History 2185 Lecture Notes - Leilani Muir, Margaret Sanger, Nuremberg Trials

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Published on 31 Jan 2013
Jan, 28, 2013
Eugenics and Controlling Reproduction
-Aggressive urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century brought with it many social problems that the
middle class had to contend with and they blamed these problems on the influx of working class people and
immigrants because of their moral inferiority
-This attitude was part of the rising eugenics movement in the 1880`s and there was a lot of emphasis on survival
of the fittest and being fit meant being strong in terms of health, intelligence and mental health, economically, and
with your race and religion and people’s morality was based on all of these factors
-If you were inferior in any way you were deserving of any hardship that came your way because you weren’t
meant to survive according to survival of the fittest and the inferior race of people included any person seen as
undesirable (black, mentally ill, criminals, immigrants, sexual deviants, addicts, etc)
-The eugenics movement gained a lot of credibility in the late 19th century because it used the rhetoric of science
to justify its principles and they tried to breed plants and animals to make them stronger
-They also gained credibility because it was comprised of white middle class social reformers who were prominent
in society (doctors, social workers, clergy, etc) and they wanted to improve the urban environment to ensure the
fitness of the future generations
-They looked at urban society and were fearful because they saw inferior qualities in people and this made them
afraid they would all breed and produce more inferior people and their sheer numbers because of immigration
was seen as a real problem (these groups had very large families) because they could outnumber the desirables
-White middle class women were laving less and less children at the time because schools were open to them as
well as different jobs so it was a great contrast in family sizes compared to the immigrants
-The term used to describe this was race suicide and white women were blamed for letting their race die out so
the eugenicists believed undesirables would drag society down and the next generation because of interbreeding
would be a sub-par generation that would be dependants economically on the middle class and that they would be
mentally and morally inferior and unable to function in a capitalist economy
-The leading American birth control advocate was Margaret Sanger and she coined the term birth control and as a
young woman she was a nurse in the lower east side of New York which was a neighbourhood of mainly poor Jews
and it was a huge ghetto and she saw first hand the struggles of married women having so many babies and she
believed they needed help to regulate the number and spacing of children
-By 1916 birth control in America was a radical movement and she opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn
New York where there were many poor immigrant families who lined up to get help from her upon its opening and
hundreds visited in the first week to get information about regulation of birthing and many were desperate
-The Comstock Law was meant to regulate all obscenities and they made it almost impossible to freely dispense
the information and devices and many activists were repeatedly arrested and jailed
-she self identified as a feminist and they were the reason the birth control movement was started but at the time
birth control was designed for married women and not as a way for single women to have more sexual freedom
before marriage and advocates fought for a variety of reasons
-The first main reason was feminism because they wanted control over their bodies and their lives and it meant
that a married woman could have sex without fear of pregnancy and that sex and procreation could be separate
-It was also feminist because having fewer children meant less risk of dying in child birth, reduce the ware on her
body, and to give her time to recuperate after childbirth (not successive pregnancies so less dangerous)
-They also advocated for the sake of children and their welfare in poor families because resources wouldn’t be
spread so thin and they could be better educated by their parents and they advocated for voluntary motherhood
where they would choose to become pregnant when they wanted to and then the children would be wanted
-Socialists said they could elevate the standard of living for the working class and women and men through the
reduction of children could benefit financially and birth control was a strategy for social reform
-By the 1920’s many were arguing for birth control in the name of eugenics and this was based on scientific
principles to prevent inferior people from having so many inferior children because they believed all characteristics
of a person was inherited (more nature than nurture) and that’s why reproduction of undesirables had to be
regulated and intercepted so they wouldn’t transfer bad qualities leading to an unfit society
-Their activists sought social control based on eugenics to produce a better race of people and this was seen in
Nazi Gernamy who borrowed heavily from American principles
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