Margaret Sanger, "Town Hall Award Acceptance Speech," 15 Jan 1937.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm 130:643."
Sanger was given the Town Hall Association's Award of Honor in 1936. She spoke at a meeting of the Association in New York City on January 15, 1937. Other speakers included Rabbi Sidney E. Goldstein, Fannie Hurst, Clarence Cook Little, Henry Noble McCracken, and Henry Pratt Fairchild. For a draft of these remarks, see Library of Congress Microfilm 109:241B.
I want to thank you for the honor you have conferred on me tonight, not only in my own name, but rather as a representative of those millions of men and women whose lives we must go on struggling to “enlarge and enrich.”
I am pleased, I am happy to have this fine tribute to my humble efforts, toward the enlargement and enrichment of life, because it seems to me that these words are precisely what I have aimed to do, and because these words contain the whole meaning of the Aims and Objectives of the Birth Control Movement, indeed the whole of the meaning of Civilization itself.
How can the lives of the masses be enlarged and enriched except through Freedom. Freedom--that word which has been ringing down the ages, chased form place to place, from country to country, round and round the globe. Freedom--so difficult to get, but far more difficult to hold. Freedom for the individual, but also for the human family--the Community. Thus in fighting for this spiritual quality we link our own personal efforts with the great aim of fulfilling human destiny and thereby broaden our own lives and enrich our own experience.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I awakened to the bitter realization that the Mothers of this country were enslaved victims of old prejudices and stupidities. I realized that laws passed by Congress during a Puritanical era had resulted in compelling women, in fact, conscripting them, to the slavery of childbearing. They were denied freedom of knowledge--they were slaves of laws and tyrannies.
The suffering, the mental agony, the damaged bodies, the needless sacrifice of women’s lives aroused my determination to “speak out” for these mute mothers, too inarticulate to speak for themselves.
In India there is a proverb. “Knowledge is to know what to do: Skill is knowing how to do it; Virtue is the doing it.” Well, I had neither the knowledge, nor the skill, but I knew that something had to be done about it. Then the greatest obstacles were discovered--the barbed wire entanglement--the Federal laws which had been placed on our law books and tied up the whole subject of Birth Control with that of obscenity, indecency and pornography.
It has taken nearly twenty-five years to clear away these barbed wire entanglements.
Congress that made the error should have corrected it, but ever timid and fearful, thinking of votes, ignoring women’s sufferings, it was the United States Circuit Court of Appeals that cut through these barriers and separated at last the idea of decent scientifically controlled contraception from the stigma of the immoral and obscene.
If one could sum up the misery and unhappiness in homes resulting from the deaths of the 3 million mothers and 15 million babies whose lives have been needlessly sacrificed since the Federal law was passed sixty-three years ago, it would make countless thousands mourn.
Now at last the shaky part of the laws gives us a Freedom which makes possible the free flow of knowledge to women and men which can make possible the Enlargement and Enrichment of millions of lives.
It makes possible the spread of scientific knowledge of the elements of sound breeding. It makes possible the creation of a new race; a new generation brought into this world consciously conceived. It makes possible the breeding out of human weeds--the defective and criminal classes--the breeding in of the clean, strong and fit as instruments to carry on the torch of human destiny.
Only thus can we link our own limited individual lives with the whole future of humanity.
We look tomorrow to lives lived without fear, without anxiety, to lives of free men, women and children, instead of the slaves crippled by ignorance, injustice and tyranny.
In accepting this great honor you have conferred on me tonight I do so, not so much as a recognition of achievement completed, but as the symbol of your faith in the importance of the task that still confronts us, of your support and encouragement in the great work for the Enlargement and Enrichment of the lives of millions of mothers and children who can now be reached.
Let us who desire to live richly--dangerously--dedicate ourselves to these great aims--the Enlargement and Enrichment of Life in the deepest as well as the broadest sense of these words, in consecrated service to the fulfillment of the realization and perfection of the Human Race.
For only in these terms can our own smaller lives gain real meaning and direction.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project