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Margaret Sanger, "The Unfit," n.d..

Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S73:0246."

No final version or other information was found on this text. The added numbers appear in the margin of the document.

Social ↑Unemployed↓

One authority claims that out of our population of one hundred million only fifteen million can be regarded as intelligent. That eighty-five million have less than average mental capacity and compare to the youth of fifteen years--under this comes the morons, feebleminded, high grade imbeciles, then idiots, etc.

From this grade come paupers, prostitutes, criminals, tramps, inebriates, all tending to be born somewhat defective. The histories of some of the degenerate families have gone on record. Jukes in this country who in five generations produced 709 known descendants who were not only unfit but a constant and continuous danger and burden to society throughout the five generations.

In Germany a family more recently studied consisted of 834 known persons descended from a drunken vagabond woman, feebleminded but physically vigorous. The descendants were paupers, prostitutes, criminals, more feebleminded murderers. The direct cost to the Prussian State for the keep and care of this woman and her offspring had been a quarter of a million pounds or over a million dollars.

In Switzerland the Zeros family were a respectable middle class clan living in Swiss Valley but intermarried with an insane stock, subsequently married other women of feeble mentality. There has come to light three hundred and ten members of their family who were found to be vagrants, criminals, paupers, prostitutes, feebleminded and insane.

This group are lacking in vitality, in moral standards, in initiative and are wholly unfit for organized activity. We class them with the unemployed, but they are really unemployable.

A test in philanthropy was made by a gentleman who took 700 of the above mentioned types and offered to help them obtain work. More than two thirds of this number never presented themselves, a few did half a days work, took their pay and departed. Only one in forty continued to work.

It is more and more important to distinguish the unemployable who will not and cannot work from the unemployed who are anxious to work and are capable of producing. These two groups are confused in the minds of all and the unemployed are bound to fail and suffer for the faults and weaknesses and often mental defects of the unemployable. These latter should be weeded out from the unemployed and receive entirely different treatment.

In any effort to cleanse and regenerate the race something must be done about the feebleminded as well as the insane. Feeblemindedness is the more serious of the problems, because it is an absolute dead weight on the race, it is an evil that is unmitigated.

The heavy and complicated social burdens and injuries it inflicts on the present generation are without compensation. As it is inheritable, it renders it a deteriorating poison and depreciates the whole quality of a people.

The same cannot be said of insanity for it is and has been known that candidates for insanity may not only be the best of people, but are above the average in intelligence, in conduct and ideals.

Insanity is often curable but remains a large and serious question. Certainly we know that some of the great geniuses of history have been on the borderland and even over the borderland of insanity, but it never happens that people of genius spring from parents who were definitely insane. The absolute number of the certified insane is constantly increasing, and their ratio to the population is rising.

The actual cost in money which the sane are put to for the maintenance of the insane is tremendous.

↑1↓ In the great movement of Social reform of the 19th century, it has been concerned with the conditions of life, and not with the quality of life itself. The expectations of this movement have not been fulfilled and its result is that it has increased the burden it was intended to remove.

Bad conditions kill off the unfit, leaving room and space for the fit to survive.

↑2↓ In the desire to protect the unfit from nature’s cruel consequences and to render the fit fitter, we have cast a burden upon the fit, which has rendered him unequal to the task. In allowing the unfit to reproduce their kind we are doing our best to lower the level of life.

The way lies open to the next great step in social regeneration (reform) which is the deliberate control of life itself.

The new social feeling which has been generated by the task of improving the conditions of life and of caring for those who are unable to care for themselves, has made possible a new conception of our responsibility to the race. We are not only our brother’s keeper, we are the keepers of our children and of the children of the race that are to come after us. Our sense of social responsibility has become a sense of racial responsibility and from this we may build upon the task of regenerating the race.

↑3↓ Responsibility is the watchword. The new sense of responsibility, not only for the lives that now are, but for the new human lives that are to come.

Until lately, the methods of propagating the race were the same as those of savages, thousands of years ago, Babies came, babies died, women agonized and died in child birth--“it was God’s will”--If children were born idiots, the responsibility was God’s. That has changed now, at least among some of us. We know that in this as in other matters, the Divine force works thru us, giving us life, power and intelligence. We have no right to cast the responsibility for our stupid and evil actions on any Higher Power. We have been given the power of life, to create human beings, to generate the race. We through knowledge and intelligence must regenerate the race.

↑4↓ To control the process of generation, to practice birth control is highly desirable in our modern civilization because it is the inevitable result of advance in civilization (civilization is international).

↑5↓ Reckless abandonment to the impulse of the moment, careless indifference of the morrow, the selfish gratification of individual desire at the expense of probably suffering to others, especially to lives that will come after, this may seem beautiful, moral highly religious to some person, but it is not civilization. All civilization involves an ever increasing forethought of others, even for others who are yet unborn.

↑6↓ The voluntary control of the birth rate is the only available lever for raising the level of our race. It is by means of knowledge of contraception that this can be scientifically done. In classic days, as in the East, the practice of infanticide was the permissible method used for attaining the same family, the interruption of pregnancy was and is still used far too extensively, but it is no longer possible for us to accept these wasteful methods as necessary. We must go farther back, we must control the beginnings of life, we must control conception, we must see that no life is begun that is not wanted, loved and planned for.

↑6↓ This is a better method, it is a more civilized method, for it involves greater forethought, greater control, greater consideration and a finer sense of the value of life.

Today all classes in all countries try to exercise some control in regulating the size of their families. It is only the unfit, the less desirable, who procreate recklessly and without forethought or care. ↑But↓ I have found that even here there is often an attempt to limit the number of offspring usually when it is too late. When proper knowledge of birth control is generally advocated and encouraged among the groups in society, where health and economic consideration is obvious, I believe the birth rate will be reduced where it should be lowest.

In Stockholm, through an investigation made by Dr. Karl Edin, it was found that owing to the practice of birth control among all classes that there was a definite lowering of the birth rate among the poor and a slightly higher birth rate among the well-to-do and educated classes. This is a condition long hoped for, it is the logical outcome of properly disseminated instruction. The well to do and educated classes have long benefited by knowledge of birth control while the poor were denied its use. Now that is changed and the poorer classes are also practicing family limitation to the benefit of the workers and to the race.

Indifference and ignorance are the focus of civilization; the masses must unlearn many prejudices of the past.


When we consider the forces already at work among us which as we have seen have set up a strong and ever increasing social machinery for the improvement of the conditions of life and also the forces at work to regard and safeguard the adult man and woman in the home, in the workshop, in the community as well as the health and well being of the child back to its time in the womb. We can see how naturally we are today brought up to those questions of birth control as an instrument of higher breeding and regeneration of the race.

The next step will be the effort to breed for those qualities in human beings that are basic principles in any civilization. We may not know yet how to breed for the highest qualities inhuman beings, but certainly we do know how to breed out detrimental qualities, which science tells us are inheritable and transmissible. We can begin with the most obvious and say children should not be born when either parent has a transmissible disease of any kind. To adhere to this single principle alone for one generation would do more to wipe out criminality, prostitution and disease, than all the combined palliative efforts directed by church and state. This could be done by a vigorous educational campaign and a request to those who have such taint to present themselves for consultation. There could then be commissions of authorities to investigate the case and advise according to circumstances either sterilization of methods of contraception.

In case of refusal such persons should have a choice of sterilization or isolation. Under no circumstances should the state allow such parents to cast their diseased and demented progeny upon society for the normal and fit to provide for.

Pensions could be offered to those complying to sterilization. It is part of the problem of today to reconcile the claims of the race with the claims of the individual. It is also hard to reconcile humanitarian ↑ism↓ and tremendous efforts to ameliorate disease, poverty, misery with race improvement.

Birth Control will solve the problem of the latter, while the former can only be settled in the individual’s conscience. It is the developed individual conscience guided by the sense of racial responsibility that such claims can be reconciled.

We should breed out the feebleminded families who have done and still are doing much social and racial damage. In mental defectiveness they may be classed into four groups-- 1.) complete idiots who merely exist, 2.) incomplete idiots with few and rudimentary ideas, 3.) imbeciles with limited and often perverted ideas but capable to being taught to read and write 4.) Weak or feebleminded who can be educated to a varying extent by special methods.

It is the 3rd & 4th class which present the most difficult problems. We must remember that even if the feebleminded do learn to read and write this does not enable them to produce any fitter offspring than if they had been untaught and untrained. They should be sterilized harmlessly and rendered incapable of passing on to future generations their defects. It can be a voluntary measure requiring no legislation. It should not be forced but ↑should↓ be encouraged. It must not be considered a punishment but rather a measure of safeguarding the community, just as an epidemic or any contagious disease is regarded. If those requesting charity, either state or private, were fused aid until they consented to undergo the preventive treatment of sterilization, we should be effectively working for the abolition of pauperism, criminality and dysgenic breeding. Why allow license to the feebleminded and unfit types and make freedom impossible for the normal?

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