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Margaret’s Legacy

Margaret’s Legacy

“What a queer thing is faith. To have faith in one what does it mean simply that that person shall remain stationary in a certain idea or thought or emotion that he shall not progress further but remain stagnant in that one particular thing in which we have our faith. How easily to upturn all these old words upon which so much false sentiment has been built.”1

Her name was Margaret and as a 35-year-old mother of three, she wrote these words in her journal after having returned from the Unitarian Church on Hope Street in Liverpool, England. There a young minister delivered a lecture on Nietzsche that “simply inspired and enthused” her. Margaret was raised Catholic and was even baptized at the age of 13, yet none of that seemed to matter to her now. She didn’t believe in God at least not a God she couldn’t control.

“Men and women must be Gods unto themselves and stop worshipping at the shrine of other egos,” she wrote.2

Indicted on an obscenity charge in America several weeks earlier but not caring much for prison, Margaret left her three young children with her husband and fled to Europe to escape punishment. There she took at least two lovers both of them married men.

One was Lorenzo, a Spaniard born near Barcelona who Margaret described as “a born teacher and natural protestor.” 3 The second lover was Henry, the 56-year-old author of a book on homosexuality that had been censored. According to biographer Ellen Chesler, Henry “associated his first consciousness of sexual excitement with memories of watching his mother stand and urinate in a park, claiming that this urolagnia ‘never developed into a real perversion’ but ‘became in some degree attached to [his] feelings of tenderness toward women’.” 4

Married to a lesbian, Henry lobbied for universal sex education for girls and boys in England and argued in favor of sadism and masochism.5

Sharing a bed with these lovers while the kids were at home, Margaret certainly was a god unto herself, worshipping at the shrine of her own ego. But this was no ordinary Margaret. This was Margaret Sanger the mother of the birth control movement and the founder of Planned Parenthood.

She carried on these torrid love affairs with Lorenzo Portet and Henry Havelock Ellis simultaneously, while her husband, Bill Sanger, continued to write her letters from home. Portet’s passion and his rebellion against family, church and the monarchy entranced Margaret. As for Ellis, she was enthralled by his commitment to normalize sexual perversion and his fascination with eugenics.

Margaret also became fascinated with eugenics a key plank in her birth control philosophy. As a former member of the Socialist Party in New York, she frequently aligned herself with radical thinkers, but eugenics seemed even too radical for some of her socialist friends, who refused to join her birth control brigade. They were interested in providing ample employment and food for all people but not in building the perfect human race.

“There were 1,600,000 illiterate foreigners in the United States when the 1910 census was taken,” wrote Margaret in her book, Woman and the New Race. ” Do these elements give promise of a better race?” 6

Pointing to poor immigrants and the disadvantaged, she did little to cloak her prejudice:

The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproductionan overwhelming proportion of the classified feebleminded children in New York schools came from large families living in overcrowded slum conditions, and that only a small percentage were born of native parents.7

Building a case to refine the melting pot, Margaret states:

If we are to develop in America a new race with a racial soul, we must keep the birth rate within the scope of our ability to understand as well as to educate. We must not encourage reproduction beyond our capacity to assimilate our numbers so as to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy.8

Birth control would trim the burgeoning masses of physically unfit, mentally incapable and socially inept individuals that weighed down upon society. It would also conveniently allow Margaret to indulge her sexually promiscuous lifestyle and keep an unlimited number of lovers.

She portrayed incessantly women as victims of their own children forced to give birth to unwanted babies that would suck the life out of them. The October 1921 cover of Margaret’s Birth Control Review newsletter shows a picture of a mother breastfeeding her infant child while the mother’s hands are tied behind her back.

Yet there was at least one time when Margaret didn’t view children as a burden. On November 6, 1915, only days after Margaret returned from England, Peggy Sanger, her only daughter, died of pneumonia at the age of five. Her 7-year-old son, Grant, blamed his mother for Peggy’s death, believing if Margaret had only been there, his sister’s condition would not have worsened. Margaret also blamed herself and could not sit across from any mother and her daughter in any public place without feelings of guilt and remorse. Biographer Ellen Chesler wrote:

On a trip to Chicago in 1923, she dreamed that she was standing in the rear yard of a New York building when suddenly she heard roofs crashing down around her. In the commotion she began to worry about her little girl, but realized that she had been neglecting her for years and did not know where she was. She found herself running through the streets cradling a sweet-faced infant, thinking of her lost child, weeping, crying aloud, and pulling her hair, and only then did she wake up. For years thereafter dreams of babies remained as a persistent anxiety pattern.9

There is no record of Margaret’s journal in the winter of 1915. Either she was too grief-stricken to have written anything, (her doctor diagnosed her as having suffered a disabling emotional breakdown), or she did keep a record of her pain but chose not to release it to the public.

She was so committed to her birth control mantra, that she would not dare allow the public to see her as a mother, grieving the loss of her child. Margaret traveled the country demonizing children as burdens to their mothers. Yet personal tragedy showed Margaret that a neglectful mother could be a burden to her child a view of motherhood she kept private, knowing it would make birth control less marketable.

“What a queer thing is faith,” wrote Margaret. And yet she asked, even demanded, that Americans have faith in her religion of birth control, preaching that it would free motherhood and clear the way for a greater race in America and an ideal democracy.

Infused with Nietzsche’s teachings, Margaret was right about one thing. Having faith in one having faith in Margaret Sanger did cause thousands to remain stationary and stagnant and not progress further in their views of motherhood. Having faith in the “Woman Rebel” as Margaret aptly named herself and her first newsletter caused thousands to normalize a sexually promiscuous lifestyle and shifted a nation’s focus from creating life to being “protected” against having children.

Margaret was obviously wrong about where one should place their faith. Faith is not to be entrusted to a person or an idea, but only to a Deity. And Margaret Sanger was no deity. She is revered by some as having paved the way for legalized abortion. Yet 30 years after Roe v. Wade, her “better race” does not exist; America still has physically unfit, mentally incapable and socially inept individuals. Furthermore, America, and other nations following her lead, have a burgeoning number of sexually promiscuous women and men, who, like Margaret, have chosen to be “Gods unto themselves.”


End Notes

Margaret Sanger Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.Ibid.Ellen Chesler, Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 108.Ibid, 112.Ibid, 114.Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race (New York, New York: Brentano’s, 1920), 33.Ibid, 41.Ibid, 44.Ibid, 134.

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