Margaret Sanger, "The Meaning of Radio Birth Control," 29 Feb 1924.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Apr. 1924, pp. 110-11 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collection, S70:1041."
Sanger gave this speech at the New York State Birth Control Conference in Syracuse, New York. That version has not been found. It was broadcast over local Syracuse radio station WFAB.
Every step forward in our history, from those remote days when our prehistoric ancestors first discovered fire, tilled the soil, and domesticated the animals, has been gained through control over some force of NATURE. One by one these great wild powers, each one of them destructive and overpowering, have been harnessed, directed and mastered by human intelligence and made to serve some constructive purpose. The power of the wind, the power of steam, the power of electricity, all and with increasing rapidity have thus been subjugated.
By each of these successive steps, men have made use of these tremendous forces to free themselves from the slavery of toil. At every step in this long journey they have met the opposition of the prejudiced majority. These opposing groups, which have taken no part in progress, laughed at Columbus when he told them the world was round. They burnt great scientists at the stake. They said that automobiles would be impracticable and dangerous. They scoffed at the very idea of aviation. But in spite of all this opposition, a few have been brave enough, strong enough, courageous enough, to bear aloft and to carry onward the torch of civilization.
In Man's onward march towards civilization, one after another, he has conquered and controlled the forces of Nature. Thereby he has diminished disease, pestilence, and famine. Hygiene, surgery and sanitation have been the outcome of his triumph. In gaining control over these powers of Nature, step by step, mankind has made progress.
If you stop to think for yourself, you will agree with me that there are two dominant forces of human nature that drive every one of us onward, day in and day out, to work, to struggle, to achieve; to make homes, to establish families. These are the instincts of Hunger and Love. To satisfy our hunger, men compete in business with their fellow men, they labor to attain a little security in life. And similarly to satisfy our undying need for love, we marry, we make homes, we bring children into the world.
You all know as well as I do that morality means the control of these two instinctive impulses. If we aim to satisfy our hunger by eating too much, by refusing to share our bread with our fellow-man, we become immoral and sink to the level of beasts. We are no less immoral if irresponsibly we bring children into this world without first considering our ability to cherish and protect them; without giving thought to the health and strength of the mother, upon whom the great burden falls. Unless he can assure them health, adequate nourishment, sunlight and care, no man is justified in calling an unlimited number of children into being.
Now, just as Man has freed himself from Nature's bondage through invention and machinery, so must Woman free herself from the crushing slavery of undesired maternity through the instrument of knowledge and science. She must learn to space the years between the births of her children. In this matter, let mothers consider the example of the gardener.
Just think for a moment of the meaning of the word kindergarten--a garden of children! To me, that is just what the world ought to be--a garden of children. In this matter we should not do less than follow the example of the professional gardener. Every expert gardener knows that the individual plant must be properly spaced, rooted in a rich nourishing soil, and provided with sufficient air and sunlight. He knows that no plant would have a fair chance of life if it were overcrowded or choked by weeds. To grow into maturity, to bud, to blossom, to produce beautiful sturdy flowers in its own season, each plant must have constant attention, incessant care and tender devotion.
If plants, and livestock as well, require space and air, sunlight and love, children need them even more. The only real wealth of our country lies in the men and women of the next generation. A farmer would rather produce a thousand thoroughbreds than a million runts.
How are we to breed a race of human thoroughbreds unless we follow the same plan? We must make this country into a garden for children instead of a disorderly back lot overrun with human weeds.
In a home where there are too many children in proportion to the living space, the air and sunlight, the children are usually overcrowded and underfed. They are a constant burden on their mother's overtaxed strength and the father's earning capacity. Such homes cannot be gardens in any sense of the word. As each new baby comes, a poor little victim brought unwanted into an already overcrowded home, he has less and less chance to survive in his bitter struggle for life. Statistics prove this fact. In families where there are too many children, there is a high rate of infant deaths. Then the schools are overcrowded. Little tots are driven to work at an age when they should be in fields and playgrounds.
The control of this great overpowering human energy, the instinct of reproduction--is what we mean by Birth Control. We, who are carrying on the battle for the great human right of Birth Control, are fighting for better, healthier children, for a race of strong men and beautiful women here in America We place quality above quantity. We want each child to have proper food, warmth, sunlight and fresh air, devotion and love.
Birth Control does not mean childlessness. On the contrary, it does mean fewer, finer, stronger babies, happier, healthier mothers, fathers freed from worry, making their way to success and achievement, because they are inspired and strengthened by harmony and love.
You who are listening in tonight, who are taking part in this miracle of science, in this human control over one of the greatest energies of Nature, in this triumph of intelligence over prejudice and ignorance, remember that just listening in is not enough. Let your intelligence likewise be radioactive. Investigate our claims for yourself. Think for yourself. If you do, I am sure every one of you will join in our great movement to broadcast health and the heritage of health to every mother and child in this land.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project