Margaret Sanger, "A Better Race Through Birth Control," Nov 1923.
Published Article. Source: The Thinker (Nov. 1923), pp. 60-62. , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:205 .
This is the second of a six part series. Only five articles have been located. For the first, see Highlights in the History of Birth Control, Oct. 1923; for the third article see Woman and Birth Control, Dec. 1923; for articles that followed see Birth Control in China and Japan, Feb. 1924 and The Birth Control Movement in 1923, Apr. 1924.
The most important problem, barring none, that confronts humanity today is that of race culture. It has often been said, and never with more truth than at the present time, that man breeds his cattle with more intelligence and care than he breeds his own kind. The draft figures alone should be sufficient to galvanize the human race to action, for the intelligence tests made on our soldiers during the recent war indicated that approximately 25 per cent of our population never attains a mentality superior to that of a twelve-year-old child. When we consider that the mentally deficient reproduce more rapidly than those of normal intelligence, we may well look into the future with dismay. Unless a halt is called, and that speedily, our race is doomed to inevitable deterioration.
The object of civilization is to obtain the highest and most splendid culture of which humanity is capable. But such attainment is unthinkable if we continue to breed from the present race stock that yields us our largest amount of progeny. Some method must be devised to eliminate the degenerate and the defective; for these act constantly to impede progress and ever increasingly drag down the human race. This is especially the case in the nations which have reached the highest degree of civilization, for it is just in these nations that the degenerate and defective are enabled to produce the largest number of progeny.
It is impossible to conceive of eugenic legislation that would be acceptable and that would cover the present need. Our knowledge is insufficient to insure intelligent race culture through statute law. Fortunately, however, Birth Control offers an avenue of escape. It is reasonable to assume that women of subnormal mentality, however lacking they may be in vision and altruism, would prefer to avoid the pain and responsibilities of procreation, if the satisfaction of sex could be divorced from reproduction. Given Birth Control, the unfit will voluntarily eliminate their kind. On the other hand Birth Control will permit large numbers of intelligent women, such as our teachers and nurses, to enter upon marriage, in the knowledge that they can limit their families to their economic conditions. While these women would probably not have large families of children, nevertheless those that they give to the world will be of rare value and will assist materially in the improvement of the race stock.
In addition to its salutary effect on the future germ plasm of the human race, Birth Control will be an effective force in the solution of the problem of the social evil, and in the control of venereal diseases. Syphilis is the most destructive racial poison known to man; gonorrhea is unmatched in its operation as a sterilizing agency. Any factor which tends to diminish the demand for illicit sex relationship tends equally to repress venereal disease. Unmarried men and men who are married but are debarred from their wives constitute the principal patronage of prostitutes. Upon the money which these men are willing and able to pay for illicit sexual gratification depends the whole business of prostitution. At the present time the choice for most young unmarried men lies between celibacy and vice. They cannot marry, because they cannot afford to support a wife and children, and therefore their minds turn to illicit relationships. With adequate knowledge of Birth Control, these young men would very generally choose marriage instead of prostitution, and the solution of the problem of the social evil might be achieved.
As a background to monogamous marriage, Birth Control is essential, for it is clearly an economic impossibility for the average young man and woman to support as many children as human fertility would presuppose. Almost any rational person is willing to admit that the earning power of an average husband and the physical health of an average wife are unequal to the demands of an excessively large family, and that earning power and health should be considered in determining the number of children in a family. Self control, instead of Birth Control, is however advocated by some as the method to be favored. The utter fallacy of this position is made clear by a consideration of what marriage means. Marriage in the absence of love, even for the purpose of reproduction, is recognized as an unethical relationship by almost all high-minded individuals. For humanity, love is the only right basis for sex relations; in other words these relations are the language of love. To demand that a man and woman in wedlock restrain their affectional expression toward one another is to require that they repudiate the very fundaments of marriage. Marriage itself is reduced to prostitution when the child is regarded as a necessary justification for sex relations.
It is pitiful and it is very evil that man should so far have degraded his concept of love as to require any ulterior justification for its expression between man and wife.
The home is the backbone of the state, and upon it depends the whole social structure, and the future of the race. But the home is built upon monogamous marriage and this institution is feasible only with Birth Control. Let humanity but rid itself of false and impure mental associations with the idea of sex, and the truth will appear that love is the greatest of all forces for good in the world and that its full expression through marriage is ethically sound. Such expression, however, is only possible through Birth Control which will, when we have learned its lessons, be the best bulwark of marriage and the most efficient guardian of happiness within the family that mankind has yet known.
Birth Control means liberation for women and for men. It means freedom and happiness. It means gifts and blessing for the family and the nation.
It will give the mother the right and power to have children only when she feels that her health and strength will allow her to give them the care and attention that they need and ought to have.
It will give the young wife the possibility of recovering her strength before she embarks on the great adventure of motherhood, if she has worked hard and long hours before her marriage. No woman should become pregnant when exhausted by fatiguing or unwholesome labor.
It will give the mother time to know her children and to devote herself to the needs of each one as she brings them up. It will give the woman a chance to develop mother-love, instead of being an irritable drudge, overwhelmed by the demands of too many children, a broken-spirited, harassed slave of excessive motherhood.
Birth Control will give the husband courage. He will no longer be intolerably harassed and driven to desperation by the claims of a family too large for his wages or salary to support. It will preserve and develop his domestic life, his love for his wife and children, and his pride in the home.
Birth Control will prevent abortion. It will do away with the practice of taking drugs and poisonous nostrums to end undesired pregnancies. It will put an end to the tens of thousands of illegal operations to which women resort in despair. Mothers will not submit to the murder of unborn children when they can control conception.
It will wipe out the disgrace of our high rate of maternal mortality. Many mothers die because they are not in a fit state of health to stand the strain of pregnancy and childbirth.
It will reduce enormously our infant mortality rate. Thirty-five thousand babies die every day on the day that they are born, and nearly seventy thousand more within the first month of their lives. The passing out of most of these babies is due to the physical condition of their mothers. Had the mothers known how to control conception a very large proportion of them would never come into existence. During their short lives, they have drained the mother of her remaining strength, aggravated the physical conditions which made their survival impossible, exhausted the narrow financial resources of the family into which they have come, and probably caused privation and distress to other children, probably little more than babies themselves.
Birth Control will also check the mortality rate of the 100,000 babies who survive the first month but die within the first year of their lives. The death of many of these babies is caused by poverty, over-crowding and lack of proper care from mothers too burdened with many children to attend fully to any one of them.
Birth Control will prevent child labor. Child laborers come largely from overcrowded homes with more children than can be fed and clothed out of the father’s wages.
Birth Control will prevent prostitution. Young people will be able to marry early, knowing that they can wait to have children until they are in a position to stand the expense. Married men will not be driven to prostitution because they are denied their wives, whose love for their husbands has been destroyed by the haunting fear of pregnancy. When a woman is set free from this fear, she will not hesitate to give full expression to her love for her husband, an expression which is necessary if love is to be kept alive and in bloom. Thus husband and wife will be held together, and many a marriage which under present conditions would be a failure, will be made permanently happy and successful.
Birth Control will thus make of the home a place of peace, harmony and love. Then man will return to it from his work with contentment and rejoicing. The woman will find in it her happiness and development; the children, well nourished and carefully educated, will grow up in it to be the greatest assets of the nation.
Constant exhortations from writers and preachers to the men and women of the better educated classes are being made to urge them to increase their small and carefully controlled families. This is a very definite testimony to the general conviction that in these families are to be found the finest children, the best Americans of the future. Give the women of the poorer classes a chance also to limit and control their families, and it will be found that in very many cases the material is equally good. The difference is that, like plants crowded too close together on poor soil, there is no chance to develop and the whole families are left impoverished in mind and body. Give room for each [to] grow and all may become fine and healthy American citizens.(To Be Continued)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project