages 84-7 of Pivot, Sanger once again reveals her true opinions by using the example of a black family to illustrate how “feeble-minded” women contaminate society with their criminal offspring:

“Here is a typical case showing the astonishing ability to ‘increase and multiply,’ organically bound up with delinquency and defect of various types: ‘The parents of a feeble-minded girl, twenty years of age, who was committed to the Kansas State Industrial Farm on a vagrancy charge, lived in a thickly populated Negro district which was reported by the police to be the headquarters for the criminal element of the surrounding State….The mother married at fourteen, and her first child was born at fifteen. In rapid succession she gave birth to sixteen live-born children and had one miscarriage. …’”

The quote then goes on for several paragraphs to list how nearly all of the black woman’s children had become scourges on society:

“‘…The eighth, a boy who early in life began to exhibit criminal tendencies, was in prison for highway robbery and burglary. The ninth, a girl…had also been arrested several times for soliciting. The tenth, a boy, was involved in several deliquencies. … The twelfth, a boy, was at fifteen years of age implicated in a murder…’”

and so on for all sixteen black children. Sanger concludes,

“The notorious fecundity of feeble-minded women is emphasized in studies and investigations of the problem….Feeble-minded women constitute a permanent menace to the race….”

[Click on image to view full-size]

Woman and the New Race, by Margaret Sanger (1920)
Available online here in its original format at Open Library

In her 1920 tract Woman and the New Race, Sanger sometimes expressed the kind of deep racism typical of the era which was so thoroughly intertwined with her worldview that it usually didn’t even need to be mentioned because it was the starting point of the discussion.

For example, when talking about how large family sizes lead to illiteracy on page 38, Sanger casually describes white people as being of “pure stock” whereas the high rate of Negro illiteracy merits an “of course” which needs no further explanation:

“Moreover, there were in the United States in 1910, 5,516,163 illiterates. Of these 1,378,884 were of pure native white stock. In some states in the South as much as 29 per cent of the population is illiterate, many of these, of course, being Negroes.”

On page 31 of the same book, Sanger reveals a view of racial hierarchies which in modern terms would be deemed incredibly racist: At the bottom are “Negroes, Indians, Chinese,” all of whom count as “colored”; next comes not only anyone born outside the United States (mostly immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, as the text later reveals) but also their American-born children, all of whom still nonetheless count as “of foreign stock”; and at the top, needless to say, are Caucasians who have lived in the United States for multiple generations, who are “native white”:

Among our more than 100,000,000 population are Negroes, Indians, Chinese and other colored people to the number of 11,000,000. There are also 14,500,000 persons of foreign birth. Besides these there are 14,000,000 children of foreign-born parents and 6,500,000 persons whose fathers or mothers were born on foreign soil, making a total of 46,000,000 people of foreign stock. Fifty per cent of our population is of the native white strain.

The goal of birth control in Sanger’s view was to decrease the number of babies being born to “lower” types, while increasing the number of offspring produced by “the native white strain.” To this end, Sanger arranged to have one of her birth-control how-to manuals translated into Yiddish so that new Jewish immigrants could learn how to avoid pregnancy (and — the whole point — thereby limit Jewish population growth in the United States).

More quotes from Margaret Sanger expressing similar sentiments can be found throughout the two books cited above, as well as in one more of her books which is also available online:

The Case for Birth Control, available in its entirety here at Open Library

All images, quotes and text on this page are free to download and republish, with no restrictions.