The Author and her sons.
(Compare the dedication)
WOMAN AND THE NEW RACE
Margaret Sanger wrote this book in 1920 at the high water mark of the first wave of feminism. Women in the United States could now vote, own property, acquire higher education, and many other rights won through hard struggle. Sanger saw a woman's right to control her own body (specifically her reproductive system) as the next big goal. It took more than forty years before a new wave of feminism, along with advances in medical technology, made this attainable.Of course, this is still the fault-line which runs through the topic of women and religion. The themes which Sanger raises in this book still arouse vehement debate, and pertain to contemporary issues which would have seemed unimaginable to Sanger, such as human cloning and stem-cell research.
Some of the language in this book may mystify or confuse contemporary readers. When she speaks of a 'New Race' she means the improvement of the human species in general. She occasionally uses arguments similar to the Eugenics movement (which was later embraced by the Nazis). This has been used as ammunition by some opposed to women's reproductive rights, and several misleading quotes either taken out of context or completely fabricated have been attributed to her in an attempt to demonize her. This is a disservice and dishonors Sangers' legacy.
Sanger later denounced the Eugenics movement. Her books were among the first burned by the Nazis. She also personally helped several Jewish women and men escape Nazi Germany. Sanger was about as far from a reactionary as could be imagined--note her opposition to militarism, her ardent feminism and activism on behalf of working-class women, her support for labor and the rights of immigrants, all of which she makes clear in this book. She opened clinics in Harlem to bring health services to the African American community, and worked closely with such African American activists as W.E.B. DuBois and Adam Clayton Powell. In 1966, the year Sanger died, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger's early efforts. . . . Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.
Sanger's opposition to abortion has to be considered in the light of the reality of pre-Roe v. Wade 'back-alley' abortion, which often had fatal or harmful side-effects. She states that she would not be opposed to abortion if it could be performed safely.
Sangers' transcendent (and very spiritual) vision of women and humanity in general free from the shackles of sexual repression and endless child-bearing is impressive, and overwhelms the shortcomings of this book. -- jbh