A July 2015 controversy involving women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood (concerning the purported sale of fetal tissue) triggered a number of social media conversations about reproductive health; among them, inevitably, were several quotes attributed to early family planning advocate Margaret Sanger.
In her lifetime, Margaret Sanger’s vocal support of birth control and women’s reproductive agency was deeply controversial, though she is widely credited as a galvanizing force in women’s healthcare. Sanger’s legacy has been similarly fraught with suspicion and accusation due to her advocacy of birth control and selective family planning, and a number of dubious quotations attributed to her spiked in social media popularity during the 2015 Planned Parenthood controversy.
One such quote is featured on an image meme, claiming that in 1922 Sanger said the following:
Slavs, Latin and Hebrew immigrants are human weeds … a deadweight of human waste … Blacks, soldiers and Jews are a menace to the race.
Tracing the origins of the quote above proved difficult as many primary iterations of it have since been deleted from the web (though some are cached); the earliest versions we were able to locate didn’t appear until sometime between 2008 and 2009 (primarily on blogs and forums). All of those initial iterations cited a now-deleted page on a crisis pregnancy center’s website (a cache of which can be viewed here). The page was titled “RACIST AND EUGENICIST STATEMENTS BY MARGARET SANGER, THE FOUNDER OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD,” and that iteration of the quote suggested (via the creative use of bracketed paraphrasing) Sanger’s words had been somewhat creatively interpreted:
[Slavs, Latin, and Hebrew immigrants are] human weeds … a deadweight of human waste … [Blacks, soldiers, and Jews are a] menace to the race. Eugenic sterilization is an urgent need … We must prevent Multiplication of this bad stock.
— Margaret Sanger, April 1933 Birth Control Review
A scanned copy of the April 1933 Birth Control Review is available online [archived here]; Sanger was neither credited as the author of any of its articles nor mentioned in any of them. The closest quotation to the one cited in the meme we could turn up came from an 8 April 1923 New York Times article attributed to Sanger in which she used the word “weeds” in a somewhat similar manner, but didn’t attach it to any particular race or ethnicity:
I was merely thinking of the poor mothers of congested districts of the East Side who had so poignantly begged me for relief, in order that the children they had already brought into the world might have a chance to grow into strong and stalwart Americans. It was almost impossible to believe that the dissemination of knowledge easily available to the intelligent and thoughtful parents of the well-to-do classes was actually a criminal act, proscribed not only by State laws but by Federal as well.
My paper was suppressed. I was arrested and indicted by the Federal authorities. But owing to the vigorous protests of the public and an appeal sent by a number of distinguished English writers and thinkers, the case against me was finally abandoned. Meanwhile “Birth Control” became the slogan of the idea and not only spread through the American press from coast to coast, but immediately gained currency in Great Britain. Succinctly and with telling brevity and precision “Birth Control” summed up our whole philosophy. Birth Control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks — those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.
In his 1992 book American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others, author John George writes that this quote was “evidently concocted in the late 1980s for the purpose of trying to make the early birth control advocate seem a racist and anti-Semite” and that “this fabrication has been kept in circulation by antiabortion and anti-birth control groups.”