Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control Refused Space at Parents' Exposition," Apr 1928.

Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress MicrofilmLCM 129:55."

↑B.C. Refused Space at Parents Exhibition↓


Last December the American Birth Control League was invited to prepare an exhibit for the Parents' Exposition, which was held last month in the Grand Central Palace, in New York City. A contract was signed in February; and great care and pains were taken by our organization to prepare a dignified, instructive and inoffensive survey of our work. On the eve of the opening we received a letter from Robert E. Simon, president of the Associated Parents' Association of Greater New York, stating that Dr. O’Shea, ↑the superintendent of public schools,↓ had threatened to remove the exhibition prepared by the Board of Education if the American Birth Control League were permitted to exhibit. ↑Mr. Simon confessed↓ that he was unable to combat such powerful opposition, and that therefore our exhibit could not be shown. We then addressed a communication to the superintendent of schools, requesting that a committee be appointed to suggest changes and improvements which would make our exhibit acceptable. But, as was to be expected, this suggestion was refused point blank, and the distinguished “educator," in newspaper interviews, was quoted as asserting: “I won’t have anything to do with an exhibition that teaches such stuff to our high school girls.... I don’t want our girls to hear that sort of stuff while they are under the protection of the school system.”

This muddled confusion of the question, combined with Dr. ↑O’Shea’s↓ a completely unauthorized usurpation and abuse of authority, was given widespread publicity in the daily press. As usual the attempted suppression of Birth Control resulted in making it for several days the focal point of public interest. It also showed the intelligent public of New York City that its superintendent of schools, affiliated with a Church that is demanding broad-mindedness and tolerance among all American voters, in view of the presidential aspirations of Governor Smith, is himself constitutionally unable to assume an adult, impartial, or intelligent attitude toward one of the central problems of parenthood.

Arranged primarily ↑to reveal to↓ for the parents of Greater New York, them the social agencies through which they might achieve happier homes, better children and wiser parenthood, ↑the exposition was therefore↓ was scaled down to the intelligence level less than that ↑below that↓ of a fourteen-year old. How is it possible to educate parents, when the educators themselves refuse to exercise their intelligence?

Despite the yards of newspaper publicity the incident has stimulated, we are too experienced in such conflicts to claim a victory. It has required long years of effort to educate the police of New York City into an attitude of forbearance and tolerance toward Birth Control activities. It has required an almost equally long time to arouse the public from its lethargy of indifference into a latently and even a quietly active sympathy toward our activities. And now it seems that we must begin to “educate the educators.” We have never been cynical enough to believe, ↑as certain observers have claimed,↓ that the ordinary school official is the least intelligent and most reactionary element in the community. But what are we to conclude after this exhibition of bludgeoning bigotry by Dr. O’Shea, and his assistant superintendent (and spokesman) Harold G. Campbell?

All that these distinguished “educators” wrote or said was based on the fallacious assumption that Birth Control was something indecent, something not quite respectable. Such an attitude is more subnormal ↑restricted↓ in intelligence than ↑that of↓ the most backward child placed under what Dr. O’Shea claims is “the protection of the school system.” We wonder if ignorance and intolerance ever furnish any truly adequate protection.

No: we cannot claim a victory. We are willing and ready to renew our fight for toleration and understanding all over again; to begin again our ploughing the rocky soil of ignorance and misunderstanding, to begin if necessary the education even of those who refuse to be educated, but it is difficult to find any weapon sharp enough and subtle enough to repair the unjust injuries done to our cause by deliberate misrepresentation and aggressive malice. One fact remains as clear as a challenge: American parents must beware the menace of placing the political power of their country and of their school in the hands of those whose attitude is determined by a Church which develops in its children a state of mind at complete variance with the essential spirit of American institutions.

There ↑have been, however, certain↓ compensations for this injury that was done to the cause of Birth Control. The courageous letter of Mr. Kenneth Macgowan, vice-president of the Walden School, in resigning from the Parents’ Association and refusing to make an address at the exposition, because of the unjust treatment of our League, has demonstrated that if hypocrisy and ignorance can usurp authority, there is, on the other hand, still active ↑among the parents↓ of our community, a type of dynamic quick-thinking and quick-acting intelligence to protest against bigoted censorship. The protest of Mr. Bruno Lasker was likewise gratifying, indicating as it did the prevalence among a wide ↑broad↓ group of New York parents of an enlightened and intelligent attitude concerning the central importance of Birth Control to American parenthood.

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