Bad Girls and Biopolitics: Abortion, Popular Fiction, and Population Control
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Bad Girls and Biopolitics:
Abortion, Popular Fiction, and Population Control

Were the white world to-day really convinced of the supreme importance of race-values, how long would it take to stop debasing immigration, reform social abuses that are killing out the fittest strains, and put an end to the feuds which have just sent us through hell and threaten to send us promptly back again?

Lothrop Stoddard The Rising Tide of Colour Against White World supremacy

In 1922, Lothrop Stoddard, an ardent eugenicist and white supremacist, posed the rhetorical question that forms the epigraph above. His question does not intend an ounce of irony, although a present-day reader might scoff at such a ridiculous attitude. In his time, and for almost his entire career, during which he published several polemical works on the subject of white supremacy, Stoddard was respected and heeded. Presidents Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover praised his work,1 and birth control activist Margaret Sanger asked Stoddard to join the board of the Birth Control League. Stoddard, who received his Ph.D. at Harvard, was viewed as a rational and scientific thinker, and the majority of reviews commenting on his work depicted him as such. Part of his appeal was that, unlike his predecessor Madison Grant, who was one of the founders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a well-known eugenicist, Stoddard praised all whites as superior to other races without singling out Nordics as Grant did.2

The motivation behind Stoddard’s work is quite transparent: underlying his writing is a deep anxiety that whites will be soon be outnumbered in the US. He points out that around the world whites reproduce less than people of other races, which he believed would [End Page 81] soon lead to the demise of whiteness, or, in his words, the “fitter race.” As he passionately argues, “Everywhere the better types (on which the future of the race depends) were numerically stationary or dwindling, while conversely, the lower types were gaining ground, their birth-rate showing relatively slight diminution.”3 His relentless attack on these “lower types” eventually influenced the US to pass the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely curtailed the number of people allowed to enter the country and laid out strict quotas detailing how many people from various countries would be allowed to enter the US. Every year, with some exceptions, only two percent of the number of a national population already residing in the US would be allowed to immigrate.4 The National Census of 1890 determined the numbers of immigrants from each country residing in the US. The Act’s institution, which continues to influence immigration policy today, would be the most far-reaching accomplishment of both Grant’s and Stoddard’s racist diatribes.

Grant and Stoddard are part of a longer genealogy of thought that was first named “eugenics” by the British scientist Francis Galton in 1883.5 Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and influenced by Darwin’s Origin of the Species, first posited an argument in Hereditary Genius, An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences in which he claimed that genius is always inherited and thus runs through certain families and races. Galton wanted to institute an agenda of “positive eugenics,” where families from “good stock” would be encouraged to reproduce so as to increase the number of fitter British citizens. In the US, Charles Davenport was an early adopter of Galton’s ideas, but with a stronger emphasis on negative eugenics, which sought to isolate “weak” and “dysgenic” families so that measures might be taken to prevent their reproduction. By the early twentieth century, eugenics, particularly in its “negative” form, was implemented as an American science with researchers publishing case studies and numerous books, such as Henry Goddard’s Kallikak Family.6 I’ve outlined this abbreviated history of eugenics to illustrate how the American obsession with race in the early twentieth century was very much focused on building “knowledge” about how populations differ from each other and how this knowledge about difference could be used to manage lives. As Catherine Mills succinctly argues, “the normalizing forces of racism...