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Who Chooses?American Reproductive History since 1830$
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Simone M. Caron

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813031996

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813031996.001.0001

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Race Suicide, Eugenics, and Contraception, 1900–1930

Race Suicide, Eugenics, and Contraception, 1900–1930

(p.44) 3 Race Suicide, Eugenics, and Contraception, 1900–1930
Who Chooses?

Simone M. Caron

University Press of Florida

This chapter discusses the emergence of the rhetoric of racial suicide in the mid-nineteenth century in reaction to differential birthrates between white Protestant Americans and Catholic immigrant women. This rhetoric expanded by the turn of the century to differentiate between the “fit” or “best” and the “unfit” or “undesirable.” The former included white, wealthy, educated Protestants, while the latter referred to the poor, uneducated, criminals, diseased, mental and physical “defectives,” and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. Race suicide theorists launched a campaign to reduce the fertility of the “unfit” and “undesirable” and to increase the number of children born to the educated white Protestant middle and upper classes. With the exception of new legislation to sterilize “defectives,” however, the laws remained unchanged. Women persisted in their quest to control their own fertility with both birth control and abortion, while population controllers influenced by race, class, and gender biases persisted in their quest to shape the population along lines suitable to the white elite establishment.

Keywords:   racial suicide, Protestants, Catholics, minorities, fertility, contraception, birth control, abortion

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