Margaret Sanger, "Middle Western States Birth Control Conference Welcoming Address," 29 Oct 1923.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm LCM122:0009."
With this address, Sanger opened the Middle Western States Birth Control Conference, held in Chicago at the Drake Hotel. Handwritten additions by Sanger. The chair of the meeting was Horace Bridges.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is my pleasant duty to express a cordial welcome on behalf of the American Birth Control League to you all, and especially to the delegates, the friends and others who have come from the various cities to attend this conference and to assist us by their counsel, wisdom and experience. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Chairman, Mr. Horace Bridges, and I must say that I have never heard an address given so briefly, so exquisitely, so beautifully, and covering the subject so comprehensively as he has done in his few minutes of introduction. I wish there were more people who could hear him.
Great and significant events have occurred in the world since the first Birth Control League was formed in the United States something less than ten years ago. I have been asked by friends recently coming to the movement, and by some friends who have long been in the movement, to tell you to night something of the vicissitudes, something of the early struggles, something of the barrier, that we have had to fight in order to bring this subject of Birth Control before the American people for discussion, and it seems to me that this might be a fitting occasion to do this, because tomorrow and the next day the various sessions of this conference shall be devoted to the discussion of the subject from various angles. There shall be presentation of papers by some of the most distinguished men and women in the country. So that it seems to me that I might take you with me, if you will bear with me and be tolerant of the pronoun "I", which must be interjected into the details of this evening's discourse.
It is a well-known historical fact that the idea of Birth Control is as old as history itself. Far back through the ages, through the various stages of barbarism, savagery, and even in civilization, there has always been an attempt on the part of man to control the size of his family, to control the number of people in the clan, in his tribe. The methods that were used were not those that we wish to tolerate today. These were the methods of infanticide, the abandonment of children, the killing of babies, and foeticide. Civilization as we know it today does not believe in those methods of controlling the population, and at the same time civilization does not supplant an alternative which makes these conditions and these methods necessary.
The only means that have been used today are agencies that are legislative and ameliorative. These agencies have been established for the purpose of reducing the misery, the unhappiness and the squalor, the disease, that is here with us. But I do not believe that either of these agencies are effective in producing or bringing about the most desired results. I believe that only through birth control, or the knowledge of how to prevent conception, can the most effective measures be brought about. For birth control is the key to the greatest of human problems, the problem of reconciling humanitarianism with greatest improvement.
Today we know that this great, fine impulse of humanitarianism brings about a dysgenic effect, where, with the application of birth control, it could produce a eugenic effect. These measures, both legislative and ameliorative, or rather these agencies, could be brought about and made of great use in the country and in the world, if there was accompanied with them, going hand in hand, information to control birth, and it would make the multiplication of the unfit and of the diseased cease.
When we look out upon the world today, we must recognize that there is already the practice of birth control going on among us. It is as Lord Dawson said in the London conference, birth control is here to stay, and I say the only trouble with it is that it is not practiced far enough. It is only practiced by one group in society, the group that we must call the small family group. The other group, the large family group, has not the benefit of this knowledge.
Up to 1912, when I first came into this work, there had been no group, and to my knowledge no individual, who had attempted to bring this idea of family limitation into the large family group, or to interest or advise its practice there. We know for the last quarter of a century that the small family group has been perpetuating itself, but also in that group we find conditions that we all approve of. We find there health, wealth, comfort, leisure, possibilities of development. We find in that group, while there are only a few children, two, three or four, these are the children that get the best care, that are usually brought through to maturity, and are given the advantages of state and of society. These are the children who eventually fill the universities and the colleges, and it is from this group that every one is clamouring that they should produce more of their children.
And, on the other hand, the large family group has also perpetuated its conditions. It perpetuates from generation unto generation its misery, its ignorance, its poverty, its disease. For there we see all of the problems that we have got today. We see the problem of daily ↑child↓ labor, we see the problem of slums, we see our infant mortality, maternal mortality, we see practically every condition that we are trying to ameliorate, that we are trying to legislate against, there snuggled closely in that group and perpetuating themselves continually.
There is another condition there that to me is very serious, and that is that the women, the mothers, in one group do not wish to have the large families that are forced upon them. I found that they did not want to have more children than they could take care of, any more than the women, the mothers, in the small family group. But because of ignorance, because of the lack of knowledge, they had to resign themselves to either one thing or the other, that is, to having children as fast as nature sends them, or to resort to illegal operations. I found, especially in my work as a trained nurse, that this condition was very prevalent. I found it was so prevalent that it was almost abhorrent, and yet the women would come to me and say "What else can one do?"
I happen to be born of a large family. I happen to be one of that large family group. My own parents had eleven living children, so I knew something from the beginning of all the problems that are constantly there perpetuating themselves with large families. I lived in a small factory town, and there I saw constantly girls and boys who came of my age, sometimes younger, year after year leave school and have to take their place beside their father in the factory. Always behind it was another baby that came into the family to force the older one out to compete with his father for his daily bread.
I had a very peculiar childhood, because I came from parents who were Irish, and sometimes I think it is a very great burden to be given, two Irish parents (Laughter). Someway we are always wanting to change them ↑things↓ . We never are quite satisfied with things as they are. My father was a great philosopher. He was a poet. He had the possibilities of a sculptor. And there was one thing that he taught his children, and that was to be true to themselves, to think their own thoughts, to pray their own prayers to their own God. And last, to give back to society the benefit of your experience as you live in life. He also told us again and again that the object of life was to hold fast to a dream, to get a dream and then make that dream come true. With this peculiar kind of a philosophy, this strange kind of a religion, I was launched out upon the world to compete for my daily experience.
And so, after several years of nursing, after I had finished training, I found myself applying some of my father's philosophy to my life work. It was very difficult for anyone to live among the working people, to see their agony, to see their misery, to see their unhappiness, and not to try to apply something to help them remove it.
I found women in almost every walk of life, I saw them go through agony, needless agony, to bring forth dead children. I saw them go through that agony, and they were glad and said "Thank God" when they were told that their baby was born dead. And when you look about you and use your reason you realize that they were right. This mother instinct knew in the first place that she had no moral right to have children that she could not take care of. Again and again these women said to me "Why should I bring a child into the world when those I have already cannot be fed?" And then sometimes they grew rebellious with me, a social worker, and others who came to them, and they said "If you would tell us what you tell the rich women, we would be much happier." (Applause)
It was impossible to go on, year in and year out, without coming to some conclusion about these conditions. It was impossible for me to keep on going back and seeing these women and finding what they were doing, and not be able to help them. And I shall never forget the case that I had last. Some of you may have heard this before, but I am going to tell it to you again. That was the last case I ever took in the nursing world, and I think the last I ever shall take.
It was the case of a woman, who was a young woman, a little over thirty years old; her husband was thirty-two. They were a kind and loving couple and devoted to the three children, ages five, three, and one and one-half. They lived in the congested quarter of New York, and lived in two small rooms. The father at that time was earning Twelve Dollars and a Half a week, which was a small wage even for those days. And this mother had repeatedly said to her friends, to neighbors and others who had come to her, that it would be impossible for her to get on if she had to have an increase in her family. And so when I was called to her to look after her it was to rescue her out of a death bed. She had attempted to perform an operation upon herself, and when I was called in it was a case of septicemia. We had a very great struggle, the doctor and I, to bring this woman back to life, and again and again neither of us thought it was possible. I remember of going eighty hours without a wink of sleep, until the crisis was past. I slept partly on the floor, near this woman, so that she would not be disturbed, and so I could keep track of her pulse.
And then finally it was over and we had won the victory, and every one was glad. The neighborhood rejoiced, and the day came when both the doctor and myself were dismissed. But when we were going before we went, this woman, sitting there with her children, her face pale and haggard and very much worried, had something on her heart and something on her mind, and she ↑had something to say but↓ did not know how to say it. But finally the Doctor, who was very cheerful, very grateful to himself that he had brought this woman out of the valley of death, said to her "There is one thing you cannot do, and that is to get into this condition again." And she said "Yes, I know it, but Doctor, what am I going to do?" What are you going to tell me so that I will not get that way again?" And then the doctor patted her on the back and tried to make the best of it, but nevertheless he went away without telling her what to do. And then she turned to me and said "Oh, you are a woman, you have children, you know, you understand. Surely you will tell me what to do." And I too, although I had been a trained nurse, I must confess that I was very ignorant, I had no idea what to tell this woman or how to make it understandable. And so I followed the doctor's attitude. I closed the door and left that woman there to her misery and to her fate.
Oh, I wonder if any of you have ever been haunted, haunted by a face, haunted by remorse! And as I went on in my work for the next two or three months, this woman's face would come before me as I sat down quietly to read, or when I was unoccupied by other duties. And then it was only a few months later that I was called again to the telephone, and this anxious husband begged me to come as quickly as possible, that his wife was very ill. And back I went, only to find that we were both too late, this poor little woman had again become pregnant and had again resorted to one of the cheap doctors in her neighborhood, and this time she could not make the fight. This time she lost. And then I came there and I saw what really had happened. I saw a bed, these children being torn away to orphan homes, I saw this poor, frantic young father, who was just as innocent, just as ignorant as she was, and just as helpless. I saw that whole condition, and from that I saw the whole panorama of our social life today, and I went home and I knew then, though that woman had died, that in her death she had given birth to a new idea that was going to free other women from such hardship. (Applause)
Now, it is all very well to have an idea, but the thing is, how to get that idea over to the people. In the first place, there was nothing that you could call it. I hadn't any knowledge that there was such a lead ↑League↓ , or that this idea had been already formed into leads ↑League↓ , and that it was being carried on as an educational work in other countries. But it was a most important thing for us or for me to find some ↑[name]↓ or handle that could be used for this instrument to free womanhood ↑womankind from maternal bondage.↓
Now, I found a little later that his idea in England was called "Neo-Malthusianism." That didn't seem so easy. In France I found it was called "Conscious generation," in Germany and in Holland it was called "New Generation," but none of these seemed to be words or names that would convey to an American headline public an idea rapidly.
So the first thing that it was necessary to do was to get a name, and to get a name that would speak for itself. Now, that is not easy, because here we were, generations before me, and this thought had never been concentrated. For months and months I concentrated on what this should be called, how you could call out to the people and tell them what was happening, how you could convey the idea in an item of a few words to the public. Because I felt that it was absolutely necessary to call out from the housetops to the American people what I knew, what I saw and what I believed. And then one evening I gathered a few people together, just a little group of men and women who were with me, who were interested in doing something to help get this thought over. It was not by any means an easy thing to do, although our friends all agreed that something should be done.
It is not always so easy to do the thing that is before us. But after an evening's conversation, after juggling with words, after taking an inventory of everyone's vocabulary, it came like a flash out of the nowhere into the here, the words "Birth Control." They came like lightening, as a bugler of the dawn, they came as a battle cry.
Now, to me, the idea in the words "birth control" were the best that had been conceived, because as our chairman said, it meant control, not limitation. When you say "limitation" that narrows the idea, but "control" is a far bigger word, and I have never been able to understand what the prejudice is against the word. I often think I would like to have those persons who dislike the word psychoanalyzed and see what is the matter with them.
At any rate it was one thing, and it seemed to me that was victory won ↑one↓ , to get a name that would convey your thought, a victory won. But that was not, oh, half the battle. In the first place, having resolved to give up my work, it was not an easy matter to try to interest others to give money and half ↑help↓ financially and morally to put over an idea that was so new. It was not at all easy to do that. I went to ten of the most prominent women in New York, and asked them if they would go on record with me to write a booklet or a pamphlet giving out this thought, and conveying the idea in simple English to the American public.
Would you believe I could not find one woman in New York City who would do it? The answer came back "Wait until we get the vote." Wait, wait, wait. Nobody said "do," everybody said "don't." Again, I asked different people if they wouldn't give something toward getting out a publication, and again my heart was filled with hope by an attorney who wrote and said he would come to see me. He was very much interested in free speech, and he believed that I had struck at the root of a great many of our social problems, and consequently he and I arranged for a meeting, where I thought, as he had a certain financial backing, it might be possible to make s hort day of this. When I met him he went over the pros and cons of the matter with me, and he said "Do you understand and realize that there are laws against conveying this idea to the public?
Well, this was quite new to me. I said "Laws!" He said "Yes, there are laws in practically every state in the Union, as well as Federal laws." He said, "Do you know that this means jail, means prosecution?" Well, that didn't sound very well. But before the evening was over I still wanted to go on with this work. And as strongly as he argued, as vivid a picture as was presented, I still felt that something within one that drives you on and makes you go, and it was impossible to give up the idea. So finally the lawyer looked at me, very seriously, and he said "I will back you with the publication if you will do something for me first?" I asked him what it was. He said "If you will stay for six months and by psycho-analyzed, I will stand behind you." My kind old father, who had been so anxious for me, in my youth, to have ↑a dream↓ and make that dream come true, came on a visit to New York, the first in forty years, to take me home to put me in a retreat where I could rest from some shock he was sure I must have had.
So it was that one had to fight every step of the way. There were no friends, there was no one to help, there was no one to say "do." So I sold the little home I had, where my children played, and I sent them on to a small boarding school, and I took the money and I decided to study this subject from every angle before I launched a national campaign. I went to Europe, I went to England, to France, to Holland, to Spain, and I studied in the British Museum from the time the gates opened, which was 9:00 o'clock, until 7:00 o'clock at night, for more than eight hours. I went to Holland and took a course of instruction. I went to Spain to see what they were doing there. I went to France, and studied this subject from away back to the time of Napoleon.
So I came back equipped, not only with information but also with such distinguished men behind me as H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Havelock Ellis, and others. And then I was amused to find that with those names behind one it was not half so difficult to find some American women who would go on record with one ↑you↓ .
My first attempt at a publication was to discuss the theory of the subject. Yet only just to talk about the subject in a theoretical way seemed to offend the government, and with nine small publications, each of them was confiscated and each of them meant an indictment. Now, at the Federal Court it means five years imprisonment with every indictment, if you are convicted, so by the time I was through saying what I had to say in even a small way, 45 years in the penitentiary hung over me.
Then again began a great deal of agitation to get the American public to see what one was trying to do to enlighten them with the facts, and I am glad to say it was only a very short time when the Federal government dismissed the whole nine cases, because as a matter of fact they had nothing that was illegal in those indictments. It was simply that they were afraid of the words and hadn't themselves known the law.
Now, with 45 years of imprisonment wiped off the slate, you would think that one would go back into the ↑your↓ maternal corner and stay there. But having been to Holland I realized now as I had never realized before that all the discussion and talking, and all the pamphleteering and the publications I could get to the people were not going to help the women that I wanted to help. Many of those women could not read a pamphlet or a book, so that no matter what I did to get the Federal law changed, there were those ↑poor weary ignorant↓ women that would not benefit by that change ↑that change of that law↓ .
Those women wanted someone to talk to. They had to be instructed personally. They had to be taught. And I knew that many of them could not read, thousands of them could not read English, and it takes too high an intelligence to follow ↑printed↓ plans and directions, and I knew that was not the way for me to work ↑while oral instruction is far simpler↓ . So, having found clinics established in Holland, I decided that the thing was to show the government, and especially the government of New York State, and the courts, that the establishment of a clinic was the proper way to disseminate this information, and have ↑give↓ it there privately where women may come ↑for instruction.↓
And so I established a clinic in the District of Brownsville, Brooklyn, in the midst of a very thickly populated section. It was there where the infant mortality was highest, and it was there where the greatest amount of money was spent for charity. It was only a short time that this little clinic was allowed to stay, about ten days, but within that ten days, 488 women came and applied and were personally instructed in means to prevent conception.
We had to have that interpreted ↑an interpreter ↓ , and we also had to have a trained nurse, and yet this did not suffice. There were baby carriages and women in line for nearly two blocks around this little place. We took their records, we took their names, we took record of the wages that their husbands made, the number of children they had already had, the number of miscarriages.
We had facts and data that, when they came before the court, made a profound impression upon the judges, and one of the judges refused to come up the next day to try the case, he was so impressed. Nevertheless, the law was the law, and that was a distinct challenge to the law. This was done openly and knowingly. One of the judges said "If you will promise not to go on with this work, your case may be dismissed. We want you to obey this law, and if you will promise this there will be no further prosecution. I said in reply that it was impossible for me, knowing the suffering that I knew of, to respect such a law. It was impossible. (Applause) And so thirty days in jail was not very much for the satisfaction of helping 488 women. And many of those women have come to us since and told how much this has meant in their lives.
In one case there came to us a woman whose husband was about to leave her. She had grown cold and indifferent. She was afraid of him, she was afraid of his caress, afraid of his touch. She felt that something was going to happen to break up that little family. Someone read in the paper that there was such a place ↑as the clinic and↓ sent her there, and she came to us for help. Three years later she returned, her arm locked in that of her husband, on their way to the moving pictures, and they said that they had never been so happy, that their home life was happy, they had had no more children, and they felt that they owed a great deal of their happiness to the establishment of that little clinic.
From 1914 to 1917 were three years of constant agitation. Those of us who sat down to think out this campaign decided that there were four stages through which to pass, four courses to pursue: Agitation, education, organization and legislation. Those were four [epics?] or four periods that we must pursue.
So those first years, with agitation, it meant imprisonment, jail, hunger strikes, it meant meetings being stopped, it meant everything that was disagreeable, most disagreeable. And then we began, from 1917 to 1922, a course of education. We had been able to have some books and pamphlets reprinted. We established a magazine to carry forth this message, and it jumped from 2,000 the first year to 10,000 within two years. This has conveyed the message for our association or our league. We have since that time created practically a literature in the United States. I do not mean that we personally have done it, but I mean the agitation and the thought going out has brought back to us an entirely new literature which was not in existence when we began in 1914.
From 1922 to 1925 is to be a special time for organization. Just a few years ago, after that first little league had broken up on account of the war, we again formed another league, which was ↑is↓ a national league with its headquarters in New York City. From that we have gone out and organized similar leagues all over the world. We have a branch league in Canada, another in Mexico, another in Honolulu, two in Japan, two in China, and there are also similar leagues and organizations in practically every country in Europe, although ↑some of↓ those were in existence before we began this work.
Perhaps the greatest victory that I have been able to see was the invitation to go to Japan and to bring the message of Birth Control to the Japanese people. It seemed to me that that was indeed part of the dream coming true, because those who oppose this idea almost always say "If the white race practices birth control, and the yellow race does not, it is going to mean the wiping out of our civilization." So I was overjoyed when I received an invitation from a group called "Kaizo", which means "Reconstruction" "Group", similar you might say to our New Republic group in America. They asked me to come to Japan and deliver four lectures on the subject of "War and Population."
I of course was delighted to do so. When I heard that I had been preceded by Bertrand Russell, and that I was to be followed by such distinguished persons as Einstein and H. G. Wells, I felt greatly flattered that I was to go into such good company.
Everything seemed to go very well until I got to San Francisco. When I reached San Francisco and applied for a visa to my passport, I was told most courteously by the Japanese Counsel that that morning he had received a cable from his home office saying that if Mrs. Sanger, the birth control advocate, applied for a passage to Japan, that it was to be refused her. So then I asked if it were possible to go without delivering the lectures, and he cabled back, and back again came the world "No." So it seemed for a time as if it were impossible to get into Japan.
I heard, however, that the boat I was going on was sailing also to China, and that on that boat were more than 150 representatives from the Peace Conference at Washington. These were some of the most distinguished men of Japan. It seemed to me that it was absolutely necessary to get into Japan, and at the same time to get onto that boat with these delegates. So I booked my passage, not for Japan, but for China, and I was only on board a few days when the Japanese Group came to me and asked if I would speak to them in the first class passage or saloon. I of course was delighted to do this, and immediately after this address had been given, Mr. Hanohawa, who is now the Japanese representative in this country, cabled to his home office, saying that he had heard this address, and he believed that the Japanese Government would be making a very great mistake if it did not raise the ban over it doors, and also if it did not listen attentively to the message that was to be given. (applause)
I will not attempt to tell you all the pros and cons, and the difficulties that awaited me in Japan, but needless to say, after a great deal of questioning by the authorities who came out to meet me, I was finally allowed to enter Japan, and I was also allowed to give thirteen lectures while I was there. There was only one other person who was better known in Japan, who was an outsider, and that was the Prince of Wales.
Every paper throughout the entire Empire was filled with something about birth control. That does not mean that everyone agreed with the idea. Not at all. But nevertheless there was such a fine, liberal group there--that to me is the hope of Japan--that they insisted upon making it possible for one to say one's say. And also out of the 101 magazines that came out the 1st of April, 88 of these magazines carried a principal article on the population question. So that It is said that while 98 per cent of the population of Japan are illiterate, nevertheless ↑and↓ 95 per cent of the people know something today about birth control.
We also formed leagues there, and before the disaster the work was going on very beautifully. The same with China, although there was not the same opposition. In China the students from the Government University begged ↑requested↓ me to address them. And the interesting thing to me was the difference in the two languages. In Japan, one had to stand three hours to deliver a one hour address. In China, you stood a half an hour to deliver an hour's address, on account of the different of languages.
Naturally, I was nearly exhausted and worn out when I left Japan, but in China they gathered together a large student body of 2500 persons, mostly men, as there were very few women ↑students↓ in China Pekin attending the university. Later on in the evening the chancellor of the university held a meeting at his home, where there were some of the distinguished professors of Pekin, and that night before we left an organization was formed, and a little pamphlet, called "Family Limitation", that some of you might have heard of, was written ↑read↓ . Some of them stayed up that night and translated it into Chinese, and the next morning it was on the press, and five thousand of these pamphlets were being distributed among the men and women of China. That shows quick action. It shows how an idea goes, is taken, and [one word illegible] ↑quickly↓ act ↑acted↓ upon it so quickly.
From China I went to London to attend the International Conference, and there it was indeed a most inspiring occasion, because there were delegates there from every country in Europe. There were such men as Lord Dawson and Sir William Archer ↑ Arbuthnot Lane ↓ attended the conference, and H. G. Wells held a reception for the delegates at his home, and we were all inspired and encouraged to go back to our various countries and to carry forth the message in unison with those who were holding the conference in London.
By the way, at that conference we invited the next international conference to assemble in the United States in 1925, and while Portland, Oregon has been chosen as the place, some still believe that San Francisco might be a better place. Already delegates from China, India, Norway, Sweden, and from many other countries are planning and preparing to attend.
Now, in conclusion I want to say that these have been disturbing times. I think, if the war had not been on, that this work would have been for ahead of any other movement in the United States. As it is, we are gaining headway constantly. We had made a tremendous change in public opinion, even in the last three or four years, and we have here at this conference represented many welfare organizations; but I am quite certain that there could be a great improvement among the welfare organizations, as far as this idea is concerned.
Again, we have the medical profession that still must be educated. (Applause) But from the requests that have been sent in to attend the medical conference tomorrow night it sounds encouraging, because there are more than six hundred requests for medical men and women to come and attend the conference tomorrow night, where we will have discussed the methods of contraception. That will be discussed tomorrow night, and our ↑the↓ audience is limited to the medical profession only.
It is, after all, to the medical profession that we must look for the greatest benefit to this work, because when it comes right down to it, it is a question of technique, contraception technique. We cannot really bring about the best results with this idea or with this work until the medical profession are ahead of us, as we have been ahead of them in the past. The idea and the education of the public is far beyond the medical profession's work today. By that I mean we are ready for birth control, and they are not ready to give us what would make birth control practicable.
The only opposition that is left is the religious opposition. That is opposition that we get here and there individually, but really we have broken down the great barriers of opposition, with the exception of official religious bodies. The people themselves are really with us.
Now, it may surprise you to hear me say that, but I want to tell you that at a research clinic that was established in New York, we have a proportion like this: Thirteen Protestant women, Twelve Catholic women, Eleven Jewish women, who come to us constantly for advice. Now, this shows you that that is an idea that is going to stand, in spirt of race, color or creed. (Applause)
And I think what Lord Dawson said is very applicable to the church. He said at this London conference, he asked the church to approach this question of birth control in the light of modern knowledge and the needs of a new world, unhampered by traditions that have outgrown their usefulness. I think that could be applied to practically all opposition today.
Now, friends, why are we here? Why are we holding this conference? We are holding it because we are asking your help, just as women for the past ten years have been appealing to me, so we come out here and appeal to you. I have had from the 1st of January to the 1st of October 58,432 letters addressed to me personally from women asking for information. Think of it! Twenty per cent of those women come from the State of Illinois. Now, to me that is a sign of intelligence, high intelligence, because only a woman who is intelligent and who is rising out of the lowest depths of degradation and poverty and misery, who has the conscious responsibility of controlling her offspring, will inquire.
Shall we not answer that call? Shall we thrust that woman back into degradation when she is asking for help to get out of it? I think not. I think you will agree with me that she should be helped, and that every hand in this state should be reached out to help her help herself, because that is what she wants. These women ask in these letters for health, for just a little time to space their children; they ask for a little time so they can gain, as they say, their real strength.
Some of them say they have never known what it is to have one night's sleep from the night they were married until the present day. Some of them call out and say, "My husband is leaving me, because I cannot endure his presence or the sight of him while this fear of pregnancy hangs over me." Some of them say they have never had a new dress; old clothes, old shoes, old things have been passed on to them from others. Some of them say they have not been to the neighbor's house in five years, that is only a half-mile away. They tell of the drudgery, of the enslavement that they endure, and in reading those letters I am convinced that these women are enduring a slavery that the black race of this country never endured.
You feel, when you finish reading those letters, that you are almost broken. And do you know, it does break us. We have to keep on changing, because of course I cannot possible read all these letters. No human being could. My desk is piled high, in various groups, some of one thing and some of another.
And do you know that we have had girls in that office who have broken down mentally and physically just from reading those letters? One girl, 26 or 27 years old, came out to Chicago. She couldn't endure it any more. Perhaps she is here tonight. She is working now with the soldiers who have come back from war maimed and broken. She wrote back to one of the co-workers in our office and she said: "As bad as this work is, it is not as bad as you are doing there. Because here we have everyone to help these men, societies, clubs, organizations, churches, everybody is reaching out a hand to give to these men. But it broke my heart to see that no one was helping those poor mothers."
That is the message I have for you here in Illinois. I have come to you to appeal to you to help us. Help us help these women. Let us make a better world. Be the first on record in this state to open clinics, not one but dozens of clinics, where we can tell these women to come and be advised. Give them the hope that they are reaching out for... These women are bent, they are bowed, they are broken, and they want your help.
Now, I believe that by birth control we ↑can↓ remove untold misery. I think that through it we can remove poverty, we can do away with slums. I think we can have children conceived in love and reared through the aid of science for the development of humanity. I believe also that through it we can change not only the quality of the race, but the thinking of the race, and bring about peace on earth, good will to men, (Vociferous applause)
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project