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The Difference One Racist Made: Margaret Sanger’s World

By Susan Ciancio

Margaret Sanger was born in 1879 in New York, one of 11 children born into an impoverished family. Her mother was Catholic, her father an atheist. Her mother had several miscarriages and died at an early age. Though the cause of death was listed as tuberculosis, Margaret always attributed her early death to the fact that her mother was weak from bearing so many children. This deep-seated disdain for large families would encompass her life and contribute to a belief that women should limit—or be limited—in the number of children they have.

Sanger eventually went to nursing school, then married and had three children. She and her husband became immersed in the bohemian world of Greenwich Village, where they lived. It was at this time that she joined the Women’s Committee of the New York Socialist’s Party and began to advocate for the sexual education of women. Though she never finished nursing school, Margaret began working as a nurse in a poor immigrant section of NYC, where she grew to believe in—and teach—the importance of birth control. She also began to write about these beliefs in a column entitled “What Every Girl Should Know.”

cover the birth control review

Then, in 1914, she started her own publication which advocated for women using birth control. Because she mailed out this publication, she was in violation of the Comstock Act, which made it illegal to disseminate immoral materials through the mail. Facing possible jail time for her actions, Margaret fled to England, where she continued to do research on birth control and contrive a plan to disseminate it.

In 1915, knowing that the charges in the US had been dropped against her, Margaret returned to the US, and, a year later, opened the first birth control clinic in the states. A little over a week later, she was arrested and spent 30 days in jail for again being in violation of the Comstock Law. Sanger would later appeal the conviction, which would not be overturned. However, the judge in the case did make an exception to the law that would allow doctors to prescribe contraception for medical reasons. This opened the door for the future legalization of birth control.

In 1917, Sanger began to publish and edit The Birth Control Review, a “birth control advocacy publication,” which she edited until 1929.

In 1921, she established the American Birth Control League, which would eventually become Planned Parenthood. It didn’t take long, but Sanger became a public voice at the forefront of a reproductive revolution. Not only a powerful driving force in the legalization of birth control, she advocated and spread eugenics in the spearheading of the birth control mentality—with the ultimate goal of eliminating unwanted people.

Eliminate “Lesser” Humans

“We do not want 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.” ~Letter from Margaret Sanger to Dr. C.J. Gamble, December 10th, 1939

Those who espouse eugenics believe that only the fit should be allowed to live. Many eugenics proponents—like Hitler—believed in a master race, at the exclusion of any other person or race deemed unfit.

After reading all 5,631 pages of the Birth Control Review, HLI’s director of education and research, Brian Clowes, PhD, wrote:

Sanger associated with racists and anti-Semites, people who despised everyone who was not a Nordic god or goddess, and those who demanded coercive eugenics programs to eliminate ‘lesser’ humans. The whole bunch, of course, participated in continuous vicious attacks on the Catholic Church….The malignant influence of Sanger and similar thinkers not only has ruined the West to the point that it is dying, but seems hell-bent on corrupting the rest of the world as well.”

Clowes’ massive library compiled at HLI contains thousands of texts, including many of Sanger’s writers herself. He went on to say: “The Birth Control Review frequently highlighted the mission of its parent organization: ‘The American Birth Control League. Its Aim: To promote eugenic birth selection throughout the United States so that there may be more well‑born and fewer ill‑born children―a stronger, healthier and more intelligent race.’”

planned parenthood clinic indiana

We see this eugenic philosophy in the extermination of six million Jews during WWII. And Sanger had those with known Nazi connections and sympathies writing for The Birth Control Review. Nazis in Germany were also well aware of the name of Margaret Sanger.

According to Clowes:

The Birth Control Review is larded with articles written by such “luminaries” as Lothrop Stoddard, American Birth Control League board member and author of the books The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy and The Menace of the Under Man, and Ernst Rudin, Adolf Hitler’s Director of Genetic Sterilization and founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene—the organization behind the master plan to exterminate Jews during World War II. Stoddard traveled to Germany to be welcomed by Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler himself. In fact, he was so popular in Germany, his writings were incorporated into Nazi school books. (William L. Shirer.  Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent [New York City:  Alfred Knopf], 1941, page 257)

We can thus say with certainty that Planned Parenthood honors a person (Margaret Sanger) who not only befriended authentic racists and Nazis, but gave them a widespread platform to spread their poison. In fact, PPFA names its most prestigious award after Margaret Sanger, allowing her eugenic legacy of hatred and intolerance to live on. Today, Planned Parenthood does everything it can to eliminate the unfit of society and to profit off women in crisis pregnancies. It stealthily builds abortion facilities, it places its abortion clinics in impoverished and/or ethnic neighborhoods, targets blacks and Hispanics, and worms its way into our schools so that it can increase its client base by corrupting our children. Yes, the legacy of this one woman is alive and well. The insidiousness has left an indelible mark.

It’s Called Eugenics

Eugenics is the “practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population’s genetic composition.”

In her articles and speeches, Sanger gave evidence time and again that she considered there to be a close link between birth control and eugenics. As the author of articles entitled “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda” and “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,” Margaret showed the world her true colors and the underlying reasons why she thought the world needed birth control. Eugenics goes even deeper than racism, because the philosophy espouses it has the right to determine who should live, who should reproduce, and who should die.

In “Birth Control and Women’s Health,” Sanger writes:

In the early history of the race….The weak died early or were killed.  Today, however, civilization has brought sympathy, pity, tenderness and other lofty and worthy sentiments, which interfere with the law of natural selection. We are now in a state where our charities, our compensation acts, our pensions, hospitals and even our drainage and sanitary equipment all tend to keep alive the sickly and weak, who are allowed to propagate and in turn produce a race of degenerates (Margaret Sanger.  “Birth Control and Women’s Health.”  Birth Control Review, Volume I, Number 12 [December 1917], page 7.)

Does the term “a race of degenerates” remind you of a recent quote by Hillary Clinton, the 2009 recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award—an award given annually by Planned Parenthood “to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement”? Hillary Clinton used similar language when she called Trump supporters a basket of deplorables. It’s not difficult to imagine the mentality that connects these two women. Hillary Clinton supported New York’s Reproductive Health Law, which allows abortion till the day of birth. The remarks are nearly a century apart, and the contexts are different, yet a similarity in the raw hubris is undeniable.

The “Unfit”

In “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,” Sanger writes: “We who advocate birth control, on the other hand, lay all our emphasis upon stopping not only the reproduction of the unfit but upon stopping all reproduction when there is not economic means of providing proper care for those who are born in health.”

In Sanger’s mind, those who are sick or weak should not be allowed to live. Furthermore, she asserts that these people could not possibly ever be happy. And she states that those babies who might be born into families not well off economically should not be allowed to live and that adults with a lack of financial means should not be allowed to have children.

Yet, who is Margaret Sanger to say who might or might not be sick, weak, rich, poor, happy, or unhappy? Who is she to tell a couple that their child will be a burden? This is a violation of basic human rights.

birth control review advertisement july 1920

The Birth Control Review advertisement, July 1920

Sanger goes on to say:

While I personally believe in the sterilization of the feeble-minded, the insane and syphilitic, I have not been able to discover that these measures are more than superficial deterrents when applied to the constantly growing stream of the unfit. They are excellent means of meeting a certain phase of the situation, but I believe in regard to these, as in regard to other eugenic means, that they do not go to the bottom of the matter. Neither the mating of healthy couples nor the sterilization of certain recognized types of the unfit touches the great problem of unlimited reproduction of those whose housing, clothing, and food are all inadequate to physical and mental health. These measures do not touch those great masses, who through economic pressure populate the slums and there produce in their helplessness other helpless, diseased and incompetent masses, who overwhelm all that eugenics can do among those whose economic condition is better.

We were created out of love by a Creator who knows only love for us and who wants what’s best for us. We all have different abilities, but we are made in His image, and as such every human life is sacred. Sanger does not look at the sanctity of a human life, but only at “utility.” But Sanger’s not-so-subtle messages sadly resonated with many then, and now. In “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” she writes: “The eugenic and civilizational value of birth control is becoming apparent to the enlightened and the intelligent.”

So, in her opinion, it is only the “enlightened and the intelligent” who can see the value of birth control. And those of us who understand that birth control harms women and that it can kill babies prior to their implantation are simply stupid. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as intelligent or enlightened? Ironically, she was the sixth of eleven children. If her mother had followed her daughter’s practices, would there have been a Margaret Sanger?

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at

If you would like to teach your students about Margaret Sanger, or if you would like to show a video about her life to your group traveling to the March for Life next week, visit this link to see CLSP’s lesson and video.