Birth Control – A Two-Edged Sword? (Mar, 1922)
According to the author of this article the main issue surrounding birth control is how to get the “shiftless and stupid at the lower end of the scale of social worth” to use it, thus committing “class-suicide”. As well as convincing the “higher classes” to turn their women into baby factories.
Birth Control – A Two-Edged Sword?
It Is the Only Road to Race-Improvement, Butâ€”May It Mean Retrogression? â€” What Is Your Own Relation to It?
By Albert Edward Wiggam
PRESIDENT HARDING recently wrote, a letter which ought to have attracted international attention. The letter was addressed to a citizen of the United States, whose name would never otherwise have gotten before the public, congratulating him upon the fact that he had achieved a family of sixteen children. I naturally supposed upon reading President Harding’s laudatory comments that the parents of these children were persons of exceptional distinction in some field of science, commerce, art or public service, and that these fine talents would be inherited by the children to spread through the nation. What was my astonishment and disappointment, when I learned that this man’s services to human society were valued by his fellow men at twenty dollars a week!
Now some of the greatest men who ever lived had fathers who earned even less than twenty dollars a week. But Sir Francis Galton, the founder of Eugenics, Havelock Ellis and others, have found that, in the long run, at least one-half of all the great men of the world, who have made civilization what it is, were born from parents who had achieved great distinction and usually wealth, and that nearly all the other half sprang from parents of the abler and more well-to-do classes.
Of course one must remember that fifty or a hundred years ago twenty dollars a week was a princely income and could be earned only by men of very excellent ability. But in our time and by our standards it does not usually indicate a very high order of human merit, although without a doubt there are rare exceptions. During his period in the White House, President Roosevelt wrote a number of letters similar to that of President Harding to parents of very similar economic status. However, some weeks ago the New York Evening World awarded a one hundred dollar prize to a family consisting of parents and their twelve children. No one can glance at the pictures of this family without instantly seeing from their excellent dress and address, their obvious physical health, vigor and good looks and their appearance of education and keen intelligence, that they are the sort of family deserving to be congratulated upon their numbers and upon which any biologist would congratulate the whole country.
But whether these particular families produce statesmen and scientists or alcoholics and paupers is not my immediate concern. The whole thing shows that the greatest statesmen in the world, in whose hands so much of our destiny rests, and upon whose exact technical knowledge of the factors that make or mar progress so much depends, are childishly ignorantâ€”I can use no milder termâ€”of the one central, never-ending, underlying problem of all statesmanshipâ€”the problem of population. James J. Hill, the railroad king, used to state grandiloquently that America would ere long have a population of five hundred million people if only we could build railroads to carry their produce to market!
Nearly every school boy has heard of a Rev. J. R. Malthus, an English preacher, who over one hundred years ago wrote a huge three volume work entitled “An Essay on Population,” though many of our most eminent scientists have never read the book. It happens that I read it when a lad in college with great enthusiasm and interest. I doubtless understood very little of its enormous human significance, but I did wade through its ponderous pages. Probably no book in the history of the world has ever created so much controversy except Darwin’s “Origin of Species.”
The principal contention that Malthus set forth was that human beings increase until they reach the limit of their food supply. But the crucial point he made was that since every parent may produce several children of whom each is likely to produce several of their own pro vided they can get enough for them to eat, the number of people increases at a geometrical ratio, that is, on the two-four-eight-sixteen-thirty-two plan, while the food supply increases at an arithmetical ratio, that is on the two-four-six-eight plan. Plainly then, in a little while somebody is going to starve. Either the mothers will be so undernourished they cannot suckle their babes, or the old folks will die from starvation, or pestilence due to undernourishment will set in, or else the whole population will go to war and capture the food of some other country and kill off the people of the conquered region. But even when pestilence and war kill off thousands and millions, the birthrate rushes up behind these destroyers and fills in the ranks with more babies to feed until everybody is starving agan.
Why so obvious and simple a proposition has failed to impress our modern statesmen with its essential soundness, even though some of its features are mollified by special circumstances, is beyond the wit of the finite mind to discover. It is said that when Charles Darwin read the book, he leaped to his feet and exclaimed, “At last, I have a theory to work by!” For Darwin saw that if Malthus knew what he was talking about, why when the fight for food was on, the strongest would win and get the dinner as a general thing, Some superiority of strength, speed, color or other factor, would enable one individual or even species to win while the opponent went down to defeat. As Herbert Spencer put it, there would be a “survival of the fittest.”
Now, with many modifications, interrelations and suggestions, this theory that the fight for the full dinner pail has been the essential element in the changes of the forms and structures of plants and animals, is accepted by practically every educated person in the world. It is known as the “Theory of Organic Evolution, ” or better still, as the “Theory of Development.” Permit me to add that this theory has nothing to do with the so-called evolution of the earth or stars, or the religious views of the evolution of the human spirit to “higher planes,” and the like. The majority of competent students, however, believe it does account for the development of the mental faculties in animals and human beings.
Now, the reader who expected from the title of this article to find a simple program for bringing in the millennium by urging all women to produce about one or two children apiece, may exclaim in disappointment, “What has all this to do with birth control? What I want is fewer children and better ones.” Well, the biologist is not so sure that fewer children in all cases does mean better ones, and he is perfectly sure that some classes of the population already have too few children. Thousands of women are shirking their tremendous responsibilities, net because they do not want babies, but because they have allowed themselves to want phonographs, and upholstered furniture, and installment pianos, and “freedom,” and travel, more than they want to carry their fair share of the world-old burden of woman. Thousands and mil-lions of women are shouting “birth control” to-day simply because they don’t want to tote fair and play the big game of carrying on this vast scheme of organic evolution towards a happier and better race.
I have outlined the basic facts of population, the food supply and organic evolution, that I might impress upon the young men and women of the nation that they cannot lightly throw off these sacred obligations. I want them to see the vast-ness of the problem. I want them to see that they are meddling with the biggest instrument for racial salvation or racial decay that nature knows about.
Birth control, the power to produce or withhold the lives of children at will, is the biggest two-edged sword ever placed in the hands of human beings. * If it cuts with one edge, it will be an instrument for racial salvation. If it cuts with the other edge it will bring every civilization which tries it to its day of doom. Not only can it be made, if wisely guided, to bring in a better and healthier human race, but it will solve many of our economic and political problems; it will give us all, in the end, still more phonographs and flivvers and “freedom” and art and the good things of life. It is humanity’s only hope of ever stopping war, because overpopulation and the resulting struggle for food which is called under various names, “economic imperialism,” “lust for conquest,” “national greed,” and what-not, is the one never-ending, essential cause of war.
But let us see some of the flimsy reasons for which birth control is some-times advocated. In a recent issue of “The Birth Control Review”â€”a publication which I endorse with all my heart, and whose editor, Mrs. Margaret Sanger, will always be honored in the history of human progress, some “medical student” gives “ten reasons for birth control.”
Among these reasons are “The fewer children in a family, the better education, the better food they can get.” Well, that is only partially true. Among many poor families the children are an asset almost from babyhood, helping the family income, and in the long run giving the parents more to eat, taking care of them in old age, and preventing them from being a charge upon the state. Of course this may be a woefully bad economic arrangement, but birth control would not necessarily change it.
Again he says, “The fewer children, the healthier the mother will be.” Sometimes this is the case, and sometimes it is not. Many women find that having three or four” babies improves their health. A noted beauty surgeon of Paris says: “Babies are the great beauty doctor. With healthy mothers several babies keep the mother young and make her more beautiful. Maternal beauty is the finest beauty woman ever attained.” In a town of thirty-five hundred citizens the one woman who is most famous for her youthful appearance, and who is often mistaken for one of her own daughters, is the woman who has the largest family of any woman of the abler and sounder classes in that town. She has eight big sturdy sons and daughters. Mrs. Lillian Moller Gilbretti, of Montclair, N. J., the youthful and beautiful mother of ten children, got her degree as Doctor of Philosophy from Brown University after her fifth baby. The women of the well-to-do classes who can afford it should heed such inspiring examples.
The plain fact is that, if civilization is to continue, the higher classes must have more children. And, since some women of the noblest natures have not the strength to have any children and would endow them with poor bodies if they did, since some women cannot healthfully produce more than one or two; since many healthy, able but selfish women will produce none, since many babies are bound with the best of care to die, and since many people do not get married at all, it is a mortal certainty that some women must go on having four, five, six and even eight or ten children. For, numerous statisticians have proved that unless there are just about three and three-fourths children born to every couple who have any children at all, the race will gradually die out. No race will ever really do that. No race ever has. Indeed, no race ever can. I have already shown in these papers that race suicide â€”the actual disappearance of a race because of the fact that it has no childrenâ€”is physically impossible. Somebody will always have children.
The one central question among birth controllers should be who is going to ham the childrenâ€”the wise, provident and strong, or the weak, thoughtless and stupid? There is no such thing as race-suicide. It is always class-suicide. And it is always the wrong class. There is immense danger that our birth controllers will influence limitation of families in the one class that ought not to limit its birthrate to any very great extent. Because the ones who will listen to them are the more intelligent. And when the more intelligent disappear, as they are disappearing in America, civilization disappears with them, and then you have a world not worth living in.
There is one tremendous feature of birth control which I have never heard mentioned at any birth control meeting nor in any of the literature on the subject. And, that is that when race suicideâ€”or rather class suicideâ€”sets in, it leaves just two classes of people who go on producing children. It leaves the shiftless and stupid at the lower end of the scale of social worth, and the unselfish, patriotic, domestic, home-loving, child-loving, motherly-and fatherly at the upper end. And since the domestic, home-loving, child-loving instincts are mental and moral qualities, they are inherited by the children of such parents. The result is that voluntary parenthood is going to produce a much more unselfish, more moral, loyal, clean-minded, patriotic class at the upper end of society. This latter fact was first suggested, I think by Dr. P. A. Woods, the noted authority on the Royal families.
But two dangers lie in birth control propaganda. First that the ignorant and empty-headed who need birth control the most, both for their own happiness and the health and strength of the race, cannot be induced to practice it. And second that such preachments as that “the fewer children women have the healthier they will be,” will scare the life out of many of our best and most feminine baby-loving women and lead them either to have no children, or to stop at one or two.
If every little ailment a woman has is going to be ascribed by irresponsible medical students to child-bearing we shall, to use a homely figure, scare the hen off her nest before her eggs are hatched. Now these babies are the dearest things in the world to the mother. They are “the sweet fulfilment of the flesh” to her. She would like to raise a whole brood and forget all about the rest of the world in this heaven of watching over Â¦ the little chicks. But our medical student goes on to say “that the fewer children women have the more time they will have to read and study!”
Now, I submit to our birth control friends that it is vastly more important to our national and racial life, as well as to the full personal development and happiness of our best womanhood, that we have a goodly bunch of children born to our best and healthiest women than that they should be “free” to have twenty-four hours a day to “read and study.” If there is anything this side of heaven that brings larger returns and bigger expansions of the mind and heart to any man or woman than reading and studying and talking and worrying over their problems and troubles and love affairs with two, three or a half dozen children, I do not know what it is. I have found from long observation that women with seveal children seem to know life
and art and literature and philosophy and science, not only from reading about such things, but from living them with their children as well or better than women who have devoted their lives to reading and study in books. Women of the right sortâ€”the women whose natures we want transmitted through the blood of the raceâ€”find a vaster “freedom,” a deeper knowledge of life and its great mysterious beauties in a little home filled with children, than the gadabout with all her sophistication and so-called “freedom.” The truth is that birth control is the greatest instrument for race progress ever attained by any species. Think of it, no plant or animal ever possessed such a thing before. It means that the trend of racial evolution is absolutely in our hands. This is the biggest fact of the modern world. And for this reason it must be guided with all the wisdom and caution we can summon. It is nothing short of the management of organic evolution itself, with all its unthinkable consequences. But if such trivial reasons as those advanced above are going to induce our patriotic, devoted women to cease having children, it will run the race and nation amuck.
Voluntary parenthood will make the race more unselfish because it will weed out the selfish, the gadabouts and the immoral. It will probably even weed out the wandering, roving, imperious, warlike tendencies. The race will probably become less belligerent, more domestic and home loving. But it will do this only if our best women can be induced, where their health permits, to see home building and child-rearing as their greatest service to the nation and their surest source of a happy, personal life. The Birth Control Review has in the main kept these great facts in view, but it should call to its aid, not ignorant students and rampant reformers, but, as it has generally done, it should enlist the services of the ablest statisticians, biologists and philosophers, the largest minded and largest hearted men and women of the world. The Birth Control Congress, held in November last, in New York, showed great wisdom in doing two things. First it passed a resolution, offered by one of our leading eugenicists, Professor Roswell H. Johnson of Pittsburgh, stating that the purpose of the Birth Control League is to encourage good sound families among our abler and more successful stocks. Had this resolution not been passed every biologist and true eugenicist would have left its ranks. Secondly, it voted down a resolution calling upon the Postmaster General to repeal the regulation prohibiting literature dealing directly with methods of preventing child conception from going through the mails.
The Voluntary Parenthood League, another organization, is fighting to have this provision repealed. In the course of time this may be done with wisdom, but it would be highly dangerous now. While the spirit that originally animated the regulation was ridiculous, yet the provision has probably been a wise one, at least for the present. The great danger is, first of all, that all sorts of death-dealing nostrums would be advertised in this manner. * The management of organic evolution should not be placed in the hands of patent medicine and nostrum venders”.’ And secondly, every father and mother have their own individual problems. And these problems can only be handled by careful personal consultations with medical advisers of the highest authority. Birth control advice by mail would lead thousands of women to diagnose their physical condition themselves, whereas the wisest physician on earth would not dare to diagnose himself. How much more dangerous, then, for some suffering woman to write out a disjointed, distorted, ignorant account of her physical troubles and ailments and then be trusted, after a haphazard, guess-work diagnosis, to put even sound advice into practice. Moreover, no reputable physician would ever diagnose and prescribe without seeing his patient. Thus the mercenary and unscrupulous would control the whole racial situation.
The Birth Control League, of which Mrs. Margaret Sanger is the head, has no such purpose in view. They propose to follow the example of Holland, where fifty birth control clinics have been established over that little country, at which parents may receive individual advice. This system has worked with most admirable results. It is a travesty upon American civilization, a blot upon our very flag, that such clinics are not now in full operation in every town and hamlet of the nation. This advice should be given at the lowest possible charge, and to the poor who need it most it should be given free of charge. It is â€¢ enormously in the interest of the abler classes to pay this expense. For the fewer children among the shiftless and thriftless, the more wealth, food, jobs and opportunities are left for the far-seeing and provident. Indeed with the very ignorant and improvident, contraceptive knowledge should be, with every possible tact, carried into the home by trained nurses who have been properly educated, and who are in co-operation with the health authorities.
It is to the interest of every lover of America, every lover of humanity, to study and understand this problem of birth control. It is the central, outstanding fact of modern civilization. There is not a particle of doubt that birth control or no birth control, every race is going to expand to the limits of its food supply.
Professor Raymond Pearl shows by facts and figures which he has developed in his laboratories at the Johns Hopkins University, that the birth-rate is going always to crowd closely upon the supply of food. Dr. Pearl has made discoveries in this field that are entirely new, and of immense importance. He shows that the curve of population follows definite, predictable laws. For instance, in Vienna during the war, there were two hundred and forty deaths for every one hundred births. But the moment you get more food and stop killing off men on the battlefield, the avalanche of babies fills up the gaps. Within twelve months after the Armistice, the birth-death ratio had shot up to one hundred and sixty deaths for each one hundred births! The war, he shows, killed 18,000,000, and the influenza 20,000,000. But every nation goes marching gaily on, the moment these earthquakes have passed, creating more mouths to feed. Professor Pearl, by elaborate mathematical methods, concludes that they will always do this.
Obviously, then, the problem of race improvement, which is the supreme problem of statesmanship, is to devise methods for determining what sort of babies shall be born. Birth control does furnish us that means. Dr. Pearl proves, , I think conclusively, that there will probably never be more than about 200,000,-000 people in the United States. Within fifteen years we shall need every ounce of food our soil can produce to feed our home people. Now whether, when we reach 200,000,000, we shall be an ignorant, squirming mass of spawning humanity, constantly swept by pestilence, war and famine, fighting each other for food, or an upstanding breed of free and able people, our upper classes constantly producing a little more than their share of the children, and the lower classes a little less than their share, and thus slowly marching on toward health, beauty, strength and sanity in the race, is entirely in our own hands, A nation with a stationary population, constantly improving its stocks, is the only nation that can ever be called truly civilized. To make America such a nation should be the constant aim of all our social, educational, religious, business and political statesmanship. The statesmen who cry for larger families, irrespective of their quality, who talk about a “big nation,” “cheap labor,” “our unlimited resources,” when as a matter of fact our resources are exceedingly limited and already our soil has reached the point of “diminishing returns,” the statesmen, or rather jingoes and junkers, in America, England, Germany and Japanâ€”for we have them in all countriesâ€”who talk “expansion,” “new lands for our race to breed,” “chosen people,” “economic development,” and the like, are simple uttering counsels of despair.
To hope that every nation and race will be content to develop a great society, art, philosophy, science and literature within its own borders and habitat may be futile. I do not know. I do know that birth control with a resulting improvement of the racial stock within each na-tion is the one instrument of racial salvation. I do know that overcrowding on the one hand, and class suicide of the best stocks on the other, are the chief est causes of war, pestilence, famine and human misery. Some churches oppose birth control. Whether they will be converted or their tenets swept away by the onward march of human intelligence, I do not know. But, I do know that they are counselling the race to nothing but continued misery. I do know, and every biologist, every statistician, and every student of the things that make races and men, knows that beyond the horizon lie just two things. One is race improvement through rational birth control; the other is Armageddon.