Sanger disagreed, and wrote in The Pivot of Civilization, p. 100, “We [do not] believe that the community could or should send to the lethal chamber the defective progeny resulting from irresponsible and unintelligent breeding.”
She also opposed the concept of the American Eugenics movement advocating that “racially fit mothers” reproduce as much as possible. Similarly, she
denounced German Eugenics that forced “fit” Aryan race women, who did not have a choice, to have many children to boost the Aryan race. Sterilization and birth control were only reserved for the ones seen “unfit” by the state in Germany.
Sanger thought that “the responsibility for birth control should remain in the hands of able-minded individual parents rather than the state, and that self-
determining motherhood was the only unshakable foundation for racial betterment.” [Wikipedia]. As such, she argued that women should be given the choice to reproduce and the access to the information needed to plan conception. Her slogan that appeared, for the first time, on the flyer advertising the newly opened clinic in Brooklyn, in October 1916, clearly spoke of this motivation:
“Mothers! Can you afford to have a large family? Do you want any more children? If not, why do
you have them? Do not kill, do not take life, but prevent. Safe, harmless information can be obtained of trained nurses…” [Birth Control in America, p.83].
Consequently, eugenics leaders distrusted Sanger, and the expression of this resentment is obvious in a 1928 letter from eugenicist Paul Popenoe to lawyer and eugenicist Madison Grant, found in the Charles B. Davenport Papers, one of the leaders of the movement.
“Dear Mr. Grant,
I have been considerably disquieted by the letter you showed me yesterday, suggesting a working alliance between the American Eugenics Society and the American Birth Control League. In my judgement we have everything to lose nothing to gain to such an arrangement.
[The American Birth Control League] is controlled by a group that has be brought up on agitation and emotional appeal instead of on research and education… With this group, we would take on a large quantity of ready-made enemies which it has accumulated, and we would gain allies who, while believing that they are eugenics, really have no conception of what eugenics is and are actually opposed to it.
[At a recent international birth control conference] two members of our advisory council … put through a resolution at the final meeting, urging that people whose children gave promise of being of exceptional value to the race should have as many children, properly spaced, as they felt that they feasibly could. This is eugenics. It is not the policy of the American Birth Control League leaders, who in the next issue of their monthly magazine came out with an editorial denouncing this resolution as contrary to all the principles and sentiments of their organization.
If it is desirable for us to make a campaign in favor of contraception, we are abundantly able to do so on our own account, without enrolling a lot of sob sisters, grand stand players, and anarchists to help us. We had a lunatic fringe in the eugenics movement in the early days; we have been trying for 20 years to get rid of it and have finally done so. Let’s not take on another fringe of any kind as an ornament.
Now, was Sanger a racist? Contrary to the most publicized belief, she did not try to exterminate the African American population. She sought to provide information and access to contraceptives to the lower classes, including African Americans and immigrants—those who couldn’t afford otherwise, while the affluent and educated already limited their child-bearing. Therefore, some haters assumed genocide and racism. The
Margaret Sanger in a photograph she included in her book My Fight for Birth Control with the caption "Suburban Motherhood." Source: http://hastingshistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2010/04/house-tour-preview-margaret-sangers.html
Her legacy... the controversy
71 | Ceres Magazine | Fall 2016