Margaret Sanger, "League of Nation Speech Notes," 1921.

Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Microfilm 20:0385."

No final version has been found. Handwritten corrections and margin notes by Margaret Sanger.


(Note: Study of the articles of the Covenant of the League of Nations indicates that the subject of Birth Control may be presented to the Council only as a matter which (1) affects the peace of the world, and (2) concerns the prevention and control of disease. Accordingly the scope of the argument that follows has been limited to the questions of population and of public health.)

The Birth Control Movement affirms:

That adjustment of population to the means of subsistence is a fundamental requirement of world peace.

That in any large population a low birth rate is a necessary condition of social progress.

That dissemination of scientific birth control information through the medium of clinics by the medical profession is the most logical method of checking over-population and of improving the race. ↑use term "control of the birth rate"↓

Population and War.

Pressure of population is one of the most potent and compelling factors making for ↑modern↓ war. This fact has been ↑is being↓ recognized through the ages by statesmen and military leaders. Until the pressure of population is relieved at the danger points, the problem of war cannot be settled. The problem is a matter of the life or death of civilization.

The world is astoundingly ignorant of the present rate of population growth. In the year 1800 there were less than 850,000,000 people ↑on the globe↓ . Since that time the population has more than doubled. Estimates of the annual increase range from twelve millions to twenty millions. Assuming an increase of one per cent annually, the world’s population, now approximately 1,700,000,000, would be in 1970 2,796,000,000, in 2021 4,598,000,000, and in another 100 years 12,437,000,000.

No intelligent student of the subject believes that population will continue indefinitely to increase with the rapidity of geometrical ratio, but it requires no particular gift of prophecy to see that if the tendency of population remains unchecked, we will soon be upon a situation where an unsuccessful struggle for decent maintenance will have become the lot of most men throughout the earth, as it is their lot now in the most densely populated parts of it. The only possibility that anyone suggests that might prevent this otherwise inevitable development is some deus ex machina in the form of inventions of chemistry that will furnish food for mankind in some altogether unnatural and now unknown way. No man of reasonable caution can rely upon this as offering any probable solution of the problem. It is altogether probable that it offers no prospect whatever for the furnishing of a food supply for the world greatly beyond what can be produced by methods now in use.

Excluding the arctics, the world’s land area is 33,000,000,000 acres. The International Institute of Agriculture at Rome has determined the proportion of cultivated land to total area in the most populous countries. On the average it is about 40 per cent. There are therefore about 13,000,000,000 acres available for food production. A reasonable maximum for the world’s future population is one person for each 2.5 acres on 40 per cent of the land area of the globe. This gives a figure of 5,200,000,000. Under the most optimistic assumptions as to production and distribution of food that it is reasonable to make, the world can support, then, but 5,200,000,000 people, and these people must content themselves with the limited dietary and the few material necessities which form the current standards among the peasantry of Europe.

The effect of over-population on a community depends to a great extent on its temperament. Where the masses are apathetic, either by nature or by religious resignation, they usually die off without protest or struggle, and do not as a rule menace surrounding nations. But in proportion as the people are high-spirited and rebel against evil conditions, they exert a pressure against other countries, which leads to international rivalry and sooner or later to war.

Such a people so conditioned are always receptive to militaristic propaganda. Germany’s congested multitudes were taught to believe that they were surrounded by enemies, that the open spaces of the world had been preempted, and that Germany had to expand forcibly in order not to perish. The need of territorial expansion to accommodate the rapidly increasing surplus of population was put forward by German militarist writers as a justification for war. Their slogan was “biological necessity,” and it was accepted as an article of faith by the German people.

General von Bernhardi, in his book entitled "Germany and the Next War," published in 1911, says:

Strong, healthy and flourishing nations increase in numbers. They require a continual expansion of their frontiers. They require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus people. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must as a rule be obtained at the cost of its possessors; that is to say by conquest, which thus becomes a law of necessity.

Arthur Dix, writing in 1901, says:

Because of the German people now increase at the rate of eight hundred thousand inhabitants a year they need both room and nourishment for their surplus.

Albrecht Wirth, writing also in 1901, says:

In order to live and lead a healthy and joyous life we need a vast extent of fresh arable land. This is what imperialism must give us.

Daniel Frymann in 1911, in his book entitled “ Wenn ich der Kaiser ware ,” which had an enormous circulation, says:

It is no longer proper to say that Germany is satisfied. Our historical development and our economic needs show that we are once more hungry for territory.

The birth rate, in spite of its decline in the last few decades, is still too high in every country of Europe, with the possible exception of Holland, to permit of adequate provision for all the newcomers. Consequently the death rates continue high and there is a greater or less proportion of the population in nearly every country in a state of chronic destitution. In eastern nations such as India and China, with their enormous birth rates, the death rates are appalling, indicating a constant state of semi-starvation in the great mass of the people.

Asia’s population today is estimated at 900,000,000. In the past the evil of over-population was countered by war, misgovernment, pestilence and famine. During the last century, however, most of Asia has come under European political control, with consequent diminution of government abuses, decrease of disease and lessening of famine. The enormous death rate has fallen to proportions comparable to the low death rate of western nations. But the birth rate has been maintained, with a startling increase of population.

Even those Oriental countries which have kept their independence have adopted Western life-conserving methods, thereby experiencing accelerated increase of population. This is notably true of Japan.

The population of Japan during the centuries of her isolation remained at a virtually constant level. Emerging from her isolation about the middle of the nineteenth century, Japan’s population was approximately 27,000,000. The census of 1920 fixes Japan's population at approximately 56,000,000, showing that it has more than doubled in a little over half a century.

Japan’s total area is less than that of the state of California. Most of her territory is mountainous and unfit for cultivation. The density of her population is estimated now at 2,688 per square mile--more than four times the density of Belgium, which is Europe’s most thickly populated country.

As Asia continues to pile up excess people there will be an increasingly prodigious outward thrust of surplus Asiatics from congested centers toward countries emptier, richer and with higher standards of living, such as America, Australia and Canada.

Let the situation develop naturally and the only relief for the overpopulation of the world lies in wars of the strong against the weak for a place in the sun, in pestilence and other great disasters, and in the inevitable increase in the disease rate and the death rate that are [consequences?] of the degradation and misery of overpopulation.

Public Health.

Physicians generally recognize that, in order to safeguard the health of the community, conception should be prevented when either parent is afflicted with a transmissible disease, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, serious nervous and mental diseases, chronic alcoholism and morphinism. For humanitarian as well as health considerations, doctors agree that conception should not take place in the case of women suffering from diseases of the lungs or heart, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and hemophilia, or if the pelvis is unduly contracted.

In most countries, however, the law makes it illegal for physicians to instruct their patients in contraceptive methods. At the same time, the law recognizes the interruption of pregnancy as legal and justifiable in order to save the lives of women suffering from tuberculosis, nephritis, cardiac diseases, or from conditions whose fatal progress would be hastened through continued pregnancy. It is manifestly contrary to every principle of modern preventative medicine that there should be interference with the judgment and action of physicians where it seems rational and medically sound to give advice as to the methods of preventing a condition containing a hazard to life.

Public health is concerned not only with the prevention and control of disease, but ultimately with every factor which contributes to the health of individuals in all walks of life. Therefore when it is evident that the health and happiness of the intelligent and well-to-do are increased by the practice of limiting the number of their offspring, the authorities concerned with the health of the community will see the urgency and wisdom of extending the practice to individuals on more modest intellectual and economic levels. Among the advantages gained are a higher standard of living, the proportionately greater attention received by each child in a small family, and the better health of the parents, particularly the mother.

In order to meet the terrifying economic combination of a large family and a small income, the wives of industrial workers often are forced themselves to enter industry. Under these circumstances a pregnancy is peculiarly demoralizing. Industry has no particular place for the expectant mother, nor has the pregnant woman any particular contribution to make to industry. Even though a good worker, she is at best an unstable asset. Her metabolism is profoundly changed and she frequently shows an abnormal sensibility to fatigue, which is not diminished by the realization of the additional physical and economic burden about to fall upon her shoulders.

At this point the problem of hyper-fecundity may become directly associated with that of venereal disease. In their dread of further pregnancies women, both in industrial and non-industrial life, often feel compelled to wink at extra-marital sex relations on the part of their husbands.

It is well known that the rate of infant mortality increases with the size of the family. Occasionally there is observed a wealthy and intelligent family where the parents, because of unusual vigor and particularly by reason of the physical strength of the mother, have been able to rear a large number of children. In some instances all have survived and grown up healthy and strong, but these instances are rare. On the other hand, large families among the ignorant, poor, underfed and badly housed, tuberculous, degenerate, alcoholic and vicious are extremely common. Among these the infant mortality is very great. The same holds true of the mortality of school children coming from such families. The history of many cases has revealed with surprising regularity that the tuberculous individual, if a member of a large family, is one of the later born children. The explanation is obvious. When the mother is worn out by frequent pregnancies and weakened by work which often continues up to the very day of confinement, the child comes into the world with impaired vitality, its main inheritance being a physiological poverty which leaves it less resistant not only to tuberculosis but to all other diseases of infancy and childhood.

Among the poor the larger the family the more congested are the living quarters, and the more unsanitary the environment. The increase of the family heavily taxes the earnings of the parents, and as a result malnutrition and insufficient clothing enter as factors to predispose the children to tuberculosis or cause a latent tuberculosis to become active. The result of this condition in the United States is that out of 200,000 persons that die annually of tuberculosis, 50,000 are children. It is estimated that 65 per cent of women suffering from tuberculosis, even when afflicted only in the relatively early and curable stages, die as a result of pregnancy.

Nearly all of the infectious and communicable diseases are more prevalent in the congested precincts of the poor, especially in the overcrowded homes containing large families. The propagation of syphilis and gonorrhea by contact infection, other than sexual, is usually avoided in the homes of the intelligent and well-to-do, but these diseases are almost invariably communicated to the innocent in the homes of the ignorant and poor. Gonorrheal infection from parent to child or from one infected member of the family to another is responsible, according to government statistics, for the 52,272 blind persons in the United States.

That insanity, idiocy, epilepsy and alcoholic predisposition are often transmitted from parent to child is now universally admitted. At least 20 per cent of all feeble-minded children are the offspring of drunkards.

Of the mothers, married and unmarried, who have become chronic invalids or lost their lives by resorting to abortive measures to rid themselves of an unwelcome child, no statistics are available. Various estimates place the number of abortions performed annually in the United States at from 500,000 to 3,000,000. The reason abortion is practiced on such an enormous scale in the United States is because of laws prohibiting not only the manufacture and sale of contraceptives but even the dissemination of any information concerning them. Contraception as a rule is practiced only by intelligent persons in easy circumstances. The poor, lacking information on the subject, resort to abortion.

No great clearsightedness is necessary to perceive that the great masses of ignorant, thoughtless, stupid and vicious people, the offspring of families impoverished by too many children, are as injurious to the community as they are harmful to themselves.

It has taken Nature unknown millions of years of painful struggle to evolve Man, and to raise the human species above that helpless bondage to reproduction which marks the lower animals. But the health of nations and their standard of intelligence are still at the mercy of accidental multitudes born into a life in which they are hopelessly superfluous. No single reform, capable of such immediate and widespread application, would add so greatly to the well-being and happiness of the human race as that of intelligent limitation of offspring. Birth Control, properly established, would go further to eliminate poverty, sickness, insanity, crime and war than any other remedy proposed.

Subject Terms:

Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project