Does The Fact That Maragaret Sanger Was An A**Hole Change Your Opinion Of Planned Parenthood?

So, I learned some stuff today!

I posted a picture of Margaret Sanger who, honestly, I just thought was some nice turn-of-the-century lady wearing a hat saying “here, kiddo, have a condom, on me” because, I don’t know, because we only got one typewriter in this joint and after 2 billion years they still won’t let us have an encyclopedia to look up facts. Fortunately (or, unfortunately, if you believe in ignorance equating to happiness) Cassieleigh pointed out that Sanger was a raging asshole. No, seriously:

“Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”
Margaret Sanger. Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.

“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.

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

“Eugenics is … the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems.
Margaret Sanger. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda.” Birth Control Review, October 1921, page 5.

It’s a shame to realize that Planned Parenthood originated that way, especially since we’re living in an era where it’s the most afforable option for many Americans. And so I decided, no more birth control! No, not really, of course not. I’m not a Jay McInerney character.

 But it is going to make me look at Planned Parenthood in a different way, in much the same way that it always bothers me that Gandhi beat his wife. Or that Hitler was a vegetarian who was incredibly kind to animals. It’s annoying when people’s every attribute does not match their overall persona!

 Ultimately, will this make you think differently about stepping into a Planned Parenthood clinic? I doubt it, but would it make you think differently about saying that Sanger was a hero of the reproductive rights movement? She still was, she just really wanted to wipe out black people because she was apparently a crazy racist asshole. Would you still include her in the pantheon of “women to look up to?”

What I’m saying is: if someone does a good thing for evil reasons, are they still a good person?

Go! Comment! People have earned degrees in Philosophy for less!

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    • Fatima

      I think she is horrid but birth control revolutionized women’s lives; that’s good. I think the product would’ve made it’s way to us eventually but she happened to be the driving force, mainly because of sinister reasons. The touting of her in schools is an oversight of who she really was and terribly misleading. I remember doing a project on her when I was in junior high, where I reported how awesome she was, because that’s what the books I could find at the time said, only to feel so dirty about it later in college when I learned the truth.

      The Nazis came up with some pretty awesome technology too. Some of it useful and good. That does not make the Nazis good. You can separate a product from a person.

    • porkchop

      I had no idea! I thought it would just be one of those suffregettes-also-want-you-to-stop-drinking buzzkills.

      So, she tried to make black people disappear, but instead helped liberate all women. In your face, evil.

    • Jamie Peck

      Hitler was not a vegetarian! This is probably my least favorite urban legend.

    • Peggy D

      We certainly can’t write Margaret Sanger off because she supported eugenics, support that really only surfaced during the second half of her public career. Saying that Planner Parenthood originated with the goal of exterminating African Americans is historically misleading. Planned Parenthood, or the original idea for Planned Parenthood (free birth control, health clinic) originated when Sanger, and other less famous women, opened the Brownsville Clinic in 1916.

      Her original reasons for opening this first clinic were not evil. She truly thought birth control should be easily accessible and free.

      Not to mention we can not forget that Eugenics was a popular AMERICAN movement in which many Americans believed. She was not some idealistic anomaly, but a follower of a very mainstream philosophy.

      • Cassieleigh

        You’re not wrong. But that does not negate the fact that Sanger used Planned Parenthood as a tool to accomplish the annihilation of black people in devious and manipulative ways.

      • Nick

        More lies. She never called for the black race to be wiped out. The quote you referenced above regarding the ministers, was meant to help dispell any rumors that birth control efforts among the back population was some hidden agenda to wipe them out. Do you really think she would suggest using black ministers as a tool to help perpetuate a genocide of their own people? There were many rumors among the black community at that time that birth control was some secret plot to wipe them out or reduce the numbers of children they had until they vanished, it was those rumors and the fear caused by them that made it difficult to get people to understand the importance of and the benefits of birth control and it was those rumors she wanted to counter.

    • Cassieleigh

      To answer your question Jennifer, no. If someone does something that might be considered good by some but done for evil intent, it does not make them a good person. It makes them evil and deplorable. A black mark on American History.

      78 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in low-income, minority communities. It’s not a for-profit business going where it’s customers are. It is a government created and partially funded non-profit. There is no reason that 78 percent should be located toward a “target audience.”

      While I have a moral problem with abortion, I still don’t think it’s the government’s business, nor a business’ (doctor’s) business to prevent it if that’s what a woman chooses to do. But the facts, still to this day, indicate that the black community and low-income communities are being targeted by Planned Parenthood.

      There are alternatives for women. There are millions of doctors, clinics and hospitals that have specialized care for women and that provide income assistance programs. They are there not to destroy a population of people, but because they see a need and want to provide that care.

      So yes the knowledge of how Planned Parenthood got started and how it use subversion to achieve it’s aims – and how it still is subversive – make me think that Planned Parenthood is a terrible institution that should be eliminated.

      • TiredOfTheIgnorance

        Um, the reason Planned Parenthoods are in low-income communities (regardless of racial make-up) is because that is where their services are needed the most since it is a non-profit medical care provider which provides family planning (which includes help getting pregnant and prenatal care) for low/no cost. So, yes, it is going to where customers are– low-income communities. Saying Planned Parenthood only goes to black communities is completely wrong. The racial make-up of some of those low-income communities is a whole other conversation/problem that pro-lifers always seem to ignore except for when it comes to railing against Planned Parenthood. It’s the same as being offended that a luxury car sales company only establishes stores in high-income neighborhoods. Low income women and men don’t have alternatives other than the hospital which isn’t reliable for prenatal care or cost-effective for pap smears and STD screenings. But the great thing about Planned Parenthood is that it isn’t just for low-income communities, it’s for all communities because everyone needs access to a safe place where they can get the medical care they need sans judgement– except for the anti-choice protesters harrassing them outside the clinic.

        I applaud Margaret Sanger for her work to make birth control legal and accessible– something I’m disgusted I have to keep fighting for– and making a positive impact on families of all races and income levels. Was she a victim of her time? We all are. but at no time did she force anyone to do anything other than force the government to allow women to have choices.

    • Sanger’s Sister

      This lie that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate African-Americans is a well-coordinated lie cooked up anti-choice activists, who have taken Sanger’s quote (particularly the second one you list) as well as their misunderstanding of the positive eugenics movement.

      In fact, Margaret Sanger was incredibly concerned about the treatment of African-Americans, and thought one of the ways they could escape poverty was to have access to birth control. Her quote is most likely a clarification and to express that she feared she would be misunderstood. It’s not a statement of conspiracy, but of concern.

      Positive eugenics was a pretty awful approach by today’s standards, but it also isn’t the same kind of eugenics that Hitler advocated for. So a lot of it is unenlightened, yes. There’s lots of talk in the early movement about discouraging the “feeble-minded” and poor from procreating, which is terrible. It also existed in a particular milieu. Later advocates for access to family planning eventually corrected those attitudes to make them more compassionate.

      I suggest that the next time you stumble on some quotes you found on “the internet,” you should dig a little more and do some research, rather than throwing up a lazy blog post and declaring someone an asshole.

      • Cassieleigh

        I like how you put “the internet” in quotations as if the internet is ironic.

        Oh and what you describe as positive eugenics is the exact same thing that Hitler and Goebbles were after, “encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits.” No matter what way you slice it, Sanger thought that being black was an undesirable trait. And eugenics is bull shit as evolution already does that.

      • Jane

        @SangersSister Exactly. It’s a little disturbing to see these anti-choice pull quotes here.

        Eugenics was an very popular movement in Margaret Sanger’s time. Teddy Roosevelt was a big fan too:

      • Nick

        Don’t compare Sanger to Hitler. If you actually read her writtings you would know that she was horrified by the Nazi’s leathal eugencis program. She also helped Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg, a renowed gynecologist, to escape from Nazi Germany by ransoming him out of prison after he was forced to resign his position and imprisioned. You have to remember eugenics was a popular idea during Sangers time and those were the days before anything much was known about genetics. Sanger never called for a killing machine like Hitler’s eugenics program. She sought to improve lives, not to destroy them. The lies proprogated about Sanger these days are absolutely disgraceful.

    • lady

      i’d argue that birth control is the most important invention for us as a species in the past century. margaret sanger was awful in some respects (those quotes are damning even out of context) but her movement — inadvertently — went beyond just sexual freedom.

    • Eileen

      This is the difference between you philosophy people and us history people: we’re used to it. Pretty much everything has skeletons in the closet, but that shouldn’t change how you feel about what it is today.

    • MTinMO

      I would imagine we can go back in history and find undesirable traits or stances for many of those we currently respect – even revered by some. How many of the founding fathers believed owning slaves was not only a right they had , but that their slaves were less than a full human and incapable of learning? Do we then denounce the Declaration of Independence or the United States of America because we might find the founding fathers beliefs offensive?

      Birth control has been the key to the lock for women. We have been able to postpone becoming mothers while we had careers. We can plan our families if we choose to do so. We have been able to be in control of our bodies and lives in ways our grandmothers and great grandmothers never had. Birth control has allowed us to say when and how many and even to say none for me.

      If these are indeed Margaret Sanger’s words, then of course I find them disgusting and disturbing. But for what she has done to help women gain the power and control they have never had before, I have to thank her. Birth control has not just been for women in the black community but for us all. If we make birth control available to women in very poor countries so they can choose to not keep having children they can’t feed, it may be helping to keep the population in that part of the world from growing by leaps and bounds, but it is also helping to keep children from dying of malnutrition. So I can’t see how a woman who is no longer walking this earth should make anyone decry an organization she created when the organization does not do any of what her worst purported comments would do.

    • Celia

      Never been a big fan of Sanger’s ideals, really. But Planned Parenthood has come a long way, and I’m thankful for the attention it’s brought to safe and healthy family planning methods and women’s health in general.

      I am, however, a HUGE fan of Cecile Richards, PP’s current president. Not only is she the daughter of one of the coolest broads to ever represent Texas (Ann Richards), she has done an AMAZING job with PP. Also, my sister got to meet her.

    • MR

      History. US fertility rate: 1800 (7.04); 1900 (3.56); 2000 (2.05).

      Racism aside. Sanger’s movement clearly had an impact and allowed women to focus on more than just child rearing. I read somewhere that the US population quadrupled in the Country’s first 30 years, and this with almost no immigration – that burden shouldered completely by American women.

    • Jill

      Sanger was no saint, that’s for sure, but some of the quotes you have up there are INCREDIBLY misleading out of context.

      For instance the quote about finding black ministers refers to the “Negro Project” (which has an unfortunate name in today’s context, yes, but for the time this was par for the course) which was about empowering black women, who were disproportionately lower-income and lacking in access to birth control. Check out this blog post from the research blog of the Sanger Paper’s (NYU’s research project that has published several books chronicling the good & bad of Sanger’s life):

      Full disclosure: I wrote that specific when I interned with the project!

      • Jill

        I wrote that specific POST… this is what I get for commenting on just a few hours of sleep. Also its the Sanger Papers Project… no idea where that errant apostrophe came from!

    • Jose Chung

      There is a distinct difference between being in favor of voluntary birth control and abortion versus forced abortion and sterilization. The Eugenics movement, of which Mme. Sanger was a leading proponent, is responsible for the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of United States citizens (please refer to the SCOTUS decision in Buck v. Bell) and laid the scientific foundations of Nazism.

      Sangers disgust at those she deemed “feeble-minded” resulted in a terribly flawed movement in the United States that spread across both the Atlantic and Pacific, providing philosophical cover to tyrants.

      While I’m sure Sanger, Wells, and their ilk had nothing but the best of intentions (in their minds), the end result of their ideas yielded a war in which tens of millions were slain and whose effects continue to shape the world today.

      For those interested in reading some source material, I refer you to the following:
      Woman and the New Race – Sanger, Margaret
      The Pivot of Civilization – Sanger, Margaret
      Family Limitation – Sanger, Margaret
      The Case for Birth Control – Sanger, Margaret

      • Jose Chung

        On a somewhat related note, I would also suggest that those with an interest read “A Renegade History of the United States” by Thaddeus Russell, which includes information on the legal history of birth control in the United States prior to the 20th century. It contains many other interesting tidbits of information about the development of our nation that were not presented in history classes I took in high school and college, and the book contains an extensive bibliography for further reading.