Was Margaret Sanger a racist?

Author: 
Valenza C
Source: 
Family Planning Perspectives. 1985 Jan-Feb; 17(1):44-6.
Abstract: 

Margaret Sanger, as a young public health nurse, witnessed the sickness, disease and poverty caused by unwanted pregnancies. She spent the rest of her life trying to alleviate these conditions by bringing birth control to America. During the early 20th century, the idea of making contraceptives generally available was revolutionary. Contraceptive usage was considered a distinguishing feature of the 'haves.' In recent years, some revisionist biographers have portrayed Sanger as a eugenicist and a racist. This view has been widely publicized by critics of reproductive rights who have attempted to discredit Sanger's work by discrediting her personally. The basic concept of the eugenics movement in the 1920s and 1930s was that a better breed of humans would be created if the 'fit' had more children and the 'unfit' had fewer. This concept influenced a broad spectrum of thought, but there was little consensus on the definitions of fit and unfit. In theory, the movement was not racist--its message intended to cross race barriers for the overall advancement of mankind. Most eugenicists agreed that birth control would be a detriment to the human race and were opposed to it. Charges that Sanger's motives for promoting birth control were eugenic are not supported. In part of her most important work, "Pivot of Civilization," Sanger's dissent from eugenics was made clear. By examining extracts from her books, the author refutes the notion that Sanger was a eugenicist. Another unsupported argument raised by the anti-Sanger group was that Sanger, in her position as editor of "Birth Contol Review," published eugenicists' views. It would be more accurate to say that the review covered a wide range of opinions and research; the eugenicists views were included because they conferred respectability. David Kennedy, author of "Birth Control in America," does Sanger a grave injustice by falsely attributing to her the quotation: 'More children from the fit, less from the unfit--that is the chief issue of birth control.' This quotation should be attributed to the editors of "American Medicine." The only area Sanger is in agreement with the eugenicists is in her belief that severely retarded people should not bear children. Several authors, including Linda Gordon, argued that Sanger's interest in providing contraceptives to black Americans was motivated by racism. This notion is entirely misconstrued by distortions of language quoted by Sanger. Rather than wanting to exterminate the Negro population, Sanger wanted to cope with the fear of some blacks that birth control was the white man's way of reducing the black population.

Language: 
Year: 
Document Number: 
267765
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