Margaret Sanger, "My Way to World Peace," 19 Feb 1932.

Source: " Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Library of Congress Microfilm 130:190-197."

This is a revised version of Sanger's Jan. 17, 1932 speech "My Way to Peace," given to the New History Society. This version may not have been published or given as a speech. Interlineations were made by hand by Margaret Sanger. At least one page is missing. A note was attached to this draft from Sanger's secretary, Florence Rose. It reads:


Mrs. Margaret Sanger, Chairman of National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, 17 W. 16th St., New York City.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies & Gentlemen:

In this day of great world upheaval it is natural that there should be drawn up various plans and proposals as to the means of world peace. My way to world peace is not the way of moratoriums, reparations, or tariffs; it is not the way of Versailles treaties; my way to peace is the way of the people. My way is to direct and control the population through birth control.

There is probably no other subject that has such a practical significance, ↑which↓ at the same time cuts so deeply into the foundations of social evolution and world peace, as birth control. Birth control is a keynote, – it is a signal of a new moral awakening; a moral responsibility, not only for those children who have already been born; a responsibility not only for those that are about to be born; but for those who have not yet been conceived. It is not only a health and economic expedient; it is a great social measure ↑principle↓ , and that measure ↑principle↓ is interlocked and interwoven with the spiritual progress of the race, and its future.

The definition of birth control is, "the conscious control of the birth rate by means that prevent conception of human lives". When you prevent the conception of human life, you do not have to destroy human life. You do not destroy,-–you do not interfere with the development of human life, because there is no life to interfere with or to destroy. It is no more an interference with life to prevent conception than to remain single or to live in celibacy. We say "control". When you control the birth rate you do not have to limit it, any more than when you control your own furnace; you do not put out the fire. You merely adjust its temperature to the requirements of the weather, (you do not have to put the fire out) ↑considering the time of the day and the season↓ . When you control your automobile, you do not necessarily have to stop the engine. And when you control the size of your family, you do not have to limit yourself to one or two children, but you control it ↑the number↓ ; first according to the state of the mother’s health affecting the possible inheritance of the child; second, according to the father’s earning power; and third, according to the standards of living that you wish to maintain. When We say conscious control – I wonder if any of us can imagine what it is going to mean when the human voice ↑race↓ is conceived ↑consciously↓ , not just as a result of casual accident – the reckless abandon of the moment – but ↑when it↓ is consciously planned for ↑desired,↓ and consciously conceived ↑consciously↓ . I tell you my friends, we don’t know what is ↑can only glimpse at the wonders that will be be↓ before us, when that possibility becomes a reality.

You hear people say, "Why control the birth rate? There is plenty of room in the world and in this country ↑for unlimited population↓ ". What we need is a more equal distribution of the necessities of life ↑, a new social system↓ . The control of nature is not the control that we desire today, because there are only two ways of controlling the population in that way; either by increasing deaths, or by decreasing births.

Let us regard this. Population has always been controlled. From the beginning of time, – back as far as we know anything about the human race, there has been control of numbers ↑population↓ by the control ↑methods↓ of Nature. Which ↑This↓ is not the control we desire today. There are only two ways to control population-–either increase ↑to decrease↓ the birth rate or decrease ↑to increase↓ death rate, and all through the history of mankind, population has been controlled by the death method ↑increasing the death rate↓ . Nature has been the most ruthless advocate of birth control through ↑by↓ this method. She has accomplished it through famines, pestilences, diseases, floods and wars. Nature thrusts to the wall the old, the weak, the maimed, the mentally deficient, until she perfects her type. Only the fit and strong are able to survive through the way of nature.

This might have been ↑doubtless is↓ an excellent way ↑for Nature↓ to perfect ↑our↓ civilization. But today, whether we like it or not, we no longer ↑allow↓ control ↑of↓ the population through nature’s method of increased death rates. Civilization has progressed beyond that. Now With the development ↑advance↓ of Christianity; with the development ↑organization↓ of Charity and ↑development of↓ Humanitarianism, we have turned ↑thrust↓ aside the hand of nature, we have interfered with nature’s methods, we will not allow these methods to operate. Civilization takes into the race ↑care of↓ the old, the feeble, the mentally deficient, ↑the diseased, the insane, the morons↓ and makes it almost imperative for them to exist and increase their numbers ↑and multiply↓ . Defectives are now ↑fast↓ breeders ↑.↓ ↑The feeble minded woman is ↓ three times as fast ↑fertile↓ as normal mothers ↑women↓ . This constitutes a real menace to our civilization. There is no doubt that those privileged to carry on the torch of civilization are ↑comparitively in↓ lessening ↑in↓ numbers than bear to those who have become on the race ↑while at the same time they carry the financial burdens of the unfit↓ .

We find, according to psychological tests made by Professor William Starr-Meyer a few years ago, that only 15,000,000 out of a population of 165,000,000 could be classified as intellectuals and it was found that 85,000,000 had the minds of juveniles under 14 years of age, 45,000,000 were just average and 15,000,000 were known to be feeble-minded. The great majority of the feeble-minded, the degenerates and the morons do not live in institutions but are mothers living in homes and multiplying rapidly. Is America then, safe for democracy? In this country, the feeble-minded, if they are twenty-one years of age, have the power to vote and their vote is just as good as that of the fifteen percent who are intellectuals. Isn’t it time to do something about this?

We have today what is called ↑scientists call↓ a differential birth rate: ↑or↓ in other words ↑a difference in the birth rate of two groups in our population↓ , For the last two generations perhaps, a certain number of people, mainly the fifteen percent intellectuals have been controlling their birthrate – that is the group with the small families. They have, perhaps, two or three or four children, but in that group, the greatest number of children achieve maturity. Here, consideration is given to the mother’s health, ↑to the child's↓ education and to the possible development ↑of talents↓ of the children. and It is from this group ↑that↓ we find the most children going to ↑high↓ schools ↑,↓ the longest. Their children go to colleges, universities and eventually they fill ↑filling↓ the best positions in society.

The other group ↑of large families↓ struggles in poverty and in ignorance. Here we find that poverty and ignorance ↑lack of birth control↓ go hand in hand. We find the mothers broken on the wheel of poverty trying hard to find out ↑maternity↓ , ↑everywhere they ask↓ what they can do to prevent bringing another human being into this world. The fathers become desperate when unemployed ↑, and dismayed↓ . They become over-burdened and morally unfit. It is in this group that we have almost all the great social problems of the day. You have slums, overcrowding, high maternal and infant morality, child labor, illegitimacy, illiteracy. Many in this group are not only unemployed, but unemployable, I found, while working among this group, that it is not their fault that they have more children than they can decently provide for. I found an awakening consciousness on the part of these women to ↑mothers and a desire to↓ have only the number that they could decently take care of, but, because of their poverty, they found every door closed against them.

↑Because↓ These are the mothers who have to go to public institutions, hospitals, etc., for medical advice and care, and when they are taken to the hospital to have their babies or to have abortions performed, ↑when↓ they as what they can do not to have any more and they are told that it is against the law to give them this information; ↑or↓ that it is immoral and against the laws of nature. Yet, all the time, the wives of professional classes are obtaining information to enable them to limit their families.

What do we do about these evils of society ↑problems↓ ? We do not like them; we try to legislate them out of existence. We have been trying for over fifty years to do away with child labor, yet, have we done it? A few years ago, we had several million children under fifteen years working in the United States. Mainly, These children are taking the place ↑of adults↓ and competing with their fathers and mothers in industry just ↑mainly↓ for ↑a↓ daily existence. Behind them are more and more children forced out of schools and homes, little children who should be getting their education for the sake of ↑in preparation for↓ the future of the race. It is a long story, that of child labor. Go to the beet fields of Colorado or to the cotton fields of the South and you will see the devastating effects of ignorance ethics ↑of birth control and child labor↓ . The child labor committee worked valiantly to try to legislate this evil out of existence, but it cannot succeed until Birth Control Clinics are in operation in these sections; until the mothers of these children have the proper scientific information necessary to control their power of fertility.

One can go through almost all of these ↑our↓ social problems and you can see at a glance how they are interwoven and how they ↑with and↓ pivot around the question of birth control. Let us consider together two more problems connected with the welfare of the race. Take the simple question of maternal mortality. Every physician will tell a mother who has heart disease or kidney disease that she should not go through child-birth again. If she does ↑should↓ become pregnant again, according to the law ↑medical ethics↓ , it is legal to interrupt this condition ↑to save her life↓ . But instead of ↑them↓ instructing her in the means of contraception, she is sent back to her home with only a statement that the doctors will not be responsible for her life if she should ↑warning not to↓ get into that condition again. She then goes back to her children ↑home↓ in a fearful and nervous condition with a death sentence hanging over her head, and in a weakened state of mind. Can you imagine the effect ↑that↓ this ↑fear↓ creates in a home and what it means to the husband and children? Every sick mother should be protected by the best information possible.

We move from the mother problem to the infant problem. There we find conditions just as bad; there the mortality is even larger. Approximately 200,000 little children never reach their first birthday; ninety-five percent of them are unwanted and the large majority of them die from causes of ↑due to↓ poverty and neglect. There is not one person here who believes that we can do away with this problem next year or the following year – and yet the state allows these mothers to remain in utter ignorance of how to prevent the coming of 200,000 more lives next year and the next year, who are doomed in advance to die from causes of poverty and neglect.

Our Children’s Bureau tells us that ↑from↓ some of their statistics with ↑that↓ this question of unfit ↑infant↓ mortality has ↑is concerned with↓ three very vital factors. The first is the father’s wage. As it goes up, a larger number of the children survive – if it goes down, a larger number of children die. Second, is the spacing of children in a family. In other words, Where two or three years elapse between the birthdays of children, they have a better chance to survive and develop. The mother has had an opportunity to recuperate and rebuild her health. The family income has been stretched out over the intervening period of years to meet the family needs. We know that the spacing of children determines their chances of survival –that the second child has a better chance to live than the fifth, and the fifth a better chance to live than the twelfth, certainly. We have the astounding statistics that sixty percent of percent of all the twelfth children born in this country are doomed to die before they reach their first birthday. In other words, about six out of every ten children who are twelfth in their family are doomed to die before they breathe their first breath. What a waste of child life! And ↑Waste↓ of mother power! Which ↑Both of these↓ might have been put into the constructive forces in this world ↑of race building↓ instead of making of our women only incubators or child-bearing machines, which is, what women have been throughout the ages ↑become when they are ignorant of birth control↓ .

While ↑We know↓ All of this ↑these statistical facts↓ we know, and we should try to alleviate some of the conditions but our efforts are only palliative. We can correct them only to a certain degree. We give free lunches ↑ to children↓ , educational care, do everything possible to keep them alive. You ↑We↓ rescue a child to live ↑and bring it↓ through its first years, and then you ↑we↓ have to battle again to carry them ↑it↓ through the succeeding years and then when it becomes fourteen, it secures working papers and starts to compete with his father in industry thereby creating labor problems. Thus all workers become their own rivals in trade ↑the labor market. The law of supply and demand dominates their existence↓

How stupid the labor organizations have been to recognize the power of limited numbers in a union, but ↑to fail↓ not to recognize how illogical it is to permit themselves to become their own rivals ↑the same principle in their families↓ .

It seems to me there is no greater cruelty than bringing a child into this world, ↑when the parents are diseased or↓ when there is no provision for its care when the parents are diseased. When studying law or when preparing ↑contemplating↓ to take ↑training↓ the robe of priesthood or entering even ↑law or↓ the least of the professions, you have to ↑one must↓ study carefully to fit yourself ↑oneself↓ for your ↑one's↓ duties. But anyone can become a father or mother. It makes no difference how unprepared ↑or how unfit↓ one might ↑may↓ be-–no difference what one can earn–-one can have as large a ↑any↓ number of children as wanted. Let us consider the children born of diseased parents. If we know we had to pass through other human bodies in order to reach another world, would we ↑not↓ be most particular and careful to choose the kind of parents we should have? We would be more than particular, so why should we not be just as particular about our obligations to the children we expect to bear?

It is not only a personal question, not only a question affecting family welfare but is also a question affecting world affairs.

In 1924, the United States Government came to the realization that there was a serious population problem in this country. We were not so much concerned about the number of people as about the quality of the population. The United States Government therefore put a ban on immigration. No alien could enter who had certain diseases or was feeble-minded, ↑or↓ illiterate, or who came here for the practice of prostitution. There is a very long list of undesirable aliens who cannot come into ↑qualities which ban aliens from↓ this country. Furthermore, ↑if↓ in case some of them do get in, these undesirable qualities are indicated within five years, these individuals can be deported. This is a good law. We do not want undesirable types to stain the blood stream of the Nation, but, if it is ↑right that↓ undesirables, that they ↑shall not↓ come ↑into the country↓ from without, then why isn’t it equally important that they ↑not↓ increase and multiply from within the country? They propagate the same undesirable qualities that we are trying to keep out of ↑by↓ our immigration laws. These laws of the United States Government cause a great upheaval in Europe and have disturbed the flow and flux of population throughout the whole world. Since we have had a selective quota of population, you can imagine what it has meant to some of those countries that had free entry into our country for so many years. Let us consider two countries that are no longer able to find a place for their surplus population in the United States.

There are two countries that we must call danger spots in the world: Italy and Japan. These two countries have a very acute population problem. Japan is a country mostly mountainous with a population of 67,000,000 of people and with a territorial area not quite as large as California. She cannot possibly feed her population and has never tried to reduce her birth rate and density of population which is very heavy indeed. There are only about 148 square miles and over 400 human beings are crammed into each square mile. It means that Japan, not being able to expand in other countries who would not have her ↑ people↓ , had to look for other outlets for her large over-population. South America was willing to take care of part of this surplus population, but not all the ships that Japan has could take her surplus population to South America. Japan cannot accommodate them all at home and South America can only accommodate a small percentage.

Japan has an inadequacy of the most important natural resources, but ↑and although↓ she has a good water power and a ↑large↓ textile industry which however, is ↑even these are↓ insufficient for that great population for which she must provide. Manchuria had all that China wanted and lacked in raw materials, and at the first opportunity she marched right into Manchuria at the psychological moment when the rest of the world was busy at home with its own problems, and it seems that there she will stay. She has acclaimed ↑proclaimed↓ that "Might is Right", and says: "What are you going to do about it?"; and it is now indeed too late to do much about it.

Now let us look at Italy who has 119 square miles with a population of 41 millions of people, with over 340 people to a square mile. In 1921 the population was 28 millions at the rate of 548 people per square mile. The birth rate in 1921 was 30.4, and in 1927 it was 26.4. On top of this population which she could not provide for with the world against her immigration, she had 4 to 5 thousand additional human beings being born into her population annually. Over 25% of Italy’s natural increase was coming into this country every year. France received 6 or 7 percent of Italy’s increase, but France has curbed this percentage because of her unemployment problems. Italy is unable to till her own home areas. She has low standards of living and a slight margin of life. Her water power might be developed but at a great expense. She has very little iron ore and other raw materials. If she would ↑should↓ build up her textile industry she would have strong competition in ↑from↓ Japan.

Neither the industrial nor the agricultural possibilities of Italy can provide for her people, yet we know that Italy is increasing; that her dictators call upon her to increase and multiply; and I read ↑that↓ there is now a law in Italy providing that every woman must report to a health station periodically to show cause why she has not had a baby every two years. However, this condition of population today have ↑has↓ not been brought about by dictators alone. We ↑And although we↓ have only recently become conscious of the importance of birth control and its relation to overpopulation, with the facts of science and knowledge that we have today, it seems to me that any dictator who insists upon increasing the population by force, such a person should be made to account for it at the world court of human justice.

Other countries are doing their best to adjust their populations. Germany is today doing all possible to keep her birth rate down and avert a re-occurrence of the conditions of 1914. France is now trying to compete with Germany by boosting up her birth rate. France increases her numbers fearing that Germany will come across the border to invade her. It is absurd for France to thus compete with Germany whose proportionate majority is so great that France will not catch up to her even in 10 years. France’s death rate – both infants and maternal – is very high, and she should decrease this death rate instead of trying to increase the present population.

England also had an acute problem of over-population and unemployment, so she decided to send her surplus people to some of her colonies in order to remedy the situation. But it did not work out properly. These people were not happy in the wilds of Australia and Canada because of the different environment and climatic conditions. They did not have the resistance and vigor to withstand the climate. The colonies were therefore obliged to send them back to England saying: "We can’t use your slum population. They can’t stand the rigors of the climate." It all comes back to the "quality" of the human being.

My way of peace is a way of birth control. It can be applied in three ways: First, by continence--not marrying. This however, should not be recommended because it implies the abandonment of the natural marriage relationship which ↑and↓ very often results in the break-up of family life. Second, by sterilization. This method is recommended by physicians only in extreme cases where other forms of contraception are not possible. for ↑It is↓ For those who have not the mental equipment or moral character to use means of contraception, and yet who should be given help to prevent their bringing more children into the world. There you have chemical and mechanical methods over which the whole controversy on birth control has been waged.

It is to these methods that the Roman Catholic Church objects. An analysis of the Pope’s recent Encyclical, "On Chaste Wedlock" reveals that they countenance intercourse ↑marital intimacies only for propagation or↓ under certain conditions where there can be no possibility of conception.

Now, my way to peace is to apply the same constructive knowledge to this subject that has been applied to industry and to the world of life itself.

[several pages missing]

This is part of the program that we are trying to bring about now. We hope that a falling birth rate will do its part to avert future wars, and to maintain world, as well as international, peace. We want to make it possible for people to have the best scientific information available. We want the medical profession to take this responsibility and to distribute information in their public and private practice. We want women to be free from the fear of pregnancy. We want children to be ↑conceived and↓ born in love, and ↑to↓ be given heritage of a sound body and a sound mind.

We believe that through Birth Control, untold millions can be relieved of misery and unhappiness. We believe this is the first and most important step we must take if we would bring peace on earth and good will to men and scatter it over the face of the world.


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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project


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