Many organizations find themselves conflicted when they accord proper respect and gratitude to their founders. The older an organization is, the more likely that its founder, however brilliant and accomplished, had scary skeletons in his or her closet, and worse, espoused views that modern minds find repugnant. The United States is awash in such founding dilemmas, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, whose private life, and some of his public life too, hardly met the high ideals and aspirations that lit the way for our nation’s creation. Revolutionary hero and “Father of the American Navy” John Paul Jones was an infamous pederast, and the man who built the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, was a racist and extortionist who would have been right at home, perhaps more at home, with the KGB (except for his hatred of communists). There are many more, founders and creators of institutions in every sector of American life.
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), however, is an especially hard case. The founder of the predecessor of Planned Parenthood openly and vigorously espoused beliefs that would make her a pariah today, and an embarrassment to the pro-choice movement. She was a racist, a white supremacist, a believer in eugenics, forced sterilization, and government prevention of the proliferation of the “unfit.” It is true that many of her most repulsive beliefs were considered acceptable and even progressive among intellectuals and activists of the time. It is also true that she was vocal in espousing them, and the work she is most honored for as a birth control advocate and an early feminist cannot be easily separated from her other, less admired positions.