Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 24-25: Race Suicide

Problems of the Age: 24-25: Race Suicide

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 15, 2010

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.

Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.

A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXIV – Race Suicide

Theory. – This subject is apparently as old as the human race. It has rested in the past as it rests in the present, upon the relative conditions of production and consumption. Theoretically, and argumentatively, it may be said that if the normal increase of human life went on without decimation by war or disease, the world would find it difficult to produce from all its known agencies the amount required for the sustenance of the human race.

There are, however, a number of forces in operation which are constantly tending toward the restriction of life. These forces or agencies have been counted upon to keep a normal balance without man’s interference viciously with the laws of life. Whatever may be our theory about God’s purposes in the world and the conduct of nations toward one another, it is certain that social forces are constantly acting in restraint of life and toward the destruction of life. These social conditions represent man’s agency, his rebellion against the laws of God, his intelligence, and his fall from the highest state of his creation. We need not attribute wars to God. Neither need we assign to him the causes of pestilence, famine and all sorts of diseases. It is a common world in which we live, and nature is so regulated since the Creation that it is constantly working off waste or fetid matter and taking on new life. It is doing so with the human family. It is true we cannot reach satisfactory conclusions about the origin or even the justice, from a finite point of view, of all these unfavorable conditions to our existence.

The question, then, of race suicide from the beginning is largely a question of whether man shall use violent and artificial means to add to the limitations or destruction of life. Shall he not rather leave the question of the earth’s population to those conditions, those calamities and destructions which of themselves from all time have been sufficient to keep a normal balance between the needs and the production of the world’s animals and man?

Methods. – A little more than a century ago a writer by the name of Malthus took up the question of the world’s population, and in an academic way sought to prove that some restraint must be put by man himself upon life in order to prevent the world from the fate of sure starvation if the human family were permitted to go on and people the earth more rapidly than it was able to provide for the people’s sustenance. In the case of race suicide, as in the case of numerous other instances, men have set up artificial means in the place of those which in the nature of things belong to social life and the laws of nature. What would happen to this world of ours were the ideals of the Malthusian theory to prevail? But that is really beside the mark. The judgments of God have a very distinct place in the annals of history, and then there is the further fact that men have brought down upon them destruction by reason of their own retrograding movements.

Ancient Practices. – Let us see how the ancient world undertook in its crude and cruel manner what in those days we are seeking to do by more refined means. Here it may be well to remark that what we call civilization is not always progress. Civilization too often has within it refined means of accomplishing ends that were sought in the barbarous ages by more cruel and inhuman methods. In the early stages of history race suicide was accomplished both through religious and economic purposes. the early inhabitants of Asia had a practice of offering up their first-born in order to propitiate their idolatrous gods. When the Israelites had settled in the Land of Promise, they found a people there who were practicing human sacrifice. In the days of Israel’s glory which shone about the throne of Solomon, the God Moloch was set up in the Valley of the Hinnon, just below the City of David on the west, and there infants were offered in the fiery furnace of this heathen god. Among the tribes of Australia and the islands of the South Pacific there grew up a practice of burying children alive because they were wanted by parents or relatives that were waiting for them on the other side.

Again various tribes that were nomadic in character often destroyed their children because in moving from place to place they could not care for them. These human sacrifices were generally performed by the men, but in some of the lowest tribes the mothers joined in this hideous religious rite. Along the west coast of Africa, out of the control of the English, children were destroyed by mothers, and there was a belief among the Kaffir population of South Africa that unless they laid a lump of earth upon the mouths of their children and thus produced death, the parents would lose their strength.

Madagascar was also noted for its infanticides. There were certain so-called unlucky days. Children born on such days were put to death as unfit to live. If a child cried at its birth, it was unlucky and death for it was preferable to life. In South America there existed in earlier times the practice of burying children alive. The Guanos restricted their family to two children.

In Takelaus or Line Islands the husband decided how many children should live according to the amount of land which the head of the family possessed.

It may be said that in the race suicide practice of the ancients there always existed the belief that it was better to destroy the girls. In some places the reasons given were religious but they were often economic, since they were non-producers. And then there was the further reason that by killing girl babies they help to keep an equilibrium between the males and the females since many males would naturally be destroyed through the incessant warfare of those uncivilized tribes.

When the English conquered India they found there the same disposition to practice race suicide. Wives were placed on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. Female children were drowned in the Ganges.

Illustrations. – Behind these religious pretension there was also undoubtedly an economic purpose and a desire on the part of the inhabitants to shirk the responsibility which parentage brought upon them.

Infanticide, which until now has gone unpunished [says Dr. Lauterer] is practiced especially in Pekin and Fuhkien. A large per cent of female infants met with an unnatural death because of their parents’ poverty or their niggardliness. The unfortunates are simply cast into the nearest stream and the corpses left until the morning when the government’s wagon collects them, or they are exposed in the open where, not being protected from the cold, they soon perish. Lately a decree has been made to prohibit it.

the Province of Fuhkien [says Douglas] is that in which this crime most obtains. Inquiries show that in many districts as large a portion as one-fourth of the female children born are destroyed at birth. At Pekin, on the other hand, it cannot be said to exist at all. But in this as in so many social offenses in China, the sword of the law, which is alone capable of putting down crime, is allowed to hang like a rusty weapon on the wall. It is true that occasionally proclamations are issued in which heinousness of the evil is explained with all the impressiveness that could be desired, but so long as natural affection finds no support from without it will continue, in China, to yield the requirements of daily food.

Modern writers on Japan lay stress on the affection of the Japanese for their children, and yet during the famine of 1905 many girls who had been sold by suffering parents were redeemed by the Christians. This sacrifice of children to the welfare of the parents is traceable to the influence of Confucius. To the same source may be ascribed the fact that, though in ancient times the female sex was prominent in Japan, after the introduction of Confucianism the Samurai considered it beneath him to even converse with his wife and children. Neither God nor the ladies inspired any enthusiasm in the Samarai’s heart, says Professor Chamberlain. For is it not written by the great moralist Karbara Ekken, in the Owna Dargaku, “It was the custom of the ancients, on the birth of a female child, to let it lie on the floor for the space of three days. Even in this may be seen the likening of the man to heaven and of the woman to earth.”

Ever since the beginning of that indefinite period which we call “modern times” the birth of a child has always been an occasion for rejoicing. To be sure, in Japan that joy was very much greater when it was a boy baby; yet the Japanese have never displayed such intense dislike to girl babies as have the Chinese. One great reason for this was that the population of Japan was not so dense as it is in China. It was easier to provide for children, and therefore there was no incentive to put girl babies out of the way. I am sorry to say that very lately, since the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5), when the Japanese people are almost crushed by the weight of taxes to provide money with which to pay war expenses and to keep up army and navy, the number of cases of female infanticide is increasing alarmingly.

Semitic Races. – It may be well here in passing to note that the Israelites and kindred races were not given as a rule to the practice of infanticide. The offering of human life was forbidden them, and in lieu of a command which God gave to Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, he provided for Abraham a “ram in the thicket.” The Israelites were commanded, according to the law, to make sacrificial offerings of certain animals. The law of sacrifice is as universal and as old as the race. It also has certain divine support. It was practiced by Abel and Cain and the law of sacrifice was typical of that culminating sacrifice of God in which he offered his Son as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of the world.

Man, however, in the practice of his sacrifices, has substituted his own ideas and emotions for the purpose and plans of God, for the only true order of sacrifice which God himself instituted, and which is also typical of the thousand sacrifices we make of the flesh in the processes of our earthly progression. The infidel objections to the sacrifice of Jesus are founded upon the practice of sacrifice in the heathen world.

XXV – Race Suicide

Factory System. – In time the barbarous practice of the uncivilized nations which fell under the rule of the white man were forbidden by their modern rulers; but a new industrial age grew up in which economic conditions changed. The civilization of the last century made provision for the employment of child labor. They no longer sold children, but at the same time parents were permitted to put out their children to apprenticeship which amounted to a partial sale, as they were subject to the control and punishment of their masters. There was no longer a deliberate infanticide but there was the creation of conditions that were extremely destructive to infant life. The destruction still went on in a more refined way, indirectly, it is true; but it was destruction nevertheless of human life. The factory and apprenticeship systems prevailed through a number of decades until their cruel methods were abolished by law. I quote from Payne:

The children who were apprenticed out to the mill-owners were fed on the coarsest kind of food and in the most disgusting way. They slept by turns, in relays, in beds that were never aired, for one set of children were turned into the beds as soon as another set had been driven out to their long and filthy toil. Some tried to run away and after that they were worked with chains around their ankles; many died and the little graves were unmarked in a desolate spot lest the number of the dead attract too much attention.

Sixteen hours a day, six days a week, was no uncommon time for children, and on Sunday they worked to clean the machine.

In stench, in heated rooms, amid the constant whirling of a thousand wheels, little fingers and little feet were kept in ceaseless action, forced into unnatural activity by blows from the heavy hands and feet of the merciless overlooker, and the infliction of bodily pain by instruments of punishment, invented by the sharpened ingenuity of insatiable selfishness.

The agitation against these conditions led, in 1802, to an Act being passed by the influence of Sir Robert Peel for the preservation of the health and morals of apprentices and others employed in cotton or other mills.

The immediate cause of this was the fearful spread through the factories in the Manchester district of epidemic diseases due to overwork, scanty food, wretched clothing, long hours, bad ventilation, among the working people and especially among the children.

As far as reforming the conditions in which the children lived, the Act, however, was a dead letter, and in a debate introduced by Sir Robert Peel on June 6, 1815, one speaker, Horner, told of the sale of a gang of children with the effects of a bankrupt.

A still more atrocious instance, continued the speaker, had been brought before the Court of King’s bench two years ago, when a number of these boys apprenticed by a parish in London to one manufacturer had been transferred (i.e., sold) to another and had been found by some benevolent persons in a state of absolute famine.

In our own country the disregard of child life had become appalling. There was the same temptation here that existed in England – the temptation to disregard both human life and human happiness by the sacrifice of children upon the altar of Mammon. Even now reforms are agitated in the interest of the children of the Southern States and the conditions of health are not the most favorable in many of the larger manufacturing cities of New England.

Childbirth Control. – We have no sooner, however, brought about great amelioration in the employment of children and stopped the inhuman sacrifice of their lives in the factory and apprenticeship systems that have prevailed too long on the Continent and in the United States, than we are confronted by a new – some say, a more refined system of race suicide – the prevention of childbirth. It is a part of the newest and latest in the civilized life of the world. Men shut their eyes to the consequences because it has more to do with future generations than with the present. It has not the cruel aspect of ancient infanticide, but it is intended, as we are told, for economic reasons. The truth of the matter is, men and women are much less concerned about social welfare than they are about their own selfish advantages.

The present problem of race suicide has in it quite a number of factors. There is first the practice of childbirth prevention under the slogan of fewer and better children. The fallacy of this pretense has been demonstrated by scientific inquiry into family life. Besides, Nature is known everywhere to produce her best achievements under normal conditions. A few years ago this practice had grown to an alarming extent in France where deaths exceeded births. The same practice gradually grew in England and in the United States, and latterly it has become even alarming to the Germans whoa re anxious for population and not very scrupulous about the legitimacy of their children. it was the old, old story again – the necessity of curtailing, for the economic benefit of the world, the dangerous increase to population. had these nations that began the practice of race suicide only recently awaited patiently coming events, they would have found their nefarious system of race suicide entirely unnecessary, since the great war has destroyed so much life and gives promise of continuing the destruction through famine, pestilence and disease. At present it is the wholesale destruction of manhood which is likely to disturb very greatly the equilibrium of the sexes. The processes, however, of destruction will not end with the war whose hardships will draw heavily upon both female and male child life. It is a little early, therefore, to speculate about what will be necessary in view of this disturbed equilibrium.

Vice and Sterility. – Another factor making for the curtailment of child life is the rapid and alarming increase of sterility among all civilized nations. This sterility has been brought about mostly through the vices, which the present war, by one means or another, has uncovered. to the positive moral vices which have helped to increase sterility, there may also be added the vices which grow out of human indulgence, such as drink, excessive food, fashions, and all sorts of pleasures. Indeed the whole trend of modern life is away from the path of our divinely appointed requirements.

The evils of an age which begin in rivulets soon swell by commingling into a torrent that becomes quite irresistible. There are specious arguments set forth by those who point to the high cost of child life. There are medical fees, drug bills, nurses, hospitals, and a host of overwhelming burdens which parents declare themselves unable to bear. Many support their practices on the economic distress which they feel from their fulfilment of God’s requirements. It is a serious problem. when evils multiply in such a fashion they bring along with them a whole train of so-called invincible arguments, – arguments which pacify, excuse, then justify.

A great wave of excitement is now moving over the world on the question of race suicide. Recently Mrs. Margaret Sanger was imprisoned in New York because of her propaganda of child birth control. The doctors of New York have held sessions upon its advisability. There is a division fo sentiment among them, though the great majority are convinced that they must abide by the law, which some think ought to be repealed.

Great movements for the preservation of child life, for the education and training of children, have now the endorsement and assistance of thousands of women, – Mothers’ Societies, many of them made up largely of unmarried women well along in years. Many of these societies have their members in the homes of mothers whose children require special attention, but that is only a symptom. The real cause must be sought elsewhere.

I quote at length from Ex-President Roosevelt and Prof. Conklin of Princeton, in the of October, 1917:

Reforms are excellent, but if there is nobody to reform their value becomes somewhat problematical. In order to make a man into a better citizen we must first have the man. In order that there shall be a fuller and better expressed life for the average woman, that average women must be in actual existence. And the first necessity in bringing up the child right is to produce the child.

Stated in the abstract, these propositions are of bromidic triteness. but an astonishingly large number of persons, including a lamentably large number who call themselves social reformers, either are, or act as if they were, utterly blind to them when they try to deal with life in the concrete. This is true of every group of persons who treat Bernard Shaw seriously as a social reformer. It is true of every group of reformers who discuss the home and the school, but regard it as indelicate to lay stress on the fact that neither is worth discussing unless there are children in sufficient numbers to make the home and the school worth perpetuating. it is true of all blatant sham reformers who, in the name of a new morality, preach the old, old vice and self-indulgence which rotted out first the moral fiber and then even the external greatness of Greece and Rome. It is true of the possibly well-meaning but certainly silly persons who fail to see that we merely enunciate a perfectly plain mathematical truth when we say that the race will die out unless the average family contains at least three children, and therefore that less than this number always means that, whether because of their fault or their misfortune, the parents are bearing less than their share of the common burdens, and are rendering less than their proportion of patriotic service to the nation.

Speaking of the graduates of Harvard and Yale, he further says:

On the average, during the thirty years, the graduate who married did so after he had left college eight years. About 78 per cent married, roughly four-fifths. But over 20 per cent of the marriages were childless. This leaves only three-fifths of the men of the class who contracted fertile marriages, and who, therefore, if their stock were to progress, had to make good the shortcomings of their fellows.

The average number of children per capita married graduate was about 2.3, and shrank decade by decade. Taking the entire number of graduates the average number of children surviving was 1.55 per capita (of whom, of course, on the average, half are daughters). This means, roughly, that in these thirty classes of Harvard and Yale graduates, representing, of course, a; high average of the energy, ambition and cultivation, and a reasonably high average of the wealth of the land, every four fathers left behind them three sons. if this ratio continues it will mean that 140 years hence – a period as long as that which divides us from the Declaration of Independence – the average college graduates of today will be represented in their descendants by only three-tenths of their present number.

* * * * *

In Massachusetts, for the twenty-five years ending in 1911, the deaths among the native-born population exceeded the births by 270,000, whereas during the same period the births in families with foreign-born parents exceeded the deaths by nearly 530,000. If this process continues the work of perfecting the boasted common school and college system of Massachusetts’ native Americans will prove about as useful as the labor of those worthy missionaries who on different occasions have translated the bible into the tongues of savage races who thereupon died out.

Prof. Conklin writes:

The cause for alarm is the declining birth rate in the best elements of a population, while it continues to increase among the poorer elements. The descendants of the Puritans and the Cavaliers, who have raised the cry for fewer and better children, are already disappearing, and in a few centuries, at most, will have given place to more fertile races of mankind. * * * If we had fewer luxuries we could have, and could afford to have, more children. * * * We need not fewer and better children but more children of the better sort and fewer of the worse variety. There is great enthusiasm today on the part of many childless reformers for negative eugenical measures. (They forget that) sterility is too easily acquired; what is not so easily brought about is the fertility of the better lines. * * * The chief motive for limiting the size of families is personal comfort and pleasure rather than the welfare of the race. it is more important for the welfare of the race that children with good inheritance (in mind, body and will) should be brought into the world than that parents should live easy lives and have no more children than they can conveniently rear amid all the comforts of a luxury-loving age. * * * Race preservation, not self-preservation, is the first law of nature. Among the higher organisms, the strongest of all the instincts are those connected with reproduction. The struggle to be free is part of a great evolutionary movement, but the freedom must be a sane one, which neither injures others nor eliminates posterity. (Any movement which) demands freedom from marriage and reproduction is suicidal.

The Latter-day Saints, in the simplicity of their faith, are perfectly willing to trust the conditions of life and the purposes of God for the maintenance of an equilibrium between man’s power of production and his needs. History has shown abundantly that infanticide and race suicide were never a necessity. The punishment which the world has invited upon itself in the various ages has been sufficient to remove all fears of an over-populated world. As a matter of fact, it is not a case of economic necessity. the reasons are found through the perversion of God’s laws and the excesses of life which selfish indulgence creates. They are with the old prophets, – they believe that children are the heritage of the Lord and “blessed is he that has his quiver full.” their compensation comes to them through the assured value of child life. With Jesus, they rejoice in the words: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”



  1. I would encourage readers of this blog to look at Nell Painter’s new book “The History of White People.” In it she discusses the concerns of many upper class white Americans in the first third of the century that inferior races like Blacks and immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe were having more children per capita than the “superior” Nordic or Anglo-Saxon races.

    This was the heyday of Eugenics and Dr Tanner’s concerns expressed in this lesson reflect this Philosophy. His views today seem harsh and extreme and just plain wrong.

    Comment by john willis — September 15, 2010 @ 9:05 am

  2. Thanks for offering that recommendation, john, instead of just a condemnation about this 1917 idea — it was very common then, and probably even today although the particular immigrant groups complained of have changed. Your point is one of the things that attracted me to this series of lesson/discussion topics: on the one hand, it is a familiar Mormon refrain to encourage the bearing and rearing of children; on the other hand, the racial aspect that you note is alien to current church discourse. Some of the other lessons have that same familiar/unfamiliar aspect.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 15, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  3. Interesting. “Race Suicide” didn’t mean what I was afraid it might.

    I do find it amazing that people were so concerned about the nefarious effects of birth control and the philosophy of “fewer but better” children clear back then — their fears must be realized, because our society embraces both, and the church certainly doesn’t seem to resist them like it used to.

    I work for a Chinese company, and it’s been eye-opening with respect to “race suicide”, because the Chinese I’ve spoken with all seem to agree that China had to adopt its one-child policy or the country would have been overrun. They’re grateful to be able to have two in the US, but more than two seems overwhelmingly extravagant They’re so used to pouring resources into a single child to make him/her competitive, they can’t imagine having enough resources to do this with more than two. When they see the picture on my desk of my wife and six children, they’re simply astonished. In their minds, it’s demonstrative of both the wealth and freedom one can acquire in America, and the brazen way Americans consume more than their fair share — and they’re covetous. They wonder if I can really do right by so many children, and yet are amazed that I’d even try. A couple times I’ve been asked which child was my favorite. It’s really interesting to see them react.

    Comment by Martin — September 15, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  4. Modern readers may be misreading the phrase “race suicide.” Here is a passage I like from Shaw’s Man and Superman, first completely performed in 1915:

    ANA. At all events, let me take an old woman’s privilege again, and tell you flatly that marriage peoples the world and debauchery does not.

    DON JUAN. How if a time comes when this shall cease to be true? Do you not know that where there is a will there is a way—that whatever Man really wishes to do he will finally discover a means of doing? Well, you have done your best, you virtuous ladies, and others of your way of thinking, to bend Man’s mind wholly towards honorable love as the highest good, and to understand by honorable love romance and beauty and happiness in the possession of beautiful, refined, delicate, affectionate women. You have taught women to value their own youth, health, shapeliness, and refinement above all things. Well, what place have squalling babies and household cares in this exquisite paradise of the senses and emotions? Is it not the inevitable end of it all that the human will shall say to the human brain: Invent me a means by which I can have love, beauty, romance, emotion, passion without their wretched penalties, their expenses, their worries, their trials, their illnesses and agonies and risks of death, their retinue of servants and nurses and doctors and schoolmasters.

    THE DEVIL. All this, Senor Don Juan, is realized here in my realm.

    DON JUAN. Yes, at the cost of death. Man will not take it at that price: he demands the romantic delights of your hell whilst he is still on earth. Well, the means will be found: the brain will not fail when the will is in earnest. The day is coming when great nations will find their numbers dwindling from census to census; when the six roomed villa will rise in price above the family mansion; when the viciously reckless poor and the stupidly pious rich will delay the extinction of the race only by degrading it; whilst the boldly prudent, the thriftily selfish and ambitious, the imaginative and poetic, the lovers of money and solid comfort, the worshippers of success, art, and of love, will all oppose to the Force of Life the device of sterility.

    As a son of “John Bull’s Other Island,” George Bernard Shaw was keen to the role of ethnicity in society, and it has its place in other of his plays, but that doesn’t seem to be what he was writing about here regarding the “extinction of the race.”

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 15, 2010 @ 10:32 am

  5. it’s too bad that the writer of this lesson seems to have forgotten the point that we are all God’s children, and equal in his sight regardless of race, social status, education level, etc.

    Very strange topic for a church lesson. What’s the point? To encourage the men to have lots of children? If so, the point could be made without a tour of history’s infantcidal societies.

    Mr. Taylor’s thoughts clash with my thinking on several points:
    1) That one race is superior to another
    2) That “the best bloodlines” be carefully bred and perpetuate themselves like rabbits.
    3) That birth control is as abhorrent as infanticide, child slavery or losing nearly-grown children to famine or war.
    4) Reliance on historians and contemporary thought should trump scripture in church lessons.

    Then there are these whoppers:
    1) Vice (overeating? fashions?!) causes sterility.
    2) If birth control is of the devil, giving away your children (adoption) is untenable, and raising them without adequate means is also off the table, what’s his solution to unwed mothers?

    I wish I could say that this is just a neat artifact of showing how far society has come; Unfortunately, this line of thought is far from dying out. Check out Pat Buchanan and/or “The Browning of America.”

    Comment by Clark — September 15, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  6. “Race Suicide” pops up in a number places in American and Mormon contexts during this period. If I am not mistaken, there was a similar lesson in for the RS.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 15, 2010 @ 11:09 am

  7. I think we would have a *lively* debate if this were presented for discussion in a church meeting today. I’m enjoying your reactions to JMTanner’s opinions, and wondering how representative his were of his times. I know from something that I’ll have to dig out and post as part of this series that there was a strong and apparently negative reaction to at least some of the lessons, because the YMMIA board had to stress that these were presented for debate, not as instruction in the church’s position. So even when new, there was some controversy about these ideas.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 15, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  8. “Germans who are anxious for population and not very scrupulous about the legitimacy of their children”

    I guess it’s easy to stick it to the Germans while they’re off being the enemy in the Great War!

    Comment by Mark B. — September 15, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  9. Yes,

    This lesson was not what I thought it would be about. The concept of the “better class” of people producing fewer children while the poor and immigrant families producing more certainly is being played out, in my opinion, in some of the anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe, and I think in the legal/illegal immigration debate here in our country. However, even with all the concerns and wars and bad economies, there are still more of us now than there were 92 years ago.

    Comment by kevinf — September 15, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  10. Holy cow. This reads a heck of a lot like the Brandeis brief in the Lochner case (ca. 1908), and much like the factory commission testimony collected by Florence Kelley in her work for the National Consumers League – it’s of such a piece with Progressive-era reformers (of any race). Which makes me think that surely, as unknowingly as the M P-hood manual writers in the WW1 era, we must be writing our historical contexts into our lessons and leaving traces of our own times.

    Comment by jeans — September 16, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  11. Clark’s whoppers are the part of the lesson that hold up best:

    1. Though not mentioned explicitly in the lesson (all sorts of pleasures?), the vice that most commonly causes sterility is multi-partner sexual license with its incidental, and in 1917 incurable, diseases. Drink, and drug use in general, can interfere at least temporarily with sexual function, though that is compensated for by a lessening of inhibition. Tobacco, and to a lesser extent, marijuana use can lead to cancer and increases in miscarriage and low birth weight (a risk factor for early childhood survival). The long term use of such substances leads to systemic breakdown of all organs and neglect of children. Overindulgence in food also interferes with the libido and can lead to degenerative disease like diabetes which can also impair sexual function and lead to sterility. The vice of fashion is a stretch in our eyes, but even aside from those styles which express sexual freedom (leading in a sense to “all sorts of pleasures”), I can envision some dress fashions causing problems–body binding corsets restricting blood flow and normal growth or excessively large bustles leading to back problems. In the twenties the ideal figure was similar to the recently-in-favor waif look, leading fashionable women to starve themselves to seek social ascendency. Even the toxic shock syndrome and leaking silicone implant episodes of the eighties could be looked at as a fashion related cause of sterility. Looking backwards at a time of less adequate nutrition and pre-natal care, anything that interfered with natural functions could easily be seen as leading to fertility problems.
    2. The general solution of the issue of unwed mothers is to minimize their numbers through teaching children the law of chastity and the importance of establishing a stable and lasting (temple) marriage as the basis of family life. “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” In specific cases where the unwed conceive children, I see nothing in the lesson suggesting that adoptions should not be allowed, in fact I can’t even find the word. Hasty marriages of unwed parents, even of unready teenagers, used to be strongly encouraged. I see less of that now. I think that is more due to the economics of today than a lessening of the sense of responsibility that leaders were trying to inculcate.

    Eugenics was at the core of many progressive era ideas. You see it in this lesson, and in the diametrically opposed concepts of Sanger. The central idea of artificial selection in breeding works great for domesticated animals, why not for humans? The answer is that it takes too many generations to manage. There is no guarantee that the breeding program will be managed to a single end from its inception even for the first generation to reach maturity. Families do it with some success in arranged marriages and establishing expectations leading to wider social norms. One can look at the Ivy League as a breeding ground for Ivy Leaguers, and BYU as a breeding ground for Mormons. But the end result is a caste system of some sort and a new set of problems—in-bred royalty, slave uprisings, etc. And then what do you do with the culls? Put them to work as Dalits? Sanger’s answer was birth control, abortion and sterilization. Hitler’s was the ovens. Breeding people is just not something we should take on. Let’s stay wild and free!

    Comment by Eric Boysen — September 17, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  12. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many of these ideas championed by church members. It’s only logic, really. Obviously the world’s not running out of people. So, the reason we’re encouraged to have so many children is obviously that we’re the “right” sort of people and we need to reproduce more than the wrong sort of people.

    Back to the document presented, there’s a loose thread bothering me. So, some people kill their children, abandon, them, or sell them into slavery. This is bad. I agree. But people should not practice birth control, because it’s all about their selfish desires for material gain. Okay. People in the LDS circles I’ve traveled in always talk about folks curtailing or postponing childbirth to buy Lamborghinis and bigger boats for Lake Powell. But I have a tough time believing those parents in the essay sold their children into textile slavery to buy fancy carriages or what have you. I imagine most of them really couldn’t feed/clothe/house their offspring, and acted in desperation. So Sanger said poor people should practice birth control so there weren’t so many poor people. But I thought the author was against Sanger. So, if the poor can’t curtail having children, can’t care for their children, and can’t give them away, are they supposed to let them die of disease and starvation as nature intended?

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — September 17, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

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