Monday, October 1, 2007

If You Are Interested In....

Women's Suffrage: here's a timeline that shows the complex politics leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment (otherwise known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.)

Doing research on Margaret Sanger: here is the website where you can get an overview of her papers. The Sanger colleciton itself, as well as many other great collections on birth control and women's health, are held in the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

This Margaret Sanger and her colleague Ethel Byrne, being tried in a New York courtroom for the distribution of obscene devices in 1916. They viewed this commitment to women controlling their own bodies as a fundamental political right, and their own activism as a responsibility to a greater public.


Peter said...

As you said in class, Margaret Sanger was a great reformer, but she was no saint. While she was one of the major players in the women's suffrage movement, many of the female reformers who worked for women's suffrage also worked for African American suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in their early days worked with Frederick Douglass towards suffrage for both African Americans and women. It made sense to them that since neither women nor African Americans had the vote, their troubles were tied together. Sanger, on the other hand, was blatantly racist. It wasn't just in her later days that she believed in eugenics. In a speech she gave in 1932 she stated that we should give "certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization." (quote found in Angela Franks book: "Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy, The Control of Female Fertility" page: 188, published by McFarland, copyright 2005). Margaret Sanger deserves our respect as a visionary and a masterful reformer for women's rights but her shortcomings can not be over looked. Her quest for women's suffrage is now seen as noble but looking at her other crusades like eugenics and euthanasia, can we also call them noble?
- Peter Lubershane

Defund Abortion Guy said...

Great post.

There is also some great info on Maggie sanger here for those interested:

Including this tidbit:

From Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, P.366:

Always to me any aroused group was a good group, and therefore I accepted an invitation to talk to the women's branch of the Ku Klux Klan...As someone came out of the hall I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses. I waited another twenty minutes. It was warmer and I did not mind so much. Eventually the lights were switched on, the audience seated itself, and I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak.

Jules said...

Its very interesting that most people recognize Sanger as a proponent for women's rights and free choice, because she actually only advocated these for certain women (rich, white, etc.). She was a strong supporter of Malthusian eugenics, which says the population will always grow faster than the resources to support it- so certain groups had to be chosen to be diminished. Since she obviously could not force sterilization on some the "unfit," she suggested that the US government offer "a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means." This solution would help them, she argued, because "the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition" (The Review, 1926).

-Julie Zhao

Zoë said...


I agree with many of your points, but to answer your question...yes, I do think we can call her quest for women's suffrage "noble" in spite of her belief in eugenics. Holding persons native to earlier times to the standards we have created for ourselves today is presentist and can dangerously distort a historical argument. We could certainly call Thomas Jefferson a slave-holding hypocrite and say this taints his legacy as one of the great founding fathers, but we tend not to think in this way. It would greatly undermine Jefferson's contributions if we reduced him to his anachronistic prejudices. I am not saying that morality is necessarily relative, just that using such a presentist argument to question the character of Margaret Sanger might be problematic.

Secondly, for better or for worse, the eugenics movement was considered to be on the cutting edge of science before and up until WWII (not just in Germany, but in the United States as well). What might seem to be a racist, pseudo-science today was actually practiced by many of the most respected scientists of the time. I bring this up only to give some historical context to this pretty disturbing scientific movement, which predated the Holocaust and in many ways set the stage for it. In a chapter on the U.S. eugenics movement at the time of Margaret Sanger, historian Henry Friedlander writes:

"By the scientific standards of the time, eugenic research was on the cutting edge of science. Its practitioners were respected scholars from various scientific disciplines who occupied important positions in major universities and published their results in major scholarly journals...Their failing was not methodological error but their inability to recognize the ways in which their own prejudices corrupted their premises and tainted their conclusions." (quote from "The Origins of Nazi Genocide: from Euthanasia to the Final Solution" by Henry Friedlander)

I am writing this only to lend some historical context to what seems to be perceived as the dark side of Margaret Sanger's character. Eugenics was clearly a racist science, but Margaret Sanger was not alone in supporting it. Even the venerable Winston Churchill championed the eugenics movement. The science of the movement was implicitly racist, yes, but I don't believe in letting such anachronistic prejudices/beliefs taint the legacy of an important historical figure.

- Zoë Beyer

Peter said...

You obviously didn't read my question. Without trying to start a debate, since I think we agree that Sanger was a remarkable women, I didn't ask if her work in women's rights reform was noble but if her other pursuits in life were. I do feel it is important to look at it with, as you call it, a "presentist argument" since, I feel that one of the best reasons to study history is to learn from our mistakes.

Eugenics may have been cutting edge science and technology but since when does that make something necessarily "good" or acceptable. Yes the Nazi party gave it a bad name in their usage of it but that does not give anyone who was not a Nazi and believed in eugenics a free pass from scrutiny. However, our debate is not about eugenics and its morality but rather about Sanger and her whole system of beliefs.

You are fully correct in looking at the whole picture and trying to understand Sanger's feelings in historical context. I may have over looked that originally but to claim that presenting the whole personality and attitudes is to "taint the legacy of an important historical figure" is not impartial. The hope is that, in retrospect, we can see people for their faults and merits and to not hero worship someone without taking into account their whole persona. Even in historical context, to ignore any detail is to miss many important aspects of history.
- Peter Lubershane

Margaret said...

The posts about Margaret Sanger and today’s class discussion reminded me of Murray’s criticisms specifically about Eleanor Roosevelt in her Autobiography. Murray can see and praise Eleanor Roosevelt for her progressive action in some fields, but those gains cannot blind her to Mrs. Roosevelt’s inaction and weaker stance on the civil rights. Murray writes that she was “stung by [Eleanor Roosevelt’s] attempt to justify crossing the picket line,” in response to Mrs. Roosevelt’s article describing her reservations but ultimately her decision to attend an event that excluded African Americans (pg. 137). Murray gives no allowances for the time period to Mrs. Roosevelt’s avoidance of the question of equality even though America was far from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and an acceptance of African Americans as equals.