Margaret Sanger, "On the 25th Anniversary of the Brownsville Clinic," 16 Oct 1941.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm 130:767."
Sanger gave this speech on October 16, 1941 at the Hotel Roosevelt to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Brownsville Birth Control Clinic in Brooklyn, New York. It was broadcast on WQXR in New York, and in other cities. Other speakers at the event were Richard N. Pierson, Canon Cornelius P. Trowbridge, Ira S. Wile, and Lawrence Fernsworth. For draft versions see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:285, 287, 289, 301, 308, and 317. An excerpt of this speech was published as "Birth Control and Civil Liberties" in the Churchman, Oct. 16, 1941 (Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:315.
On October 16, 1916, a gray day with overcast skies, the first birth control clinic was started in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Its purpose was to test the New York State law, and to free mothers from the slavery of ignorance and fear. This clinic also marked the first effort to place this subject in medical and public health channels, and to give it the scientific approach which it emphatically deserved and must have.
Twenty-five years ago there was no organization and no organized public opinion behind this idea. To the ignorance of the general public was added the wilful effort of our opponents to confuse the issue through misrepresentation of the meaning of the meaning of the term “birth control”. There was sarcasm from the public press, opposition from religious groups, and criticism from the medical profession. One must remember that there existed no scientific data in America from which to draw conclusions and prove our facts. There were no books, no literature, on the subject. There were no adequate methods available in the United States to guarantee a certain percentage of success. Medical magazines scarcely dealt with any phase, not even the medical aspects of the subject. Most difficult of all was the legal opposition, both State and Federal, which represented the barbed wire entanglements that had to be cleared from our path.
What then gave us the faith and strength to carry on? Only our (tormenting) knowledge of the needless waste of life and misery that women everywhere were enduring. We who worked closely with these mothers, especially the sick, the poor, the indigent, we know the facts. We know the infant death rate was terribly high and the maternal death rate also shamefully high. Records of that period revealed that over 2 million women were terminating their pregnancies illegally because they did not know how to prevent them. Thousands of these mothers died. Thousands more became invalids. Out of this single fact the birth control movement sprang into life.
We advocated birth control to enable mothers to space the births of their children to safeguard their own lives and health. We advocated it to save the lives of babies; to raise the standard of child life and childhood; to make parenthood a conscious responsibility--with children wanted before they are conceived--with no unwanted children born who all too often become a burden upon the community. We maintained that no mother should be forced through ignorance to bring a crippled, defective or sickly child into the world, and that parents should have the right to determine the size of their family according to the family income and the earning capacity of the father.
The Brownsville clinic attempted to put ↑translate↓ these ideas into practical service. Previous to its opening, a little group of us had little leaflets printed which we slipped into the mailboxes of that crowded, poverty-stricken community. They read; in English, Yiddish and Italian:
Can you afford to have a large family?
Do you want any more children?
If not, why do you have them?
Do not kill; do not take life, but prevent
Safe harmless information can be obtained of trained nurses at 46 Amboy Street
From these circulars 450 mothers came to Amboy St. within the next few days, with a new hope in their hearts. This army of women, assembling in a single block, with baby carriages and babies in their arms could not help but attract the attention of the police. As a result, despair soon replaced hope among these women, as 9 days after it opened its doors, the clinic was closed by the police. And this first American clinic, which in Holland would have been honored as a great public utility, was described in the Brooklyn court order which closed it as “a public nuisance”!
But we refused to accept this verdict without a fight. We challenged the decision and carried the case to the Supreme Court of New York State, with the result that in 1918 a decision was handed down which broke through the wall of legal confusion surrounding the birth control movement. It clarified and established the ↑legal and medical↓ right of doctors in this Empire State to give contraceptive information “for the cure or prevention of disease”.
While this decision was rendered in 1918, we had to wait almost 5 years, from 1918 to 1923, before we were able to find a physician who would stand beside us in re-establishing a practical program of service, from which we could build up a scientific background of medical case histories that would prove even to the most skeptical the importance of birth control in saving lives and promoting public welfare.
We now have the medical data. Our clinical methods have been tested by competent medical and scientific authorities. We have the records of nearly 100,000 patients at one center alone, plus the records of more than 600 other birth control centers, to support out claims. We know today what birth control will do; what it has done; and what it can do. We know that it has saved countless lives of mothers and children. We know that we have helped to keep intact the respect and affection and love of parents for each other ↑[↓ a necessary factor in happy marriages and permanent homes ↑]↓ ↑, we know we have helped to strengthen family life↓ .
We can look back over these 25 years with a grateful heart that the vision we had in 1914 has remained steadfast throughout the years. It has not been influenced by this or that group to change its course. It has not made the mistake of aligning itself with those advocating this or that panacea. It has steadily clung to its original program which had two major objectives:1. That every woman, rich or poor, regardless of race of creed, should be entitled to harmless scientific knowledge that would make planned parenthood possible. 2. That she should receive such information only from those medically qualified to give it.
While we [know?] that there are over 600 centers now, this is not enough to take care of our 32 (?) million mothers of childbearing age in this country. Birth control is not and cannot be a thing apart. It must be recognized as an important factor by all health and social welfare organizations dealing with the human family and its problems. It belongs as a part of every pre-natal and post-natal program, in every hospital, in every public health service for mothers, in the cities, counties and states of this nation.
Birth control is today recognized as one of the most revolutionary ideas of the century. It does not mean to limit families to one child or two children, but it does mean to have only the number of children that can be raised with due consideration for the mother’s health, the father’s income, and decent standards of living. It does not meant to take life or to interfere with the development of life, for by preventing conception there is no life to destroy.
Properly taught, and made equally available to all classes, birth control will balance our differential birth rate as it did in Holland and as it is doing in Sweden and other countries today. It is only in countries where such information is available to the intelligent and well-to-do but denied to the poor and indigent that we see this dysgenic unbalanced birth rate, so deplorable as well as dangerous to the future of our country and its defense. This unhappy situation we lay straight at the doors of the opponents of this movement who use their political influence to intimidate public officials and prevent them from doing their duty.
In closing it is pertinent on this occasion to refer briefly to the statement of President Roosevelt, following the Conference on the high seas between himself and Prime Minister Churchill in which he set forth the four (?) freedoms for which nations must fight:Freedom of speech and expressions everywhere in the world--page Lt. Gov. Mr. Poletti, please! Freedom from want-- everywhere in the world. Freedom from being unwanted here in the United States. This would solve a lot of our future problems--and if followed everywhere in the world would certainly lay the foundations for world peace. Freedom from fear-- At last the world is waking up to the agony of fear-- a agony suffered by women for centuries--fear hanging over their lives like a sword, fear, day after day, month after months, fear from year to year. Freedom from fear-- for women everywhere in the world.
Julian Huxley has stated that birth control will go down in history as one of the great achievements of the human intellect, that it will class with those great advances, such as the invention (?) ↑making↓ of the ↑first↓ stone hammer, the discovery of electricity and the use of the printing press.
It is indeed an honor and a privilege to have had on our side from the beginning of the movement some of the greatest intellects of the English-speaking world, but we who have had the historic privilege of leadership in this movement, cannot be content or satisfied by the achievements of the past. There is a grave responsibility still remaining to guide this movement into those channels where the greatest good will come to the greatest number. We must stay on the battlefield to hold what we have gained; we must continue to carry our banners high until the ideals they proclaim shall have become firmly established in practice in our civilization. ↑words↓ May I close with a message just received in a cable from Mr. H. G. Wells:
It is pertinent to quote here a message just received by cable from Mr. H.G. Wells.
“The Birth Control Movement has revolutionized human life. It has emancipated men and women alike from involuntary animal parentage. Women can not possess their own lives and be the willing and deliberate mothers of our renascent world.”
(possible last page?)
Bit by bit we invaded the opponent’s territory. We threw light where there was darkness. We brought hope where there was resignation and despair. Through logic, reason, knowledge and factual evidence, condemnation, injustice, criticisms, arrests and persecution gave way. Through patience and more patience we have brought the intelligent forces of the English speaking world to support our cause. For as Victor Hugo said: “There is no force in the world so great as that of an idea whose hour has struck.” The hour had struck for women to free themselves from age long bondage. Now let us move forward to a new world with planned parenthood as its foundation.
The insertions on the last page were not included in the published version.
(another bit for insertion)
We thank our enemies. . . Our opponents. . . for the good they have done to our cause. When in 1921 the Town Hall was closed by a religious organization which ↑commandeered and gave its orders to↓ the Police force of New York City, the resulting protest enabled us to give the public a far clearer idea of what we were doing, and established that right shall triumph as long as a free press endures here.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project