The processes by which the average modern families are becoming smaller are exceedingly numerous, but are always natural and normal. Women have generally been blamed - poor woman is always blamed whether she is right or wrong. This is exaggerated into a universal rebellion against maternity - an alleged fact which does not exist - "a rebellion which is the consequence of their passion for independence and their constantly increasing desire to become equal, if not superior, to men in the intellectual occupations and in physical exercises. In saying this we refer particularly to American women. For the ladies of the law, and the medical, and journalistic ladies, maternity is a nuisance, just as it is for those whose greatest delights are bicycle riding, tennis, golf and hockey".
Nevertheless, women have probably been more concerned in the matter than men, and it is interesting to note the ancient means taken to limit the number of children within reasonable bounds. No doubt women discovered many ages ago that menstruation did not return as long as lactation lasted. Hence, they thought that by postponing weaning the next pregnancy was delayed - and this has become the universal custom among all the lower races in every part of the world. Civilized women cannot do it because of the drain on health, but semi-savage and barbarous women keep it up two, three or even four years, for this express purpose. Even Chinese women adopt the plan.
It no doubt has been a powerful factor in lessening the number of births.
We are now in a position to understand the curious marriage customs which have been described among the lower races and our own ancestors. Through all we can see this same necessity for fewer children per marriage, but at the very start we must warn against the idea that these customs were deliberately invented - they grew up. Men and women instinctively drifted into the habits, and the fittest survived, as a matter of course. No one had the slightest realization of the changes they slowly made. Indeed, the change from one form of matrimony to another may be a matter of many centuries - even millenniums. No one, even at this day, seems to realize the present drift to which we will subsequently refer.
Polyandry, for instance, existed in every race at some period of its evolution. It was due to the fact that it required more than one man to protect the household. It was generally restricted to one family, all the brothers having one wife in common, as Caesar found among the German tribes. The custom existed even into biblical times in higher civilizations, and it is the only way certain Thibetan tribes can survive at the present time. It gradually changed into the Hebraic Levirate, where a childless widow became the wife of the oldest surviving brother of her late husband, but in this case the purpose was the exact opposite. It was to secure heirs to the widow, her subsequent children having the same legal rights as though their father was the deceased. In polyandry the main purpose was to restrict childbirth, and in such tribes nearly all the female children are ruthlessly destroyed to keep down population to the needed saturation point.
Polygamy, concubinage and prostitution are three venerable institutions, and each one of them existed at some period in the past or present history of every race. One drifted into the other as civilization advanced. Polyandry was the necessity of a very strenuous existence, and it invariably changed to monogamy and polygamy as soon as some men became more powerful than others, and were able to protect and feed one or more families. There were many other conditions regulating the matter, but we need look to the main one - limitation of offspring. We can well assume that during the time that savage man was first becoming civilized, there must have come a time when the killing of any of his offspring or blood-relatives was too repugnant to be permitted. Probably from this time arose his desire to limit the size of the families. Before this he gave no thought to the subject whatever, and the old biblical injunction to be fruitful was undoubtedly a crystalization of popular thought from prehistory when large families were necessary. The desire to lessen the burden of the wife, gave rise to the concubinate and prostitution, which have had such a tremendous share in the evolution of civilization and without which it could not have come to its present state, for we can safely assume that sexual passion did not diminish with monogamy. At first the women who were not wives were as respectable as those who were, as continues at the present time in Japan. In savage life, the wife is generally a slave or property, and the sense of proprietorship compelled morality in her and weeded out the immoral, as the husband had the right to destroy or sell his wife as any other property. This has resulted in that survival of the fittest, the most modest and the most moral women.
We rarely appreciate the fact that the selling of girls is still normal among savages. Men formerly bought their wives, if they did not capture them, so that marriage by capture or purchase is found in every race at some period. Many of our Indians still think that the only legal way to get a wife is to buy her. The woman feels disgraced if the lover is unable to pay for her. Races which have had civilization thrust upon them still continue the custom. In 1905, the Czar was compelled to take strong steps to end the peasant custom of selling daughters, and even wives, for export to South America for prostitution. There was no concealment about the matter at all - the agent paid $50 in Russia and received $500 in Rio de Janeiro. Every now and then we unearth similar transactions among these races in America.