Abstract

In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt presented the decreasing size of native born American families to Congress as "one of the greatest sociological phenomena of our time" and of"far greater importance than any mere political or economic question," although by that time the size of the American family had been shrinking steadily for about a century. He condemned the tendency towards smaller families as decadent, a sign of moral disease and, like others who worried about "race suicide," he specifically condemned women by categorizing those who avoided large families as criminals against the race and the objects of detestation by healthy, more "noble" people. Although President Roosevelt did not coin the term "race suicide," it quickly became the label for these types of ideas concerning the size of American families and the part women allegedly played in causing them to decline in contrast to traditional sex roles. Race suicide was a deliberately provocative term and, as historian Linda Gordon demonstrates, it summarized many different reactions to demographic changes in industrial America and rejections of traditional sex roles into a united expression that was able to raise alarm and mobilize public opinion.

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