Margaret Sanger, "The War and Birth Control," 1918.
Source: "The Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Library of Congress MicrofilmLCM 131:0119."
No published version has been found. The source Sanger's quote is Douglas Sladen, "The National Baby Week," Contemporary Reivew, July 1, 1917, p. 98. the full quote is: "In 1915, in wartime, deaths carried off more British babies than British soldiers. Therefore, the obvious way of repairing the wastage of war is to save the babies. The object of the National Baby Week is to show how they can be saved. there are 700,000 babies in the United Kingdom. If the 100,000 babies who die in their first year and the equal number who die before birth, were saved, we should have 900,000. 250 babies out of every 1,000 die before birth or in their first year. Now that the old theories for restraining population are exploded, and it is recognized that power, commercial as well as military, is based on population, the loss of power inflicted by this wastage, in babies is criminal, Since 5,000,000 young adult males of the country are under arms, and many thousand get killed every year, while the war lasts, the birth rate must drop. It is, therefore, more important than ever to preserve the lives of the children who are born."
Points for an article.
There are two special reasons in war-time for pushing to make birth control information legal:--one that it means positive race conservation; the other that war has always increased venereal disease and unless phenomenal improvement is made, the return of the soldiers will result in a menacing increase in the birth of diseased and defective children.
As to the first reason:--race conservation, the following points should be emphasized:--
Contrary to the popular notion that birth control means possible race suicide, its results are just the contrary. It lowers the birth rate, but lowers the death rate MORE, particularly the infant death rate. See the enclosed statistical leaflet for proof. (This table might be used to illustrate the article.)
War increases the civilian death rate. The most deaths are where the highest birth rate prevails. It is paradoxical but true that the best way to increase the population and lower the death rate is to lower the birth rate.
England's experience has been that in "1915, in wartime, deaths carried off more British babies than British soldiers. Therefore, the obvious way of repairing the wastage of war is to save the babies. Since five million young adult males of the country are under arms, and many thousand get killed every year, while the war lasts, the birth rate must drop. It is, therefore, more important than ever to preserve the lives of the children who are born." (Contemporary Review for July)
It is of equal importance that only those should be born who can be given a decent amount of health and care. If babies are born only to die, the parents are needlessly depleted, the population is not increased and the race is not conserved. Too many babies means a cruel waste of babies.
In Hungary before the war, 340 babies out of every 1000 died. Now the rate has risen to 500 out of every 1000. Since the war began over 1,172,000 babies have died in that one country. Birth control information is not prevalent in Hungary. Its birth rate is one of the highest in Europe.
In France, the general death rate has jumped from 19 a 1000 to 39 a 1000 since the war began. Only one third of these deaths were in the army. The civilian ↑The increase in the civilian↓ deathrate has therefore doubled. If this can happen in a country which has had free birth control information for half a century, what will be the increase in an ignorant country like ours which prohibits the information, if the war should drag on for two or three years?
Dr. Josephine Baker, of the New York Mayor's Committee of Women on National Defense reports that already the war conditions have raised the baby death rate. New York City has held the American record for the reduction of infant deaths. Since the establishment of the Bureau of Child Hygiene, of which also Dr. Baker is the head, the rate has dropped from 144 to 89 per 1000. If birth control information had been free it might have dropped to the figure of the world record, 70 per thousand, which is held by Australia and New Zealand, in which countries contraceptive information has long been free.
As to second reason:--the probable increase in venereal disease, the following are the chief points:--
The history of all previous wars has shown that they have added to the total of venereal disease. All the army authorities, particularly in this country, are endeavoring to make this war show a better record. In some camps they have been very successful, in others the situation is much worse than anything in civil life.
For ↑a↓ three year period previous to the war, (Jan. 1st, 1912 to December 31, 1915) 857 of every 1000 applicants for enlistment in the regular army were rejected because they were unfit, and nearly 200 out of every 1000 men were rejected because of venereal disease. In other words nearly 1/5 of the men were found infected.
Surgeon General Gorgas states that for a 12 week period ending December 7th last, there were reported from the 31 cantonments 21,742 new cases of venereal disease. The number of previous uncured cases was not reported. The total number of men then in camp was not stated. (Note:-- I am trying to find out, so the ratio may be different Determined.) Official reports of January 18th showed that the highest rate for venereal disease in any of the camps was Camp Pike, in Arkansas where over half of the men were infected. The rate was 585.7 per thousand. The lowest rate was Camp Upton, where there were only 4 new cases for that week.
Apparently the conditions in the allied armies are worse than ours. Surgeon General Gorgas states "that during the first 18 months of the war, one of the great powers had more men incapacitated from service by venereal disease contracted in the mobilization camps than in all the fighting at the front."
The conservative English Magazine, the Nineteenth Century Magazine for September, 1917 says of the British army, "from all parts of our empire, a million men have come overseas. Over one-third of that million becomes infected with venereal disease every 12 months."
Conditions in the trenches are such that whatever infection there is, may be rapidly spread, and many men may become diseased who have not willingly subjected themselves to the chance of infection.
It is to be hoped that the authorities will be able to control the situation, so that the returned soldiers will not be more diseased than they were before they went to war. But to just the extent that they do not succeed, to just that extent will there be a most menacing increase in the birth of diseased children during the first few years after the war. If as is predicted, we send from three to five million men to France, this possible condition when the men come back is ample cause for anxiety.
If, however, the legal restrictions preventing the circulation of birth control information are removed before the end of the war, we shall then be free to help the home-coming soldiers and their young wives to understand how they may defer the conception of their children until the danger period of the venereal infection is conquered.
Under peace conditions, the proportion of babies born diseased or defective because of venereal taint is sufficiently appalling. To let the war raise that rate is a social disaster which must be avoided if possible.
The nation is going to need the sturdiest kind of a race to meet the necessities of the reconstruction period following the war. Obviously this is no time to have the strength and resources of parents depleted by having more children than they can provide with fair health and care, or to have a next generation handicapped ↑and↓ below the par.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project