Eugenic feminism

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Nellie McClung, a suffragette and MLA in the Canadian province of Alberta, advocated eugenic feminist policies.[1]

Eugenic feminism is a term that describes areas of the women's suffrage movement which overlapped with eugenics.[2] Originally coined by the eugenicist Caleb Saleeby,[3][4][5] the term has since been applied to summarize views held by some prominent feminists of the United States. Some early suffragettes in Canada, particularly a group known as The Famous Five, also pushed for eugenic policies, chiefly in Alberta and British Columbia. Eugenic feminism began to be articulated in the late 1800s and faded in the 1930s, along with decreasing support for eugenics itself.[6]

History[edit]

When Francis Galton originally formulated eugenics, he saw women functioning as a mere conduit to pass desirable traits from father to son. Later eugenicists saw women in a more active role, placing an increasing emphasis on women as “mothers of the race”. In particular new research in the science of heredity and the studies of procreation, child rearing and human reproduction led to changes in eugenic thought, which began to recognize the importance of women in those parts of the human life cycle. This change in emphasis led eventually to eugenicist Caleb Saleeby coining the term eugenic feminism in his book Woman and Womanhood: A Search for Principles (1911).[3][4] Saleeby wrote,

The mark of the following pages is that they assume the principle of what we may call Eugenic Feminism, and that they endeavour to formulate its working-out. It is my business to acquaint myself with the literature of both eugenics and feminism, and I know that hitherto the eugenists have inclined to oppose the claims of feminism [...]

Devereux characterizes Saleeby's invention of eugenic feminism as "at least partly a deceptive rhetorical strategy" whose goal was to "draw middle-class women's rights activists back to home and duty".[1]

In the 1930s eugenic feminism began to decline as eugenic feminists began to fall out with mainstream eugenicists, and had largely failed to sway the public opinion.[7]

In Canada[edit]

In Canada, all members of the suffragist group known as the "Famous Five" were known to support eugenics,[8] including Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, the latter notably supporting the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta and the 1933 Sexual Sterilization Act of British Columbia.[2]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

British eugenicists such as Caleb Saleeby, Karl Pearson, and Havelock Ellis, held that women were essentially reproductive agents.[...] Proponents of mainstream eugenics and some early advocates of women’s rights found common ground. Not all early feminists supported eugenic practices, but the notion of social advancement as intricately tied to reproduction was central to both eugenicists and early feminists.[...] Some suffragists advocated for staunch immigration policies and eugenic practices such as mental hygiene and the social segregation and sexual sterilization of the “feeble-minded.”[2]

In the United States[edit]

In the United States, women's organizations like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the National League of Women Voters supported eugenic legislation in the early 1900s.[6] One of the most prominent feminists to push for eugenics was Margaret Sanger, a pioneer of birth control.[9][10] Sanger turned to the eugenics movement after feminist and socialist groups failed, in her view, to fully support her causes, particularly that of birth control; she then developed a position that leaned upon eugenicist thought while diverging from mainstream eugenics' conclusions.[6] For example, Sanger believed that it should be the choice of the individual woman whether or not to have children, not that of the state.[11] Moreover, though she believed those who were unfit should not procreate, she rejected some aspects of negative eugenics such as euthanasia of those deemed unfit.[12][13] While the views of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton have sometimes been labeled "eugenic feminism" in retrospect,[14] Victoria Woodhull and Charlotte Perkins Gilman were associated with the eugenics movement at the time.[6][15] Woodhull's version of eugenics, which held that adherence to then-prevalent sexual norms led to degenerate offspring, was sharply divergent from the mainstream eugenics of the 1890s. Likewise, though Gilman supported causes like miscegenation laws, her views shifted over time, never fully aligning with the eugenicist mainstream, with birth control being a particular sticking point.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Devereux, Cecily (2006). Growing a Race: Nellie L. McClung and the Fiction of Eugenic Feminism. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 9780773573048. OCLC 243600906.
  2. ^ a b c Rosario, Esther (2013-09-13). "Feminism". The Eugenics Archives. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b Saleeby, C. W. (Caleb Williams) (1911). "First Principles" (PDF). Woman and Womanhood A Search for Principles (1 ed.). East 24th Street, New Yourk,NY,USA: J. J. Little & Ives Co. MITCHELL KENNERLEY. p. 7. Retrieved 31 October 2018. The mark of the following pages is that they assume the principle of what we may call Eugenic Feminism
  4. ^ a b "Woman suffrage, eugenics, and eugenic feminism in Canada «  Women Suffrage and Beyond". womensuffrage.org. Archived from the original on 2017-04-28. Retrieved 27 October 2018..
  5. ^ Gibbons, S. "Women's suffrage". The Eugenics Archives. Retrieved 31 October 2018. Dr. Caleb Saleeby, an obstetrician and active member of the British Eugenics Education Society, opposed his contemporaries – such Sir Francis Galton – who took strong anti-feminist stances in their eugenic philosophies. Perceiving the feminist movement as potentially “ruinous to the race” if it continued to ignore the eugenics movement, he coined the term “eugenic feminism” in his 1911 text Woman and Womanhood: A Search for Principles
  6. ^ a b c d e Ziegler, Mary (2008). "Eugenic Feminism: Mental Hygiene, the Women's Movement, and the Campaign for Eugenic Legal Reform, 1900-1935". Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. 31: 211. SSRN 1646393. Several different visions of eugenic feminism were articulated between 1890 and 1930, but each found commonality in the argument that the eugenic decline of the race could be prevented only if women were granted greater political, social, sexual, and economic equality. This argument correlated gender equality with racial improvement: eugenic science and law had to guarantee some form of substantive gender equality in order to improve the race. Thus, in the years between 1915 and 1935, eugenic feminism existed distinct from, and in increasing tension with, mainstream eugenic science and policy. Ultimately, leading eugenic feminists could neither change the minds of a majority of the eugenic coalition nor resolve the contradictions inherent in their own eugenic theories. While they often argued that their reforms should be supported primarily as means to achieve a eugenic end, each leader held on to the very kinds of rights and equality-based arguments that mainstream eugenicists rejected. This contradiction contributed significantly to the decline and disappearance of eugenic feminism in the early and mid-1930s.
  7. ^ Ziegler, Mary (2008). "Eugenic Feminism: Mental Hygiene, the Women's Movement, and the Campaign for Eugenic Legal Reform, 1900-1935". Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. 31: 211. SSRN 1646393. Several different visions of eugenic feminism were articulated between 1890 and 1930, but each found commonality in the argument that the eugenic decline of the race could be prevented only if women were granted greater political, social, sexual, and economic equality. This argument correlated gender equality with racial improvement: eugenic science and law had to guarantee some form of substantive gender equality in order to improve the race. Thus, in the years between 1915 and 1935, eugenic feminism existed distinct from, and in increasing tension with, mainstream eugenic science and policy. Ultimately, leading eugenic feminists could neither change the minds of a majority of the eugenic coalition nor resolve the contradictions inherent in their own eugenic theories. While they often argued that their reforms should be supported primarily as means to achieve a eugenic end, each leader held on to the very kinds of rights and equality-based arguments that mainstream eugenicists rejected. This contradiction contributed significantly to the decline and disappearance of eugenic feminism in the early and mid-1930s.
  8. ^ "Feminism". The Eugenics Archives. Retrieved 31 October 2018. All of the Famous Five were also involved in the race hygiene movement and supported the passage of the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta
  9. ^ "The Sanger-Hitler Equation" Archived 2011-09-21 at the Wayback Machine., Margaret Sanger Papers Project Newsletter, #32, Winter 2002/3. New York University Department of History
  10. ^ Carole Ruth McCann. Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916–1945. Cornell University Press. p. 100.
  11. ^ Sanger, Margaret (1919). Birth Control and Racial Betterment (PDF). Birth Control Review. p. 11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2018-10-27. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother.
  12. ^ Sanger, Margaret (1922). The Pivot of Civilization. Brentano's. pp. 100–101. Nor do we believe that the community could or should send to the lethal chamber the defective progeny resulting from irresponsible and unintelligent breeding.
  13. ^ Sanger, Margaret (1920). Woman and the New Race. Brentano. p. 100.
  14. ^ Rodino-Colocino, Michelle (7 November 2014). "#YesAllWomen: Intersectional Mobilization Against Sexual Assault is Radical (Again)". Feminist Media Studies. 14 (6): 1113–1115. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.975475. [...] nineteenth-century feminists Susan B. Anthony's and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's mobilization to end marital rape through a eugenic feminism [...]
  15. ^ Seitler, Dana (2003). "Unnatural Selection:Mothers, Eugenic Feminism, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Regeneration Narratives". American Quarterly. 55: 61–88. JSTOR 30041957.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, Ann Taylor. “Feminism and Eugenics in Germany and Britain, 1900-1940: A Comparative Perspective.” German Studies Review, vol. 23, no. 3, 2000
  • Devereux, Cecily. "Growing a Race: Nellie L. McClung and the Fiction of Eugenic Feminism." Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005.
  • Erika Dyck, “Sterilization and Birth Control in the Shadow of Eugenics: Married, Middle-Class Women in Alberta, 1930-1960s”, CBMH/BCHM 31, No. 1, 2014
  • Soloway, Richard A. “The ‘Perfect Contraceptive’: Eugenics and Birth Control Research in Britain and America in the Interwar Years.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 30, no. 4, 1995
  • "Sterilization: Eugenics and the Women’s Movement in 20th Century Alberta.” Canadian Psychology 54.2 (2013): 105-14.