Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?

This is a model of a 12 week old fetus – this is what the “cluster of cells” looks like that the abortion proponents treat as a tumor.

What does it say about a political ideology that fights tooth and nail for the “rights” of two men to have their oral and anal sex legally recognized but is willing to rob a human being of a chance for life simply because it is inconvenient?

I’m moving this back to the top of the blog as Black3 reminded me of the ties of “progressives” to the eugenics movement and desire to cultivate roses in a weed free flower bed.

You cannot expect to raise beautiful roses in a field choked with weeds.

– Charles Vickery Drysdale, as quoted in his 1917 book, “Eugenics marriage and birth control (Practical Eugenics)”

Drysdale was not a nobody, his family were founders of the Malthusian League in England in the 1800’s. They were ardent supporters of abortion and Margaret Sanger:

Founded by George Drysdale in 1877 in the wake of the prosecution of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publication of Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy, the Malthusian League was the first organization to promote family limitation as a cure for poverty caused by universal, periodic overpopulation. While George Drysdale’s belief in utilitarianism, classical economic theory, and family limitation provided the philosophical underpinning of the organization, it was his brother, Dr. Charles Robert Drysdale who served as the League’s president from 1877 until his death in 1907; he was succeeded by his wife, Dr. Alice Vickery Drysdale. Under the Drysdales’ leadership, the League promoted family limitation as a means of reducing poverty and overpopulation. The League’s membership, though never large, was extremely active, particularly in its commitment to promoting “full and open discussion of the Population question” in an environment “unfettered by fear of legal penalties.” In 1913 the League published Hygienic Methods of Family Limitation. In 1872 it also began publishing The Malthusian, a monthly journal. In 1922 it was renamed and published as The New Generation until 1949 when it again became The Malthusian (it ceased publication in 1952). After her 1914 escape from prosecution, Margaret Sanger contacted the League and received a great deal of support from Alice Vickery Drysdale and her son Charles Vickery Drysdale; the latter remained a close friend of Sanger’s for many decades. The Drysdales and other League members encouraged Sanger to continue her fight and also recommended that she visit the clinics run by the Dutch Neo-Malthusian League. Sanger continued a close association with the Malthusian League throughout the 1920s, attending the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in London in 1922 and sponsoring the sixth such conference in New York in 1925.

As we cataloged an contemporary “ethics” panel declared earlier this year that killing babies was no different from abortion, we can see the depths that our society had plumbed.

What follows was originally posted on November 4, 2011.

Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?

Ellen Chesler writing at New Deal 2.0 (sponsored by Salon Magazine), says no – she was just a feminist pioneer.

Birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger is back in the news this week thanks to GOP presidential candidate and abortion rights opponent Herman Cain, who claimed on national television that Planned Parenthood, the visionary global movement she founded nearly a century ago, is really about one thing only: “preventing black babies from being born.” Cain’s outrageous and false accusation is actually an all too familiar canard — a willful repetition of scurrilous claims that have circulated for years despite detailed refutation by scholars who have examined the evidence and unveiled the distortions and misrepresentations on which they are based (for a recent example, see this rebuttal from The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler).

It’s an old tactic. Even in her own day, Sanger endured deliberate character assassination by opponents who believed they would gain more traction by impugning her character and her motives than by debating the merits of her ideas. But when a presidential candidate from a major U.S. political party is saying such things, a thoughtful response is necessary.

To even make that statement, Ms. Chesler has to ignore all the racist quotes by the Mother of Eugenics (even though using the words “mother” and “eugenics” in the same sentence is an abomination). Some examples:

“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

Margaret Sanger’s December 19, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, 255 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts. Original source: Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, North Hampton, Massachusetts. Also described in Linda Gordon’s Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976.

“Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism … [Philanthropists] encourage 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 … We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.”

Margaret Sanger. The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Chapter on “The Cruelty of Charity,” pages 116, 122, and 189. Swarthmore College Library edition.

Isn’t it amazing that the same people who can see racism in the Tea Party can’t see it when it is right in front of their faces – overt, obvious and in her own words…but then the Tea Party isn’t supportive of killing babies as a method of “contraception”. It is almost like abortion is a religious sacrament to the Left in America.

I was going to write a rebuttal but Mollie at GetReligion.org wrote one that whacks Glenn Kessler’s “fact check”. Read it all – but here is a taste.

This Sanger silliness — calling critics of her eugenics liars instead of people who simply disagree with the prevailing views of journalists on sanctity of life issues — is a great example of the flaws of the “fact check” trend in modern journalism. They conflate and confuse facts and ideology. They rather shockingly hide the facts on Sanger’s eugenics, sure. But they also fail to see that people interpret things such as Sanger’s eugenicism according to their own religious and ideological views. Sanger’s views on race and eugenics are perhaps more easily contextualized by pro-choice journalists than the views of Nathan Bedford Forrest or Adolph Hitler would be, but some just reject the “other people were doing it, too” argument. They might reject that argument as specious or unimportant or irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that they’re liars or the contextualizers are liars. It does mean that they disagree on race issues, sanctity of life issues, quality of arguments or any number of other things.

I know it must be frustrating for some journalists that they’re unable to convince readers of the rightness of a given perspective, through the typical method of biased reporting. But I’d rather that they not double down through one-sided, thinly sourced “fact checks” and instead reconsider whether their job is to convince lowly readers of a given political, philosophical or religious view in the first place.

14 thoughts on “Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?

  1. Your first example is lifted out of context. Read the letter in its entirety, and you will see that she doesn’t want to give the appearance of desiring to eliminate the Negro race, Because she doesn’t! Her desire was to improve the races through eugenics, not eliminate races.

    Sanger opened an integrated health clinic in the thirties, and she distributed birth control information and contraceptives to black women in the South, when no one else would.

    It seems a mite unfair to call her on an idea that was not uncommon back then, when I see no similar desire to castigate the Founding Fathers for owning slaves. In both cases, they should be excused for being victims of the times.

  2. “It seems a mite unfair to call her on an idea that was not uncommon back then, when I see no similar desire to castigate the Founding Fathers for owning slaves. In both cases, they should be excused for being victims of the times.”

    Greg,

    I would beg to differ: Sanger’s ideas still drive people today. She was less a victim of her time and more an advocate of an ideology. In that sense, she meets the definition of a racist in every sense of the word.

    Remember, she was following an argument that blacks needed better breeding because they were “scientifically proven” to be inferior. Look in to the origins of eugenics, my friend, and you will find this is another CLoward and Pivon issue 😉

  3. Some of the nation’s founders advocated slavery as well.
    When she talked about large families and intelligence she did not use race as a deciding factor, even in these cherry-picked quotes it is obvious that the race she is worried about is the human race.

  4. “Some of the nation’s founders advocated slavery as well.
    When she talked about large families and intelligence she did not use race as a deciding factor, even in these cherry-picked quotes it is obvious that the race she is worried about is the human race.”

    You are not reading enough of her work, or about the larger context of eugenics, my friend 🙂 This IS a Cloward and Pivon thing. On the surface, a great deal of what they have to say appears innocent too – until you understand they do this intentionally.

    There’s a REASON the eugenicists tended to focus more on “the lesser races” than on whites. And when whites, it was “degenerates,” which, if you trace their work, generally winds up at some “mixed breeding” sort of definition.

    I’ve looked in to this, and though I need to go back to it later because my current project side-tracked me, it IS a valid issue. In fact, most Progressives of her time were racist (Wilson, especially).

    As for the founders, yes, SOME advocated for slavery, but not all. Are you aware the Colonists had tried to abolish slavery BEFORE the Revolution, and that the King prevented it? Or that this was suggested as one of the complaints in the original draft of Declaration of Independence?

    The difference here is not ALL of our founders supported slavery, but nearly ALL Progressives did – and I would argue still do, only fro the shadows (now that it is politically taboo).

  5. I don’t know, black, to me it seems as if it is harder to divine racism on her part, through parsing speeches and letters, by assuming that when Sanger mentioned race, she meant blacks.

    Another thing, google has fundamental flaw its search protocols. Apparently if enough sites link to each other, They move as a group to the front of the results. I sometimes have to wade through 3 pages or more of right-wing and conservative opinion pages before getting to anything remotely impartial and fair. And by cracky, wade I did:

    Margaret Sanger accepted an invitation to speak to a women’s auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan.H er account relates the paranoid security arrangements, and the odd way she was treated before her speech, about which she wrote….

    “Never before had I looked into a sea of faces like these. I was sure that if I uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria. And so my address that night had to be in the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand”.

    I admit that I would love to see the speech she gave to these racist goons, see if she pandered to their sickness or not.

    Some more quotes:

    • A sickly race is a weak race. As long as Negro mothers die in childbirth at two and one-half times the rate of white mothers, as long as Negro babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies, colored homes will be unhappy.

    • Negro participation in planned parenthood means democratic participation in a democratic idea. Like other democratic ideas, planned parenthood places greater value on human life and the dignity of each person. Without planning at birth, the life of Negroes as a whole in a democratic world cannot be planned.

    • What hangs over the South is that the Negro has been in servitude. The white southerner is slow to forget this. His attitude is the archaic in this age. Supremacist thinking belongs in the museum.

    • The big answer, as I see it, is the education of the white man. The white man is the problem. It is the same as with the Nazis. We must change the white attitudes. That is where it lies.

    Yes, she was a eugenicist but she had differences with them…
    • Eugenists imply or insist that a woman’s first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her first duty to the state. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother.

    And I doubt that she was couching her words, or speaking in racist code. Considering the times, it would have been the civil rights crowd that had to hunker down, not the racist yahoos.

    • Greg,

      You post all those quotes by Sanger and yet – somehow – you miss the FACT that she relates EVERYTHING in terms of race??? And you do not see systemic racism in everything she was concerned about?

      Like I said: hers was a TRUE racism – not simply personal bigotry painted up to look like racism for the purpose of political gain (like we have today).

      I would suggest that our understanding of “true racism” has been fundamentally altered by the race-baiting industry as represented by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Sanger was racist in the true sense of the word: she saw people as a group, and the chief characteristics of that group as related to their race.

      Read more about the eugenics and early Progressive movement rather than Sanger quotes. It is likely SHE didn’t even see herself as what she was because it was so ingrained in her mindset. But make no mistake, it IS there – IF you look for it. But first, you have to know what you’re looking for. It would be like trying to prove the leaders of the modern Democrat Party are condescending when it comes to the poor: if you judge their intentions strictly by their words, you would have a difficult time making the case. HOWEVER, when you look at WHY they advocate the welfare society (i.e. the poor are too stupid and incapable of caring for themselves), the lights go on and their condescension shines from every corner of their being.

  6. Let me re-write that first sentence, as it is written, even I don’t know what is meant

    It appears that there is a drive to demonize this great though flawed woman. as exemplified by the refusal to see the obvious, When Sanger mentioned race without qualifiers, she was talking about the human race. Only one who has set out to deliberately trash Sanger would let this glaring error pass them by, because they so badly want it to be true.

    I don’t have a stake in this race, I can divorce the good works of an organization from its founder..The founder of Habitat for Humanity was removed due to allegations of sexual harassment. Gandhi was a racist, but his work freed a nation from distant colonial rule. If I thought Sanger was a racist buffoon, I would call her on it, but still praise her for her work on woman’s issues.. I just do not see it.

    • Actually — and speaking ONLY in my case — I have NOT missed this aspect of Sanger. I know EXACTLY what she believed and why (in the general sense of her goals, that is – not to each and every specific application). This is why I keep telling you that you cannot separate Sanger from the eugenics movement.

      To understand Sanger, you must also understand the likes of Lippmann and the rest of the Progressive movement. You also have to understand that their ideas – though they may have had issue with them — were TOTALLY in line with NAZI thinking in terms of breeding the master race. Sanger was doing THE SAME THING! She just tried to paint a prettier picture of her true intentions: the breeding of “the perfect citizen.”

      Greg, at its inception, this is a large part of the Progressive agenda and, I personally believe IT STILL IS! The progressive movement started out with the notion that Man can use science to intentionally direct the evolution of humanity. The problem is, they had only THEIR idea of what we should be and how society should work in mind, they never asked the people they were trying to “evolve” for their opinion.

      AND RACE WAS CRUCIAL IN THEIR ESTIMATION OF WHERE THEY COULD AND COULDN’T BE SUCCESSFUL IN THIS ENDEAVOR!!!

  7. I know it must be frustrating for some journalists that they’re unable to convince readers of the rightness of a given perspective, through the typical method of biased reporting. But I’d rather that they not double down through one-sided, thinly sourced “fact checks” and instead reconsider whether their job is to convince lowly readers of a given political, philosophical or religious view in the first place.

    This comment actually hits on the essence of what Lakoff is reacting to in his Little Blue Book: the failure of the Left to “package and sell” themselves to Americans, and the lamenting of his perception that conservatives have been gaining ground because they have done a better job of this. Not once does Lakoff stop to consider that conservatives might actually be gaining ground because they have been able to break through the Progressive world of make-believe and deception and to speak to Americans about objective reality – in this case, the fact that Sanger and the early Progressives were racists.

    Nice move placing this back to the top, Utah.

    • Her involvement with the American Eugenics movement is well documented – as is the original purpose of this movement. You may disagree, but then, one can’t be sure as Progressives are very adept at re-writing and erasing history.

      Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, in her own words.

      On blacks, immigrants and indigents:
      “…human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.” Margaret Sanger, Pivot of Civilization, referring to immigrants and poor people

      On sterilization & racial purification:
      Sanger believed that, for the purpose of racial “purification,” couples should be rewarded who chose sterilization. Birth Control in America, The Career of Margaret Sanger, by David Kennedy, p. 117, quoting a 1923 Sanger speech.

      On the purpose of birth control:
      The purpose in promoting birth control was “to create a race of thoroughbreds,” she wrote in the Birth Control Review, Nov. 1921 (p. 2)

      On the extermination of blacks:
      “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” she said, “if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America, by Linda Gordon

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