In the hidden catacombs beneath the twin towers of Proctor & Gamble’s world headquarters, the brittle remains of Mr. Pringle are slowly crumbling to dust in a convenient, re-sealable, vacuum-packed tube. 

Nearby is the torch-lit courtroom where hapless 1960s housewives were put on trial for “ring around the collar.” Their rap sheets are locked in a vault, along with other double-secret evidence that would shock the world: Mr. Whipple’s arrests for felony Charmin-squeezing; proof that Ivory soap was not 99 percent pure; and all the dirt on Mr. Clean. 

Well, maybe not. Mr. Pringle hasn’t been part of the P&G family for years, and Mr. Clean now runs a car wash.

But if Cincinnati’s most spotless corporate citizen did have its own Al Capone vault, it might contain at least one old file on the crazy uncle in the basement: Clarence James Gamble. 

The heir to the P&G fortune received his first million on his 21st birthday in 1914—and devoted his life and wealth to product development of a “new and improved” human race. He was a brand manager of eugenics—the gene pool detergent most fascists recommend.

Gamble was a founder of the Human Betterment League in 1947. Even after the horrors of the Holocaust were well known, Gamble’s “philanthropy” funded surgical sterilization of the poor, minorities and low-IQ “mental defectives,” as a way to reduce welfare spending and advance the kind of master-race plans made famous by Hitler. He wrote numerous papers arguing for eugenic sterilization, such as “Better Human Beings Tomorrow.”

The experiments finally were stopped in 1977 after sterilizing 7,600 victims judged to be unfit. Among Gamble’s papers was a letter describing “the Negro project,” recommending the hiring of a “colored doctor” and black ministers. “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

That letter is signed by Margaret Sanger, who was, well, lots of things. And that’s another forgotten story from Cincinnati history.

Some people think they know who Sanger was, and some don’t care because they think she is about as relevant as a handlebar mustache. They’re both wrong.

Others may think Sanger is the patron saint of women’s liberation, or the Pandora who lifted the lid on a box of 20th century plagues, starting with abortion. Both are mostly right.

She was a close friend and ally of Gamble, and, like him, she is a part of Cincinnati’s history. Her 1922 Birth Control Conference here defied protests by Cincinnati’s mayor and the local Knights of Columbus. The Mount Auburn Planned Parenthood Clinic, site of abortions and anti-abortion protests, was originally the Margaret Sanger Center.

She is best known as the founder of Planned Parenthood, which has given its Margaret Sanger Award to Hillary Clinton, Jane Fonda, Nancy Pelosi and others.

But Sanger, whose fiery temper landed her in jail several times, would probably repudiate the award in her name. The founder of Planned Parenthood—which became the nation’s biggest provider of abortions—was surprisingly pro-life.

“The real alternative to birth control is abortion,” she said, referencing Rev. W. R. Inge. “It is an alternative that I cannot too strongly condemn. The practice of [abortion] merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious. Some ill-informed persons have the notion that when we speak of birth control we include abortion as a method. We certainly do not. Abortion destroys the already fertilized ovum or the embryo; contraception prevents the fertilizing of the ovum... Thus it prevents the beginning of life.”

Sanger was a socialist, but married the capitalist owner of the 3-IN-ONE Oil Company; she worked to relieve the suffering of poor immigrants, but wanted to block immigration; she was among the first to hire African-American doctors at her clinics, but apparently supported Gamble’s “Negro project” sterilizations and was a guest speaker for the KKK.

In other words, she was like most humans—complex. Her efforts for birth control education and research did as much to liberate women as the inventor of The Pill, which was made possible by research she supported. For better and worse, her crusade for birth control dramatically changed American society in countless ways: women in the workforce, sexual freedom, the rise of feminism, smaller families, increased family income, higher standards of living, fewer forced marriages, fewer abandoned children, decline of the traditional family, more unwed mothers, more education and more.

It’s hard now to imagine a time when Sanger was prosecuted under the Comstock Law for mailing basic instructions on birth control, at a time when some leaders of the Catholic Church banned anesthetic during childbirth because it contradicted God’s judgment on Eve.

But it’s too easy to smugly condemn those times and people from a safe distance, as we cut and paste our modern sensitivities onto the pages of history to flatter ourselves with cheap virtue. 

Sanger and Gamble devoted their lives and fortunes to the cause of birth control. For all the good that did, it had a dark side. And behind that curtain was eugenics—the horrifically fatal mistake of totalitarians and utopians who play God to perfect mankind.

Before we judge the past, we should ask: Are we really so enlightened? What about abortions of babies who test positive for Down Syndrome? What about DNA engineering? Jim Crow is deader than Robert E. Lee’s horse, but there is still no shortage of people whose vision is distorted through race-colored glasses. Are they any better than Sanger and Gamble?

Clarence James Gamble is buried under a modest headstone in Spring Grove Cemetery. His legacy, whatever it is, has nothing to do with Procter & Gamble, which has done more than most corporations to improve the quality of life worldwide.

But we can still hear what Margaret Sanger has to say, thanks to a one-woman play at the Aronoff on June 27 and 28, starring Pamela Daly. The actress divides her time between a home near Cincinnati and one in Los Angeles, where she works in TV, movies and commercials. She and her husband, Michael Daly—who wrote the script—hope the show will encourage us all to reconsider our opinions on controversial topics that are still debated today. 

History is a bit like Gamble and Sanger; you can’t pick and choose what you like and seal up the rest in a vacuum-packed container.