By BRIAN CLOWES
(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of 900 of the best quotes from The Birth Control Review, organized by topic, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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About 25 years ago, I bought a complete set of Margaret Sanger’s journal The Birth Control Review and ambitiously set out to read every one of its 5,631 pages.
The strange experience left me just a little uncertain about what is real and what is not. Sanger’s world has that effect on a person, because it is so completely different from the one we are accustomed to. Sanger associated with racists and anti-Semites, people who despised everyone who was not a Nordic god or goddess, and those who demanded coercive eugenics programs to eliminate “lesser” humans. The whole bunch, of course, participated in continuous vicious attacks on the Catholic Church.
Most pro-lifers have a vague feeling that Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League (later Planned Parenthood), is somehow “bad,” but they really have no idea. The malignant influence of Sanger and similar thinkers not only has ruined the West to the point that it is dying, but seems Hell-bent on corrupting the rest of the world as well.
Above All, Eugenics
Breed, little mothers,
With the tired backs and the tired hands,
Breed for the owners of mills and the owners of mines,
Breed a race of danger haunted men,
A race of toiling, sweating, miserable men,
Breed, little mothers,
Breed for the owners of mills and the owners of mines,
Breed, breed, breed!
— Birth Control Review, April 1930
Margaret Sanger’s journal was primarily devoted to the legalization and spread of voluntary birth control. However, the main theme running through The Birth Control Review was eugenics, thus the masthead “Birth Control: To Create a Race of Thoroughbreds.” The pseudo-science of eugenics was taken very seriously in the first half of the 20th century and was taught in hundreds of colleges and universities using scores of textbooks written by distinguished scholars.
A.P. Pilloy, writing in the BCR, describes both negative and positive eugenics: “Broadly speaking, the aims of eugenics are two: To prevent the unfit from leaving any descendants, and to encourage the multiplication of the more fit and useful citizens.”
The Birth Control Review frequently highlighted the mission of its parent organization: “The American Birth Control League. Its Aim: To promote eugenic birth selection throughout the United States so that there may be more well born and fewer ill born children — a stronger, healthier and more intelligent race.”
Sanger neatly summarized the intimate relationship between the eugenics and birth control movements:
“Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit. . . . Birth control of itself, by freeing the reproductive instinct from its present chains, will make a better race. . . . Eugenics without birth control seems to us a house built upon the sands. It is at the mercy of the rising stream of the unfit.”
Some of the writers for The Birth Control Review waxed positively poetic on this theme. One said: “Voluntary control of pregnancy and childbirth is a great torch on one side of the gateway through which intelligent humanity is moving toward a civilization based on human quality. . . . On the other side of that gateway stands the torch lighted by Eugenics.”
Another enthused that the combined forces of birth control and eugenics would “speed the day when woman shall be free! Then, too, shall man be free and they together, emancipated from the degrading ignorance and superstition of the past, shall walk the highlands of vision, mate in perfect love, and people the earth with a race of gods.”
Sanger followed eugenic reasoning to its logical conclusion — that charity is “dysgenic,” leading to a degradation of the human race. She said that “we are now in a state where our charities, our compensation acts, our pensions, hospitals, and even our drainage and sanitary equipment all tend to keep alive the sickly and the weak, who are allowed to propagate and in turn produce a race of degenerates.”
One BCR advertisement proclaimed, “Giving to charities merely perpetuates the evil — Birth Control means prevention!”
And Edward East proclaimed: “Well-intentioned philanthropy and social service is nothing but a brutal gesture to posterity.”
As Sanger saw it, the fundamental source of problems in society was that “[woman’s] instincts are fundamentally creative, not destructive. But her sex bondage has made her the dumb instrument of the monster she detests. For centuries she has populated the earth in ignorance and without restraint, in vast numbers and with staggering rapidity. She has become not the mother of a nobler race, but a mere breeding machine grinding out a humanity which fills insane asylums, almshouses, and sweat shops, and provides cannon fodder that tyrants may rise to power on the sacrifice of her offspring.”
Of course, then as now, if the lowly do not immediately embrace the Utopian plans of the elite, they must be whipped into line by greater and greater degrees of coercive pressure. Sanger herself said: “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.”
She also opined: “To meet this problem [of dysgenics], as a great scientist has recently pointed out, we need not more of the fit, but fewer of the unfit. The propagation of the degenerate, the imbecile, the feeble-minded, should be prevented.”
One of the most enthusiastic supporters of eugenics in the pages of The Birth Control Review was Professor Doktor Ernst Rüdin, Adolf Hitler’s director of Genetic Sterilization and founder of the Nazi Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene (Society for Racial Hygiene). In fact, Rüdin’s boss, Adolf Hitler, avidly read American eugenics journals and developed his ideas of an Aryan “master race” from their writers.
Like the Nazis, writers for The Birth Control Review advocated positive eugenics. C.C. Little said that “the eugenist is very clear on the two facts which have been given you this morning: That the production of the unfit should be discouraged or stopped, and that the production of the fit should be encouraged and possibly forced.”
This was the first mention in modern times of an idea that evolved within a decade into the Nazis’ grotesque Lebensborn program, which bred the “highest-quality” Aryan men and women like cattle.
The doctors who wrote for The Birth Control Review openly advocated what they called a “medical utopia with birth control.”
J. Walter Carr, MD, wrote that “the community would have to take suitable precautions in self-defense and might decree that all adolescents should be examined at puberty and steps taken to sterilize those who could not reasonably be expected to beget healthy children.”
Another physician, Anna Blount, wrote: “There they are, a motley group, from the gay, light-hearted moron, who cannot make an intelligent plan, even to do mischief; to the doddering idiot, the crafty paranoiac, the wretched epileptic, the moral imbecile, the chronic criminal with hereditary taint, and even the village ne’er-do-well. What do they cost us, in wealth, in labor, and in misery? They must be eliminated. Eugenics makes birth control imperative. . . .
“But whatever the means this stream of human waste must be deflected from the melting pot. . . . Godspeed the day when the unwilling mother, with her weak, puny body, her sad, anemic unlovely face, and her dependent whine, will be no more. In that day, we shall see a race of American thoroughbreds, if not the superman.”
This loathing of the less fortunate saturates the pages of The Birth Control Review. Frequent contributor George Kilpatrick wrote:
“Unsentimental and rigid examination revealed him [‘the moron’] to be so inadequate and incapable that he was worthless even for cannon fodder. Mentally meager, culturally nothing, socially as selfish as a shark, sexually as eager as a rabbit, careless as a crow and prolific as a rat, the moron now in astonishing numbers confronts society as a grinning, scoffing brute in boots — and in full possession of sovereign political rights. . . .
“He breeds with Biblical abandon, and is not discouraged by the religious in his industrious reproduction of his personally and socially worthless self.”
What a contrast to the attitude of St. Lawrence, who said of the blind, maimed, and leprous: “These are the treasures of the Church!”
Of course, then as now, Sanger’s opponents were smeared with every vicious label the writers for The Birth Control Review could muster, including “enemies of humanity” and “savage traitors.” This leads into a discussion of the battle between the Catholic Church and the American Birth Control League, which we will examine next.