Margaret Sanger, "Editorial," June 1925.
Published article. Source: Birth Control Review, June 1925, 163-64 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S71:28 .
For MS's original draft see "Editorial" May 13, 1925, (Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:794) Sanger elicited comments from others before producing this version for publication.
To all who are familiar with the aims and principles of the American Birth Control League, it is quite unnecessary to reiterate that one of our basic tenets includes the racial perpetuation of health, intelligence, talent and all human traits and values of benefit to the community. As I have pointed out elsewhere and repeated many times, the key-word of our program is control. If our critics would take the trouble of looking up the definition of control in any standard dictionary, it would become evident to them that this word means intelligence, mastery and guidance of an activity. Therefore the control of the procreative faculty means, fundamentally, the application of intelligent direction and guidance of this function, with complete consideration of the factors and the lives involved.
Despite our indefatigable efforts, confusion still persists in the public mind. It is imperative that we should aim always for clarity in the definition of our program, and bend all our efforts toward dispelling this confusion, instead of adding to it. To influence the public mind we must present clear cut, sharply accentuated images of our ideal, and unconfused lucid statements of our aims.
It is my belief that the so-called "eugenic" resolution, passed at the final session of the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, has created a lamentable confusion. Instead of directing public opinion toward a better understanding of our program, it was interpreted by the press as indicating that we believed we could actually increase the size of families among the "superior" classes by passing resolutions recommending larger families. An explanation of our fundamental position thus becomes necessary.
After the conference had been practically adjourned, and during a sparsely attended meeting on March 31st, held simply to adjust certain minor details, the courtesy of the floor was extended to Dr. Roswell H. Johnson, who had been unable to attend the regular sessions. Dr. Johnson introduced the following resolution:
"Resolved, that this Conference believes that persons whose progeny give promise of being of decided value to the community should be encouraged to bear as large families, properly spaced, as they feel they feasibly can."
Under the rules of the conference, the resolution was out of order, and if it had been introduced at the fully attended Eugenics session, it is very doubtful if it would have passed. But it was passed. And it was seized upon immediately for editorial comment and criticism, the press re-echoing the questions that had been asked by opponents of the resolution who voiced their opposition when it was first presented at that final session.
In the first place, it would seem impossible to predetermine those "superior" persons whose progeny would for certain give such promise, or to deny the possibility of such promise to many who might from all external standards be deemed "inferior." In the next place we doubt seriously that those qualities desirable for racial perpetuation can be effectively transmitted from generation to generation by the simple expedient of merely increasing the size of the family, an increase "encouraged" by the passing of resolutions directed toward prospective parents quite able to make their own decisions and to manage their own affairs. Such words and such resolutions, it is obvious, are wasted and irrelevant, especially when coming from a body of avowed advocates of Birth Control.
Surely it is not within the province of our program to offer gratuitous advice to intelligent adults who have achieved control and direction of their parental function as to the number of additional children they shall bring into the world. This is precisely the problem they must solve for themselves. It is not only presumptuous but impertinent for any outsider or body of outsiders to assume that such parents have not already decided for themselves the proper size and spacing and feasibility of increasing their family.
If we sought as an organization to increase and extend our program to encourage larger families among the biologically superior classes, instead of concentrating upon the more important task of educating those vast sections of the human family to which the beneficent instrument of contraception has been denied, our efforts would be lamentably scattered and weakened.
The so-called "eugenic" resolution has been of decided value in the immediate and lively criticism it has stimulated, not only in the daily press of this country, but in England as well. Analyzed and dissected, it reveals its lack of precise clarity and rigorous thinking. It is open to the same refutation that have been evoked by many of the orthodox proposals of the Eugenics school -- their tendency to place too much faith in external direction and quasi-paternal direction of breeding, combined with a bland indifference to the importance of liberated self-direction. As opposed to this attitude, the program of Birth Control is more constructive and more concrete.
We assume that potentially at least all normal children who are brought into the world give promise of being of value to the community; that if the potential child promises to be the contrary, a burden, a menace to the community and the race, its coming must be prevented; that the promise of the promising child is often over-balanced and destroyed by the preponderance of unwanted children; and that our fundamental and central task is to clear away those obstructions which now prohibit diseased, overburdened and poverty-stricken mothers from the control of the procreative function. Experience teaches us that these women are crying aloud for liberation from the slavery and bondage in which they find themselves. Until we give them the opportunity of properly spacing and determining for themselves the number of children they might choose to bear, we cannot determine what promise lies buried in this vast submerged enslaved mass of humanity.
Birth Control in itself, we claim, is thus a constructive, creative power for human regeneration. Birth Control in itself, urging not larger families but smaller families by the instrument of qualitative control, offers an instrument of liberation to overburdened humanity.
With such tremendous tasks confronting us, and while our opponents, the militarists and the reactionaries, are incessantly urging the procreation of larger and larger families upon the fit and the unfit alike, we should beware the danger of confusing our own program with that of our opponents. We have sufficient faith in the fit to look out for themselves and their children. Our program on the other hand must remain sharp, distinct, crystallized, clear cut, aiming first and last for the release, from the vast deep reservoir of human potentiality, of the hidden treasure of talent and beauty and genius that lies untouched and unminted in the unprobed depths of the common race. Birth control, -- this is our undaunted challenge -- is the instrument by which these latent traits may be bred into radiant reality.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project