The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective

Table of Contents

To give an idea of the wealth of material in The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective, here is its table of contents with a short description of the author (or central subject) of that chapter, when it was first published and an illustrative quote. Notice that the book is broken into two sections. The first is the "Historical Perspective," which includes 31 chapters by numerous authors. That's what makes this edition of Sanger's work unique. The second section is the full text of Sanger's 1922 bestseller, The Pivot of Civilization. This book costs no more than other reprints of that book and yet it includes far more material. With this added material you can understand what Sanger was actually telling her readers. That's particularly important when you want to understand what she believed about immigrants, the poor and racial minorities.

Historical Perspective (1872-1925)

Preface — Michael W. Perry, 2001

Then there is the much more serious matter of abortion. Alas, in its endless pursuit of fashion, upper-Manhattan style, Time misplaced a pair of quotation marks. They were put around “murdering” rather than “unborn children.” The pretense that what lives in the womb was of an uncertain nature was not yet dogma. Sanger’s conservative religious critics got it wrong, Time told us, when they claimed that Sanger wanted abortion legalized. Birth control, everyone who was anyone then knew, was intended to prevent what many 1960s liberals were still calling the “evil of abortion.” As propaganda, it was clever. At the time of Sanger’s death, federally funded family planning was promoted as a counter to abortion rather than its prelude. — Mike Perry

I. “The Martyrdom of Man” — Winwood Reade, British writer, 1872

Our religion therefore is Virtue, our Hope is placed in the happiness of our posterity; our Faith in the Perfectibility of Man. A day will come when the European God of the nineteenth century will be classed with the gods of Olympus and the Nile; when surplices and sacramental plate will be exhibited in museums; when nurses will relate to children the legends of the Christian mythology as they now tell them fairy tales. — Winwood Reade

II. “Malthusianism, Darwinism, and Pessimism” — Francis Bowen, Harvard professor, 1879

In the struggle for existence between different classes of human beings, it is the lower classes which survive, because they are more prolific than those above them; while the upper classes, just in proportion to the degree of their elevation, either increase slowly, or tend to die out altogether. And this victory of the lower classes in the battle for life is a survival, not of the fittest, but of the unfittest, so that it constantly tends to a deterioration of the race instead of contributing to its improvement. — Francis Bowen

III. “Immigration and Degradation” — Francis A. Walker, Superintendent of the Census, 1891

So broad and straight now is the channel by which this immigration is being conducted to our shores, that there is no reason why every stagnant pool of European population, representing the utterest failures of civilization, the worst defeats in the struggle for existence, the lowest degradation of human nature, should not be completely drained off into the United States. So long as any difference of economic conditions remains in our favor, so long as the least reason appears for the miserable, the broken, the corrupt, the abject to think that they might be better off here than there, if not in the workshop, then in the workhouse, these Huns, and Poles, and Bohemians, and Russian Jews, and South Italians will continue to come, and to come by millions. — Francis Walker

IV. “The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit” — Victoria C. Woodhull Martin, radical feminist, 1891–1927

The best minds of to-day have accepted the fact that if superior people are desired, they must be bred; and if imbeciles, criminals, paupers, and otherwise unfit are undesirable citizens they must not be bred. -Victoria Woodhull Martin

V. “Anticipations” — H. G. Wells, science fiction writer, 1901–1905

To the multiplying rejected of the white and yellow civilisations there will have been added a vast proportion of the black and brown races, and collectively those masses will propound the general question, “What will you do with us, we hundreds of millions who cannot keep pace with you?” — H. G. Wells

VI. “Man and Superman” — Sidney & Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw, 1901

It is fortunate when one happens to believe in one’s own arguments: one always does so in a fashion, the most one does is to suppress the qualification. . . . As a matter of fact, with regard to administration work, we plunge without hesitation on to the position of an advocate pledged only to display the arguments which tell in favour of the cause we believe in. — Beatrice Webb

VII. “The Causes of Race Superiority” — Dr. Edward A. Ross, prominent sociologist, 1901

For a case like this I can find no words so apt as “race suicide.” There is no bloodshed, no violence, no assault of the race that waxes upon the race that wanes. The higher race quietly and unmurmuringly eliminates itself rather than endure individually the bitter competition it has failed to ward off from itself by collective action. — Dr. Edward Ross

VIII. “Alarmed about the Future” — Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President, 1895–1919

To increase greatly a race must be prolific, and there is no curse so great as the curse of barrenness, whether for a nation or an individual. When a people gets to the position even now occupied by the mass of the French and by sections of the New Englanders, where the death rate surpasses the birth rate, then that race is not only fated for extinction but it deserves extinction. When the capacity and desire for fatherhood and motherhood is lost the race goes down, and should go down; and we need to have the plainest kind of speaking addressed to those individuals who fear to bring children into the world. — Theodore Roosevelt

IX. “’Race Suicide’ and Common Sense” — 'Paterfamilias,] well-to-do father of four, 1903

The young couple who get married in the city or the small village at this day have become accustomed to many things with which they are not willing to part. They have learned to dress well, to have expensive pleasures, the theatre, concerts. visits, and the like, which have been inspirations in their lives. They do not look forward to a life of self-sacrifice. . . . If one or two children are born, it is considered enough among those who are intelligent and even tolerably educated. — Paterfamilias

X. “The Century of the Child” — Ellen Key, prominent Swedish feminist, 1909–1913

While earlier days regarded man as a fixed phenomenon, in his physical and psychical relations, with qualities that might be perfected but could not be transformed, it is now known that he can re-create himself. Instead of a fallen man, we see an incomplete man, out of whom, by infinite modifications in an infinite space of time, a new being can come into existence. — Ellen Key

XI. “The Heredity of Richard Roe” — David Starr Jordan, President of Stanford University, 1911

If Richard Roe by chance is a defective, unable by heredity to rise to the level of helpfulness and happiness, it is not a wholesome act to help him to the responsibilities of parenthood. It is a wise charity to make him as comfortable as may be with the assurance that he shall be the last of his line. — David Jordan

XII. “How Bright a Torch” — New York Times,1912

Eugenics say, in short, that so far as feeble mindedness goes, it could all be stamped out very easily. Normal persons practically never have feebleminded children, while two feebleminded persons invariably will have abnormal children and between the two are the many who have a hereditary taint but who tend, through marriage with the sound, to have perfect children. . . . — New York Times

XIII. “Kallikak Family” — Henry H. Goddard, psychologist, 1912

The surprise and horror of it all was that no matter where we traced them, whether in the prosperous rural district, in the city slums to which some had drifted, or in the more remote mountain regions, or whether it was a question of the second or the sixth generation, an appalling amount of defectiveness was everywhere found. — Henry Goddard

XIV. “The Village of a Thousand Souls” — Arnold L. Gesell, child psychologist, 1913

The banks of the racial river of life should be beautified and ennobled by all that the willing hands of man can rear and contrive; but those benefactors who labor now through science and wise legislation to purify the very springs of the dying and living stream will be thrice blessed by the generations unborn. — Arnold Gesell

XV. “Education and Race Suicide” — Robert J. Sprague, economics and sociology professor, 1915

If we have forces which are drawing off the best blood of the American stock and sinking it in a dry desert of sterile intellectuality and paralytic culture, let us know the facts, and let these magnificent colleges face them and the race responsibilities involved, because without any doubt, all of our great
educational institutions can and will become powerful agencies for race survival rather than race suicide when their wealth and influence become applied along the right lines. — Robert Sprague

XVI. “Wellesley’s Birth-Rate” — Roswell H. Johnson, professor and eugenist, 1915

Now, these select women, who should be having at least the 3.7 children each . . . are only giving to the race .83 of a child each. Their reproductivity is only 22 1/4% of being adequate merely for replacement. — Roswell Johnson

XVII. “Birth-Rate in Harvard and Yale Graduates” — John C. Phillips, 1916

In his Report for 1901–02, President Eliot summarized the classes 1872-77 as to their surviving children, and found that the birth-rate of Harvard graduates was extremely low. He stated that these sample classes had failed to reproduce themselves by 28 per cent, and that obviously the entering classes of Harvard can be recruited from the sons of Harvard graduates in only a small degree. — John Phillips

XVIII. “Eugenics and Other Evils” — G. K. Chesterton, British Catholic writer, 1922

So at least it seemed, doubtless in a great degree subconsciously, to the man who had wagered all his wealth on the usefulness of the poor to the rich and the dependence of the rich on the poor. The time came at last when the rather reckless breeding in the abyss below ceased to be a supply, and began to be something like a wastage; ceased to be something like keeping foxhounds, and began alarmingly to resemble a necessity of shooting foxes. — G. K. Chesterton

XIX. “Eugenics, Birth-Control, and Socialism” — Eden Paul, Marxist writer and editor, 1917

Unless the socialist is a eugenist as well, the socialist state will speedily perish from racial degradation. — Eden Paul

XX. “Who Are The Unfit?” — William J. Robinson, radical New York City physician, 1917

And I will say here, in passing, that personally I would be in favor of the sterilization, preferably by castration, of all brutal criminals, such as pimps, burglars, gunmen, etc., and this entirely independently of the question whether their criminality is transmissible to their offspring or not. — William Robinson

XXI. “Fill the World with Horror” — New Republic, liberal political journal, 1915–1916

If the quality of human births and the nurture of children is the supreme concern of the race, then a refusal to discuss the question of a controlled family is equivalent to asserting that intelligence should not govern the central issues of life. — New Republic

XXII. “From Herland to Ourland” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, feminist intellectual, 1890–1932

We are mortified at our moronic average, alarmed at the increasing numbers of those far below it. Further, we find that the unfitter they are, the more lavishly they fulfil what some religionists assure us is the divine commandment—to increase and multiply and replenish the earth. — Charlotte Gilman

XXIII. “The Religious Are Astir” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice, 1913–1927

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.-Oliver Wendel Holmes

XXIV. “Japanese ‘Picture Brides’ Become Frights” — Literary Digest, a magazine for the well-to-do, 1919

We are threatened with an overproduction of Japanese children. First come the men, then the picture brides, then the families. If California is to be preserved for the next generation as a “white man’s country” there must be some movement started that will restrict the Japanese birth-rate in California. — Literary Digest

XXV. “Birth Control From the Positive Side” — Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President, 1917

But if, in a community of a thousand men and a thousand women, a large proportion of them remain unmarried, and if of the marriages so many are sterile or with only one or two children, that the population is decreasing, then there is something radically wrong with the people of that community as a whole. — Theodore Roosevelt

XXVI. “An Answer to Mr. Roosevelt” — Margaret Sanger, birth control leader, 1917

The best thing that the modern American college does for young men or young women is to make of them highly sensitized individuals, keenly aware of their responsibility to society. They quickly perceive that they have other duties toward the State than procreation of the kind blindly practised by the immigrant from Europe. They cannot be deluded into thinking quantity superior to quality. — Margaret Sanger

XXVII. “Revolt Against Civilization” — Lothrop Stoddard, scientific humanist, 1922

Unfortunately for the race, it was the latter alternative which prevailed. Instead of spreading contraceptive knowledge among the masses and thus mitigating as far as possible the evils of a racially destructive differential birth-rate, society succeeded in keeping the masses in ignorance and high fecundity, whereas it emphatically did not succeed in keeping contraceptive knowledge from the more intelligent, who increasingly practised birth control and diminished their contributions to the population. — Lothrop Stoddard

XXVIII. “Little Angels in the Flesh” — Archbishop Patrick Hayes v. Margaret Sanger, 1921

The Christ-Child did not stay His own entrance into this mortal life because His mother was poor, roofless and without provision for the morrow. He knew that the Heavenly Father who cared for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air loved the children of men more than these. — Patrick Hayes

XXIX. “The Pivot of Civilization Reviewed” — Samuel J. Holmes, Professor, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, 1923

Mrs. Sanger makes no plea for an increased birthrate among the better stocks, although there is much evidence to show that these are in serious danger of extinction. She is so obsessed by the notion of birth control as a remedy for racial and social ills that the idea that any class should have more children is apparently not entertained. -Samuel Holmes

XXX. “Has America Too Many Children?” — Louis J. Dublin, statistician, 1925

What is the usual effect on the spiritual life of those who through continued control keep their families down to next to nothing? This is probably the most serious single consequence of the current fashion, for the sterility of the body often leads to the even more serious sterility of the soul. A family without children to live for and to work for is tragic. This misfortune is courted by those who practice birth control.-Louis Dublin

XXXI. “Is Race Suicide Probable?” — Margaret Sanger, birth control leader, 1925

We have not chosen this Sisyphean task; it has been forced on us because we have left the production of American children to chance, instead of bringing this most important of all human functions within the sphere of choice. — Margaret Sanger

The Pivot of Civilization (1922) by Margaret Sanger

“Introduction” by H. G. Wells

The New Civilization is saying to the Old now: “We cannot go on making power for you to spend upon international conflict. You must stop waving flags and bandying insults. You must organize the Peace of the World; you must subdue yourselves to the Federation of all mankind. And we cannot go on giving you health, freedom, enlargement, limitless wealth, if all our gifts to you are to be swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny. We want fewer and better children who can be reared up to their full possibilities in unencumbered homes, and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms6 of inferior citizens that you inflict upon us.” And there at the passionate and crucial question, this essential and fundamental question, whether procreation is still to be a superstitious and often disastrous mystery, undertaken in fear and ignorance, reluctantly and under the sway of blind desires, or whether it is to become a deliberate creative act, the two civilizations join issue now. It is a conflict from which it is almost impossible to abstain. Our acts, our way of living, our social tolerance, our very silences will count in this crucial decision between the old and the new. — H.G. Wells

1. “A New Truth Emerges”

The lack of balance between the birth-rate of the "unfit" and the "fit," admittedly the greatest present menace to the civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. — Margaret Sanger

2. “Conscripted Motherhood”

One searches in vain for some picture of sacred motherhood, as depicted in popular plays and motion pictures, something more normal and encouraging. Then one comes to the bitter realization that these, in very truth, are the "normal" cases, not the exceptions. The exceptions are apt to indicate, instead, the close relationship of this irresponsible and chance parenthood to the great social problems of feeble-mindedness, crime and syphilis. — Margaret Sanger

3. “Children Troop Down From Heaven”

Character, ability, and reasoning power are not to be developed in this fashion. Indeed, it is to be doubted whether even a completely successful educational system could offset the evils of indiscriminate breeding and compensate for the misfortune of being a superfluous child. In recognizing the great need of education, we have failed to recognize the greater need of inborn health and character. — Margaret Sanger

4. “The Fertility of the Feeble-Minded”

In such a reckless and thoughtless differentiation between the "bad" and the "good" feeble-minded, we find new evidence of the conventional middle-class bias that also finds expression among some of the eugenists. We do not object to feeble-mindedness simply because it leads to immorality and criminality; nor can we approve of it when it expresses itself in docility, submissiveness and obedience. We object because both are burdens and dangers to the intelligence of the community. As a matter of fact, there is sufficient evidence to lead us to believe that the so-called “borderline cases” are a greater menace than the out-and-out “defective delinquents” who can be supervised, controlled and prevented from procreating their kind. — Margaret Sanger

5. “The Cruelty of Charity”

But there is a special type of philanthropy or benevolence, now widely advertised and advocated, both as a federal program and as worthy of private endowment, which strikes me as being more insidiously injurious than any other. This concerns itself directly with the function of maternity, and aims to supply gratis medical and nursing facilities to slum mothers. — Margaret Sanger

6. “Neglected Factors of the World Problem”

While the gravest attention is paid to the problem of hunger and food, that of sex is neglected. Politicians and scientists are ready and willing to speak of such things as a "high birth rate," infant mortality, the dangers of immigration or overpopulation. But with few exceptions they cannot bring themselves to speak of Birth Control. Until they shall have broken through the traditional inhibitions concerning the discussion of sexual matters, until they recognize the force of the sexual instinct, and until they recognize Birth Control as the pivotal factor in the problem confronting the world to-day, our statesmen must continue to work in the dark. Political palliatives will be mocked by actuality. Economic nostrums are blown willy-nilly in the unending battle of human instincts. — Margaret Sanger

7. “Is Revolution the Remedy?”

On the other hand, we should not minimize the importance of the Socialist movement in so valiantly and so courageously battling against the stagnating complacency of our conservatives and reactionaries, under whose benign imbecility the defective and diseased elements of humanity are encouraged "full speed ahead" in their reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning. — Margaret Sanger

8. “Dangers of Cradle Competition”

But the scientific Eugenists fail to recognize that this restraint of fecundity is due to a deliberate foresight and is a conscious effort to elevate standards of living for the family and the children of the responsible—and possibly more selfish—sections of the community. The appeal to enter again into competitive child-bearing, for the benefit of the nation or the race, or any other abstraction, will fall on deaf ears.
— Margaret Sanger

9. “A Moral Necessity”

Orthodox opposition to Birth Control is formulated in the official protest of the National Council of Catholic Women against the resolution passed by the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs which favored the removal of all obstacles to the spread of information regarding practical methods of Birth Control.The Catholic statement completely embodies traditional opposition to Birth Control. It affords a striking contrast by which we may clarify and justify the ethical necessity for this new instrument of civilization as the most effective basis for practical and scientific morality. — Margaret Sanger

10. “Science the Ally”

One of the principal aims of the American Birth Control League has been to awaken the interest of scientific investigators and to point out the rich field for original research opened up by this problem. The correlation of reckless breeding with defective and delinquent strains has not, strangely enough, been subjected to close scientific scrutiny, nor has the present biological unbalance been traced to its root. This is a crying necessity of our day, and it cannot be accomplished without the aid of science — Margaret Sanger

11. “Education and Expression”

Slowly but surely we are breaking down the taboos that surround sex; but we are breaking them down out of sheer necessity. The codes that have surrounded sexual behavior in the so-called Christian communities, the teachings of the churches concerning chastity and sexual purity, the prohibitions of the laws, and the hypocritical conventions of society, have all demonstrated their failure as safeguards against the chaos produced and the havoc wrought by the failure to recognize sex as a driving force in human nature—as great as, if indeed not greater than, hunger. — Margaret Sanger

12. “Woman and the Future”

Our great problem is not merely to perfect machinery, to produce
superb ships, motor cars or great buildings, but to remodel the race so that
it may equal the amazing progress we see now making in the externals of life. — Margaret Sanger

A. “Principles and Aims of the American Birth Control League”

Sterilization: of the insane and feebleminded and the encouragement of this operation upon those afflicted with inherited or transmissible diseases, with the understanding that sterilization does not deprive the individual of his or her sex expression, but merely renders him incapable of producing children. — Aims of the American Birth Control League


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