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Woodhull, Victoria.

Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit, The.

Book

Woodhull, Victoria. The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit.  London and New York: [Privately Printed], 1891.
8vo.; wrappers; sewn; small abrasion to cover, repaired; "34819" discretely stamped. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.     
First edition; published under the name "Victoria C. Woodhull Martin."
A remarkable, and rather chilling pamphlet elaborating on Woodhull's fear of the gap in reproduction rates between the upper and lower classes. Its thirty-seven pages bespeak the gulf between 18th-century universal benevolence and late 19th-century social Darwinism. Woodhull views the proliferation of the "unfit"-the domestic equivalent to the international specter of the "rising tide of color"-as a menace to society, and attributes it to social evils such as class barriers, sexual repression, and the capitalist system with its tendency towards unethical competition and concentration of ownership. (Half-way through her argument she calls attention to "the rapid multiplication of the negroes in America, who at some not far distant day will outnumber and overrun the whites if the rapid increase be not checked" [p. 18].)
Woodhull's argument, essentially, is this: There is a class of people who are physiologically inferior. These individuals, and even those who are not genetically disagreeable, are subjected to deplorable working and living conditions, which engender physiological and moral defects, which are passed on to their children. "Poor people, as a class," she writes, "are organically deficient; they inherit defective, ill-regulated nervous systems, or their nervous systems become badly adjusted through irregular habits, bad training, or diseases¼" (pp. 14-15). She clearly acknowledges both genetic and environmental causes for the gulf between the fit and the unfit, those with "more highly evolved" versus those with "defective" nervous systems, and quotes extensively from Michael Foster's Text Book on Physiology to back up such claims as "To arouse dull or stupid people it requires a stronger stimulus than it requires for normal individuals" (pp. 7-8). (She later asserts that the unfit "have not a nervous system sufficiently developed to appreciate¼moral checks which would appeal to the superior intellectual mind" (p. 18).)
But despite the direct correlation she makes between urban blight and social ills, rather than advocate labor and social reform, she writes, instead, "¼they must not be bred" (p. 16). Rather than viewing the issue in terms of the individual rights of workers or citizens, she views society as one large organism that needs to amputate its cancerous limbs. She claims that "each one of our human failures adds a considerable item to the burden, already large, put upon the healthy useful citizens," citing an example of a poor retarded woman who died at the age of 84 at an avoidable  cost to "the public purse" of "between £2000 and £3000" (pp. 12-13).
Her discussion of breeding turns to an analysis of marriage and procreation within each class. In the upper classes, "marriage is being deferred more and more, the standard of living is becoming higher among them, and more time is given to education." On the other hand, "the unfit who are not deterred by any qualms of consciences or apprehension of consequences go on multiplying." The result? "[A]s the more highly developed are not perpetuated, or if perpetuated it is in fewer numbers, the thoughtless, improvident, degenerate, and diseased, multiply upon us" (p. 17). Some of her insights into the differences between the circumstances under which the rich and poor achieved wedded and parental bliss-not necessarily in that order-deserve consideration. For example, she notes that contraception is more readily available to the upper classes, and that many marriages, even in the upper classes, are inappropriately conceived. "How many opportunities has a girl to find her physiological mate in her little set-even if she were free to choose?" she asks. "Sexual selection has very little scope in our conventional system. Take the many instances of women who marry for a home, very often the only choice between that and starvation, and ask if there could be a greater perversion of the sexual instinct. ¼A suitable marriage is often considered the one which will relieve the man from his debts or the marriage which will raise him or her up in the social or financial world. ¼" (pp. 20-21). However, Woodhull's  corollary that such marriages "too often produce idiots, murderers, or otherwise unfit" (p. 21) must raise at least a few eyebrows.
In an attempt to sum-up, Woodhull divides the causes of "the rapid multiplication of the unfit" into two categories: Psychological and Physiological (p. 33). Among the psychological causes are the fact that intelligence tempers the passions of the upper classes, who will, therefore, reproduce less frequently than the unfit, who have less self-control; the unfit are subject to fewer social constraints; and as the unfit live in smaller quarters, with men and women on top of each other, sex is more difficult to prevent. And, of course, there will always be members of the lower class who attempt to marry-up, which leads into the chief physiological causes, such as  marriages of the too young, too old, or too tired; inbreeding; and inter-marriage, "which give[s] a tendency to reversion, as Darwin has so clearly demonstrated. ¼From these marriages are supplied our criminals and the monstrosities." She concludes:
 The best minds of to-day have accepted the fact that if superior people are desired, they must be bred; and if imbeciles, criminals, paupers, and otherwise unfit are undesirable citizens they must not be bred. ¼we must make a religion of the procreative principle. Our girls and boys must be taught how sacred is the life-giving principle. ¼And by this means we would have inaugurated the upper millions and the lower ten. Any social conditions which tend to transpose these terms are subversive of the true interests of humanity. (p. 38)
The NUC lists five copies.   
(#3892)

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