Margaret Sanger, "One Week's Activity in England," Aug 1925.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Aug. 1925, pp. 219-20 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series S71:30."
Inspiring reports come to us from England indicating that Birth Control is now accepted, not merely by a small group, but by men and organizations exerting powerful influence, as a national problem to be faced and solved by the English people as a whole. The record of one week's activity, for instance, is most encouraging, illustrating as it does that the tireless and often unrewarded activities of our British comrades have been productive of the most fertile results. Birth Control has entered the national consciousness of England. The little seeds of thought sown by the Neo-Malthusians and Birth Control advocates have not fallen on sterile ground. The one week we speak of was the first in June. Let us summarize that crowded week of Birth Control activity:
The Congress of the Royal Institute of Public Health met in Brighton. One session was devoted to the question of Birth Control. The chair was taken by Mrs. Cooper Rawson, who in her opening speech urged the limitation of offspring, not alone on the ground of the danger to the nation but in the name of humanity. Our friend, Dr. Norman Haire developed this point of view in his quietly effective manner. But the supreme event of this Congress on Public Health was the sermon delivered to the delegates in the Brighton Parish Church by the Bishop of Birmingham (Dr. E. W. Barnes). I say supreme because this sermon, so outspokenly courageous, provoked a response from the Vicar of Brighton (Canon F. C. D. Hicks), expressing disagreement with the Bishop, and this incident stimulated a widespread and healthy discussion in the press. It evoked, especially from Harold Cox and Alexander M. Thompson ("Dangle" of the Sunday Chronicle), eloquent and readable defences of the doctrine of Birth Control.
If space permitted, we would reprint for the benefit of our readers all of these splendid utterances. We shall content ourselves with quoting on another page of the REVIEW* a bit of Bishop Barnes' sermon, expressing with a fine sense of the ethics of Christ, the profound morality of contraception. Let us hope that the courageous example of Bishop Barnes may inspire influential American churchmen to similar unequivocal utterance on the subject of Birth Control.
Another event which stimulated discussion and nation-wide publicity was the report, (published on June second, the Tuesday following Bishop Barnes' sermon) of the special committee appointed by the National Council of Public Morals. Lord Dawson of Penn had submitted a report advocating its endorsement of contraception. After declaring that "conception control" demands a much fuller investigation from the medical, economic and religious standpoints, the committee came to the amazingly sterile conclusion that "the ideal method of Birth Control is self-control." "Such self-control must be agreed upon by the husband and wife and carried out in a spirit of service and sacrifice.... The line of real advance lies in a deeper reverence, a return to a greater simplicity of life, and, not least, a drastic reformation of our social and economic conditions."
The value of our movement is not in the report of this committee, but the replies it has stimulated by its impossibly stilted and absurdly fantastical conception of ordinary human nature. "While they wait a hundred years or so for that reformation," exclaimed Alexander Thompson, hitting "the nail on the head" in the Sunday Chronicle, "husband and wife... are to model themselves on St. Francis of Assisi, and practise self-control in the spirit of service and sacrifice! Imagine it.... If you think for one little moment of the conditions under which conjugal relations are conducted in the [one word missing] sties of our big cities, you will realize that one might as well hope to grow roses from the thistle down or teach the earthworm to sing like the nightingale. My word! Think of it. Continence, chastity, service, sacrifice, as the text of a heart-to-heart chat with Bill Sikes!"
Birth Control caused stormy scenes at the National Conference of Labor Women in Birmingham, held at the same time as the Brighton Congress on public health. A resolution had been introduced to the effect that physicians in public service should be permitted to give contraceptive information to married people who requested it. Miss Quinn, a Catholic delegate from Leeds, protested against Birth Control being taken up by the Socialist movement. "I represent thousands of working women... to whom this doctrine and this insidious propaganda spells impurity. I protest with all the vehemence I possess against the suggestion that working women want instructions in impure and unchaste methods. It is a crime against God and humanity!"
It is reported that this speech provoked great dissension, and Miss Ellen Wilkinson, M.P., the chairman, interposed that she had allowed Miss Quinn a good deal of latitude, but she would not allow her to insult the rest of the delegates. "I represent the sentiments of thousands of Catholic women," retorted Miss Quinn. Other women might hold different views, quite honestly, replied the chairman, and Miss Quinn should not impute impure motives to them. Bravo, Ellen Wilkinson, M.P.!
This active week closed with another significant event–the publication by a committee of the Society of Friends of a pamphlet entitled "Marriage and Parenthood–the Problem of Birth Control." While this pamphlet does not bind the Society of Friends as a unity to our doctrine, it may be said to represent the enlightened attitude of the English society.
"There can be no doubt that Friends, like others, have accepted the idea of the small family," assert the signatories of this pamphlet. "There must be many young couples who long to have children and yet have no margin to meet the incidental cost of child-birth." Further: "The method of complete abstinence does not seem to us to be necessarily right for most married people. To lay down as a standard for all married people a rule of life that can only be attained by a few is in itself an error in moral direction."
This expression is significant, indicating as it does without confusing the issue that the Society of Friends is brave enough, as all other Protestant bodies should be, to announce publicly its independence from the domination of the Roman Catholic Church in this all-important problem, in that it refuses to rule out the discussion and the spread of knowledge concerning Birth Control.
These four important incidents, coming almost within the compass of seven days, give some indication of the widespread and intense interest our British cousins are taking in Birth Control. May it inspire all of us to renew our activities to keep our own country abreast in the march toward the new civilization!* See page 228
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project