A Posting About Margaret Sanger and Eugenics

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From Tue May  6 07:29:46 1997
Date: Mon, 05 May 1997 22:07:35 -0400
From: "Laurie D. T. Mann"
Reply to: abigails-l@netcom.com
To: abigails-l@netcom.com
Subject: Re: AB: Margaret Sanger, what's the story?

fletcher@lava.net wrote:
> To make a long story short, Planned Parenthood, and by extension its
> founder, Margaret Sanger, was being discussed on another list when another
> list member in Washington (he's worked for Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp and
> Steve Forbes since I've known him; 'nuff said) posted material from a far
> right-wing web site describing MS as a hate-filled bigot and infanticide
> proponent. Considering the source, I pooh-poohed it. Now that he's
> gleefully passed on the following article from the somewhat (and only
> somewhat <g>) more creditable Wall Street Journal, I wonder: how much, if
> any, of this is for real?

More than feminists would care to admit, but less than what
Sanger's detractors would state as "gospel."

You have to remember the time in which Sanger lived
and wrote.  She was growing up at a time when some people
worshipped Darwinism and took it to absurd extremes while
other people vilified him.  Women were still dying
childbirth and as the result of have too many children,
but somewhat more sanitary conditions meant that women
AND children were surviving the rigors of pregnancy,
childbirth and infancy.  Birth control information was
beginning to be developed and shared so that families
COULD "control" their childbearing, but governments
(all white males, many excessively religious and conservative)
were fighting this information tooth and nail as being
against "God's plan."

So much of what Sanger did - educating women about
their bodies, distributing birth control, encouraging
the development of the Pill, seems logical, reasonable
and right be today's standards of thought.  She was considered
a rebel for those activities back then, but not today.

Unfortunately, in those days, many intelligent people 
thought eugenics, "cleaning the gene pool," was a good idea.  
On paper, it has a certain Vulcan logic - it's extreme and 
unforgiving. And, it turns out, even if you killed/prevented 
the birth of every person with a certain genetic condition, 
the genetic condition still rearises due to genetic mutation.

So, yes, Sanger did believe in eugenics.  And, yes, she
did believe in the fallacy of the "superior" races and
inferior races.  I haven't read enough of her own material
to know how far she went with it, and how much of the
extremism was propaganda added by the anti-Sanger forces.
I have read enough to know that I'm not completely
comfortable with some of the stuff she wrote, but I also
try to understand the HISTORICAL CONTEXT IN WHICH
SHE WROTE IT (without being an apologist).

One problem many people have is the inability to see that
many great people also had great flaws.  FDR was, in many
ways, our greatest president, but he was a very flawed
human being.  Marie Curie, one of the greatest scientists
of the last two hundred years, nearly broke up another
couple's marriage a few years after her husband's death.
On the other hand, sometimes propaganda can overwhelm the
good things a person did.   Did you know King 
Richard III probably didn't kill his nephews in the 
Tower of London, and that he wasn't such an awful king
(even if he did usurp the throne)?

When someone tells you something really outrageous,
think about it.  What's their line?  Most people don't care
about historical truths, they only care about making
you agree with them.  Some of us have got to be honest
and admit the good and the evil about our foremothers too.

****** Laurie D. T. Mann *****