The Racial Imperatives of Sex: birth control and eugenics in Britain, the United States and Australia in the interwar years
While most historical studies positionWestern birth control campaigns as arising out of the women’s movement, this article suggests they were primarily eugenic, rather than feminist, even if many of the leading figures were women. Birth control gained support largely through its representation as a tool for (white) racial progress and population control, rather than as an issue of women’s rights. Indeed, in the interwar years birth control and eugenics were so intertwined as to be synonymous. The article explores the Malthusian writings of Annie Besant; the remarkably similarly ways that Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger promoted birth control as a eugenic tool; the support for birth control within both British and American eugenics organisations; and finally Australia’s largest eugenic organisation, the Racial Hygiene Association, which founded the country’s first birth control clinic in 1933 and later reinvented itself as the Family Planning Association. Recovering these links allows us to see how birth control was fundamentally linked to broader, transnational discussions of race and reproduction, and of how sex should be harnessed for racial purposes.