Margaret Sanger, "The Need for Birth Control In America," 11 Feb 1923.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:0958."
This speech was given at a mass meeting at Parsons' Theater in Hartford, organized by the Connecticut Birth Control League, and chaired by Annie G. Porritt. Handwritten corrections probably by Margaret Sanger.For a draft version without Sanger's handwritten corrections, see Sanger Papers Library of Congress Microfilm, 130:0436. The speech was also published in Adolf Meyer, Birth Control Facts and Responsibilities, (Baltimore, 1925), pp. 11-49.
Hartford, Conn., Sunday afternoon, February 11, 1923 at 3:00 P.M.
Madam Chairman and Ladies and Gentlemen:
Birth Control is the keynote of a new social awakening. It is not only a health and economic expedient; it is a great social principle, a principle that is interlocked with the spiritual progress of the race and its future. The idea of Birth Control is not new; it is only the methods that are being advocated and pressed today that are comparatively new; but the idea of Birth Control or the limitation of the family is as old as nature itself. In fact, nature is the most ruthless, the most cruel advocate of Birth Control; her methods are disease, famine, pestilence, flood and wars. Through these methods nature has controlled her population; through these methods nature has eliminated the unfit, those who are unable to compete for their survival, and in this way and through theses methods, she has perpetuated and improved her types. ↑Man also↓ in practically all stages of his evolution has attempted to limit the size of his family, has attempted to keep the population down by other methods of Birth Control. Those methods are infanticide or killing of babies, the abandonment of children, and foeticide--these have been the methods through the stages of savagery ↑& barbarism↓ and even during the early stages of civilization ↑by which man has tried to control population.↓
Plato advocated the exposure to the elements of all infants to see if they were worthy of the keep of the State or by the State. Aristotle advocated that the State should fix the number of children born to a family; and even Seneca advised that all children that were born of immoral or diseased parents should not be allowed to survive. Even Rome who built up her power by the conquest of weaker nations also condemned unhealthy children to an early death. These methods were used to such an alarming extent that from the Middle Ages practically down to the end of the 18th century, infanticide was a ↑the↓ most common, the most prevalent crime of western Europe. during that time. No matter what was done to put down this crime of infanticide, it continued to increase. The practice spread itself continually. We read in our histories of most atrocious tortures that were applied to the mothers who abandoned or who killed their children. In one sovereign's reign ↑in Germany ↓ which took about eighteen years, there were more than 20,000 mothers tortured ↑to death↓ for the crime of infanticide. These mothers--and most of them were married women--were put to death by being put into a bag with a cat and a dog and a viper, and they were thrown into a ditch ↑body↓ of water, if there was one near ↑by↓ .
If, after a certain period of time, this ↑the↓ victim had not ceased to move and to struggle, she was removed from this ↑the↓ bag and was then put to death with ↑glowing↓ [tongs?] . And Yet this did not put an end to infanticide. All the tortures, all the threats of hell ↑&↓ punishments, did not put an end to infanticide; and it was not until the practice of abortions became generally known and the practice became generally prevalent that infanticide went out of fashion.
We today believe in beginning at the other end. We believe not in the methods of nature and not in the methods of savages or early barbarians, but we believe in control of the birth rate by scientific means to ↑that↓ prevent contraception. That is the definition of Birth Control. Now We believe that Birth Control is the key to the greatest of human problems,--that of reconciling humanitarianism with race improvement. We know that to ↑the↓ development ↑of↓ the mind, to develop ↑and↓ the intellect of man has been a process of evolution. It is a very slow growth, which while the reproductive process or capability of man is almost unlimited, yet unless we put some check, some control over the powers of reproduction, we are bound inevitably or eventually to be in such a state of society, to have so large a proportion of individuals in a community, that the mind, the intellect of that same group at that same state, is unable to keep up with the conditions created out of the numerous people who have multiplied and reproduced.
Now if we let this condition alone, as it has been let alone in the past, nature would take care of that; nature would simply thrust to the wall the old and the diseased and the sickly, and the feeble--and she would adjust her types, and she would adjust her population until they evolved gradually to make conditions and a system of society convenient for them all. But we today, with the development ↑advance↓ of Christianity, with the development of humanitarianism and democracy, and the whole development of our sympathetic nervous system, we will not let that process take place; we will not let nature do this work. And so we through our sympathies, through the finer development of man, we reach out our hands and we take care of your sickly and the diseased, the mentally deficient, and we take them to our hearts; we erect great institutions for their upkeep; and we practice force upon the process of ↑them to↓ reproduce their types. This is what has happened, and the consequence is that we have As we look out upon the world today,--you ↑we↓ find two very definite groups in society, as affected by the knowledge and the lack of knowledge of Birth Control. In all the western countries you find two groups the small family group and the large family group. In the small family group you find people who have limited the size of their families; for instance, you take some statistics by Dr. Bertillon of Paris; he found that of a thousand women between the ages of 14 and 50, in the poor district of Paris that out of a thousand women of that district there were 166 births; for the same number of women between the same ages in the wealthy district, he found 32 births. And in Berlin for that same number of women between the same ages, he found 57 births among the well-to-do and 147 among the poor; in Vienna it went practically at ↑was↓ the same proportion--67 to 197. And in London, practically the same; and this is what we find in almost every large city in the world.
But now let us look a little closer at that, because in my estimation the stationary population among the well-to-do is not an immediate problem. You look at this group and we see that they may have perhaps two, three or four children; but the great majority of those children, the greatest percentage of those children are brought up to full maturity. It is in this group that we find a great percentage of health, of wealth, of comfort, of highest standards of living, the best standards of education; we find there the opportunity for development; not only for the father and mother, but the children themselves; we find there that although there are a few children, that those children are given the best advantages of education; they are the ones who fill our universities and our colleges. It is from this group that we take and fill the best offices of state and society.
On the other hand we find the large family group and what do we discover there? You see there almost every problem that we are trying to solve today. You find large families have been perpetuated for generations, and you find where ↑there that↓ large families and poverty go hand in hand; you find the problems in that group have also been perpetuated; you find there poverty, misery, ignorance, infant mortality, maternal mortality, slums, over-crowding; you find there child labor, unemployment; you find every problem, practically every problem that we are trying to solve; and you find the one group on the one hand, the great percentage of them, are taxed, are over-burdened with charities, with the support of members of the other group.
Now it seems to me that this one group, in perpetuating themselves, are also perpetuating for generations to come the evils that are here before us. Now Most of us do not like these conditions and the most of us, in fact,--are trying to do all we can to alleviate the conditions in this large family group. But how do we go about it to remove them? There has been practically no attempt to really, fundamentally wipe out the evil conditions of society today. Rather do we attempt to alleviate, we attempt to legislate, we run off to our capitols and try to legislate out of existence child labor, infant morality, maternal mortality and all the other conditions that are here, and that we do abhor. But are we able to legislate them out of existence? Let us see today, for instance. Take infant mortality; that is a problem that affects us all. We have in this great country more that 250,000 infants who die each year before they reach one year of age. Ninety percent of those children die from causes due to poverty and neglect. Yet we allow ↑the 500,000↓ to remain in ignorance parents of these children, to remain in ignorance of how to prevent the coming of 250,000 more children the next year, ninety percent of whom will die of causes due to poverty and neglect.
We don't get underneath the cause of infant mortality. In my work as a trained nurse in New York City for more than fourteen years I found there were causes that most of us close our eyes to today. For instance, one cause was too frequent pregnancies. pregnancies that did not always terminate in the birth of a child. Again I found children coming too close together, too close together for the mothers health. Take a mother who had to go out and toil, working sometimes the whole day, sometimes at night, and she would come home when she worked at night, she would come home through the day and carry on the duties of the mother and of the wife in the home. That mother was exhausted and was using up the capital of that child before it was born. How can you expect that those children born under such circumstances and conditions to have the vitality, the endurance to withstand the diseases of early infancy?
And Again I found that women were rebelling against having too many children. I found women would rather die than have another child, and they were glad enough to face death in order to avoid it. Women who have five and six and seven children, whose husbands were toiling for a mere pittance,--every instinct in that woman life and heart told her that another child should not be born; and she had but one of two things to do: to resign herself to unlimited numbers of children, to unlimited pregnancies, or to perform illegal operations. And the rebellion of those women today is not resigning themselves to unlimited children, but they are resorting to illegal operations. This is the condition which we find when we are close to the mothers, close to the women who belong to the large family group.
We also find that our maternal mortality problem is one that could be helped if we could get down to fundamentals. It is said that we have 22,000 mothers who pass out of life each year from causes incidental to pregnancy, 22,000. Do you know what that means? That means that two mothers every hour of the night and the day pass out of life, pass into the great beyond from causes that might be prevented. You find among these mothers that there will be some of them who die from tuberculosis, and not so much tuberculosis as pregnancies during the development of the stages of tuberculosis. Out of every seven women who have tuberculosis four of them die, not from tuberculosis, but from pregnancy. Those women should never be allowed to become pregnant; and yet we know that the medical profession is allowed legally to relieve them of their pregnancy in order to save their lives; but they are sent back to their homes, back to the same environment and the same conditions without assistance, without advice, of how to prevent their getting into that condition again. We are like the ostrich--we have our heads in the sand; and we will not face the dangers.
We have also women who suffer from kidney disease, from heart disease, and it is only fair and honest and right that these women at least should be helped and protected from further pregnancies because every time they become pregnant it means that that disease is enhanced, and there is one of two things for the physician to do: to let her develop her pregnancy and die, or to relieve her pregnancy.
We find the same is true with our feeble minded. Dr. Goddard has said that there are 400,000 feeble minded in the United States–-and I think this was in 1910--and only 34,000 of these 400,000 are in institutions. The others are living amongst us; they are our neighbors; they--in fact--are forming a very great problem for future generations to solve. There we find among the feeble minded, that the feeble minded mother is three times as prolific as the normal woman, and we also find that a great percentage, over 65 percent, of the women living in prostitution are found to be feeble minded; and yet we close our eyes and let the feeble minded continue in reproduction. We have today an appalling problem with the insane and the feeble minded; and when you think that the insane in practically every insane asylum are not sterilized, but ↑there are few institutions where the insane are sterilized yet↓ a certain proportion of them ↑the inmates↓ are allowed to go home ↑at intervals↓ and almost inevitably leave behind them progeny, and then are ↑while the parent is↓ returned to the asylum! We have many cases, and you have them here also, where men have ↑become temporarily sane &↓ been allowed to go home temporarily sane, and yet would only be home perhaps ↑while within↓ a few weeks, sometimes a few days, and have returned raving maniacs, leaving behind them a pregnant wife. We have in most of our states--and I suppose the Kallikaks ↑increasing problems from these conditions↓ and Jukes family is familiar to all of you--but it never hurts to bring to mind what is going on in practically every community of the United States today, as long as we allow the Feeble minded to reproduce. Here for instance, is the story of Martin Kallikak, a feeble-minded man who married Rhoda. This was in 1808. Four hundred and seventy known descendants; and of the progeny, there 143 feeble minded, 36 illegitimate children, 33 sexually immoral persons, mostly prostitutes,--24 confirmed alcoholics, 3 epileptics, 82 who died in infancy, 3 proprietors of houses of ill-fame, and 3 criminals.
Again there were 1200 descendants of the Jukes family in 75 years. Of these, 130 were professional paupers who, in all, spent 2,300 years in poor-houses; 50 prostitutes, 7 murderers, 60 habitual thieves, and 130 common criminals. The expense of maintaining of this one family, including cost of prostitutes, and care of others in institutions amounted to $1,300,000. in this 75 years. That would be nothing compared to what they would cost today.
Now We know that in every state we have the ↑Kalliack↓ family and the Jukes family, but we are reluctant to face fundamentals and to get at the bottom. ↑of↓ in fact, I always say that. And I found in my own nursing work that we were very much today--and all social workers and nurses and doctors and those who are attempting to solve our social problems--that that we are all like the old fashioned quack--, the old fashioned quack who used to attempt to cure cancer by burning off the top. On the outside everything looked all right; but underneath the deadly disease continued to develop until the whole vitality of the individual was eaten up. We will take many of our societies today--and I think one that I would like to illustrate is the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a most worthy society. My only objection to it is that it doesn't go back far enough. Why doesn't it attempt to prevent cruelty to children born of diseased parents? Why doesn't it prevent the cruelty of children being born in misery, in ignorance, in immorality? Why doesn't it herald the rights of the unborn child from the housetops?
I often think that if children had something to say about their parents, I think we would have a little more responsibility in our parenthood. I would like to see parenthood a privilege, instead of an accident, as it is today. And I often wonder, if parents had to apply in some unknown and unusual way, if they had to apply as they have to apply today perhaps for maids or for chauffeurs, if they had to apply to some kind of state or social registry where the unborn child would have something to say, I can almost hear some of the questions the average child would ask, and I think the first question would be, "Mr. Father, have you a health certificate with you?" I think the second question might be, "How do you live? Where do you live? How many rooms have you got, and how is Mother's health; is she a happy, comfortable, jolly mother, or is she a nervous, worn-out drudge, a wreck?" And furthermore, it might say, "Well, my dear parents-to-be, the talents, the potentialities of a genius are within me. Do you understand those elements in a child? Would you prepare for me the environment for the development of my talents?"
Is society even ready for that? And again it might say, "How do you plan to bring me up? Have you any plans for my life and my development? Am I to be a chimney sweep thrust out to earn my own living, or am I to have possibilities of being perhaps a president?" And again I think it would say, "What is your wage? What kind of table do you set? How many children have you got already?" And when the answer would be "Eight", I think the average intelligent child would say, "No, thank you." (Laughter.)
Now we all know that we have very stringent and rigid immigration laws in this country, by which we keep out of this country people, persons that,--well, that we just don't want here; we keep out those individuals who will become a burden upon the state; who won't let into the country an insane person or a diseased person; we won't let in a pauper; there has to be a certain amount of money that you must have in order to come into this country; you have to have somebody more or less responsible for you; and I think--if I am not mistaken--that we don't let people in if we don't like their ideas.
But what about the enemy from within? Anyone in this country can become a father or mother. It makes no difference if you are diseased, if you are a pauper, if you are insane, no responsibility--no possibility of bringing up a child or feeding it, no development of character for understanding the child. You can be cruel, you can be anything ↑in↓ any stage of ↑mental↓ development, and ↑yet↓ you are allowed to be a parent; and I think it is time that if we recognize that it is not right to bring individuals into this country in order to protect ourselves from them, then I think it is also necessary for us to protect ourselves from within. (Applause).
Now many people ask us, in talking about this subject, they say "Do the people really want Birth Control?"-- People who have perhaps lived and enjoyed the existence of only their own kind of people do not recognize how desperate the women who are having children too often, how desperate they have become, and how they reach out to seek information. Within the last week we have received within our organization 1200 letters from mothers, and the letters are about like these,--I have just brought two of them to show you the nature of the letters, 1,200 of which we receive practically every week. That means more than 50,000 of these letters every year. The first one is:
I was married when I was a girl of only 17. There were 13 children of us. My father always drank and we had to go to work very young, myself when I was 11 years old, caring for the boarders in a large boarding house.
I have been married eight years. My first child was only a six months baby. She only lived three days. She was born in July and about January the first a miscarriage. The next January a little girl was born; in about four months another miscarriage; and then the next January 27 another girl; 21 months and a boy, who is now two years old; and I have had two miscarriages since then.
I have never had a chance to regain my real strength. When my second child was born I suffered a week from paralysis and I said then if I was ever that way again I would commit suicide.
(Second letter) [letter missing]
These are just illustrations of the thousands and thousands of mothers who reach out their hands and they say "Please help me." What do they ask? They only ask a chance to bring up their children, those they have already got. They ask just for a little rest for themselves. Many of them say "I am already the mother of ten children." Sometimes they say they have had 20 pregnancies. Again they say they have had 15 births and they have six children living. And the story is "I just want a chance to rest. I want one night's sleep before I die." And they tell how night after night they get up to get a drink of water. And they never have one night's rest from the time they become a mother until they pass out of life. This is all they ask,--a chance to know their husbands, a chance to be a real mother to their children. And it seems to me as I look out on the world that every agency of church and state of society should be at the fight ↑feet↓ of these women, should be glad to help them, to assist them, to just get a little out of life, to be the real mothers that we want them to be. It seems very little to ask, because can any mother serve society when she nearly ↑would rather↓ die by having one child ↑than have another child↓ ? Can she serve society by having other children? I don't think so. I think that is the least we can do for these mothers.
Now Many of us in working out these problems and in planning for a better civilization and a better society and meeting these problems fairly and squarely we have thought out some general rules that really should apply to make for a better civilization.
I believe there are eight definite reasons when women should not have children: the first is, I think that no parents should have children when they themselves have diseases, transmissible diseases or when there is insanity, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy in their family. That seems a very matter of fact and easy thing to ask and to demand; second, I believe that mothers or women should not be allowed to become pregnant while the mother is suffering from tuberculosis and any ↑kidney↓ disease, heart disease or pelvic deformities; she should not become pregnant until these diseases are cured; third, a woman or couple should not have children when the children they have already are not normal, even though they themselves are normal, but the children they have are subnormal. We know that these diseases go far back, and it is a call, a symptom and a sign that they should not have more when these that they already have are not up to standards; again, I believe that there should be at least two, if not three years apart from the births of children. A woman should have at least a year to recuperate from the strain and ordeal of the birth of one child; she should have a year to rest and try to prepare for the coming of the next child. Again, I think that today we want more than just the physical operation of bringing children into the world; we want children to have some of the development, some of the benefits of our intellectual development; so that, I believe that young girls should not have children. A women should be at least 22 if not 23 years old. Not that a woman could not give birth to perfectly healthy children younger. She can. We have seen them even at 14 and 16 giving birth to perfectly healthy children; but after all, the adolescent period has not passed until the 22d or 23d year and it seems to me that it is no longer necessary nor good for women to become mothers until they have passed through the adolescent period, until the physical, the mental and we might say the psychic side of her nature have developed and have been ↑all↓ interlocked.
And again we say that parents should not become parents until their economic condition is such that they can give to children the best possible advantages of the day. I also believe that a woman should not have children until she is well rested, not while she is fatigued from early labors, for instance, many children who come to work early, young girls who go to work at 10, 12 and 13 years, marry and become mothers almost immediately. I believe that every woman should rest from such toil for at least two, if not three years, before she becomes a mother.
I found in Scotland in one district that was practically built up during the war that out of 5,000 mothers or parents who were there, all having small families because they were all quite young, the teacher said that 85% of the first children born of these parents would fall to sleep some time during the day at school; and in her calculations and mine we found that these mothers, almost all of them, had been to work in the Lancashire cotton districts and had gone to work when they were 9 and 10 years old. The mothers were always tired. They had never had a chance to rest and they were married and became mothers almost immediately after marriage.
And again,--and perhaps many of you will not agree with this, but I believe that no young couple should have parenthood thrust upon them; and that, furthermore, they should not have children for at least two years after they are married. Now I believe in early marriages, but I always ↑also↓ believe in building up the marriage relation; I believe in building up the home as a ↑in↓ preparation, as a nest for the coming of the children that are wanted.
Now, I have seen and I believe that if two young people entering into the marriage state had a year or two years to know each other, to play together, to read together, to develop their love lives, I believe that there would be a finer, and a stronger bond between them; I believe also that the waiting and the building up of this bond of love and harmony between them would intensify the desire for maternity. I have seen it through the war when many young women wanting to be married and dreading the fact that the man they loved would be called away, did not want to have children under those conditions and we have seen many cases where that same woman said: "I am not never to be a mother; I don't believe I would understand children and I have no particular maternal instinct in myself." We have definitely seen that most of those women have come back and said "This thing has awakened in me. I want to have children."
And so We believe in waiting for a year or two after marriage before parenthood comes upon them. ↑fix up>↓ .
Now, often all, When you look out and when you see what we do today,--we pick out our young girls and our boys and we bring up our daughters with an instinct of rebellion about ↑to regard with resentment↓ everything concerning the ↑sex↓ relations, of men and women; and then, miraculously, we put a marriage certificate in that girl's hands, and we think that everything is going to be beautiful. It doesn't work that way. Love is like a plant; it has to be nurtured; it has to be developed; it has to be cared for. It is not a thing that just happens accidentally. And we believe in building up that ↑a↓ love relationship before a child is called into being. These are practically ↑some of↓ the ↑simple↓ rules ↑of life↓ we say that people should have applied ↑apply↓ to themselves if they desire to make for happier homes and also to take part in being part of a hardier and healthier race.
Now Most of us believe that Birth Control might be a good thing in some cases, but we all more or less have some objections, and I am not going to take up the time for all these objections, but I am just going to dwell upon one or two of them: the first objection that is raised almost universally--I found the same objection in Japan and in China; you find it everywhere--the objection is that if women have information to prevent conception,--in other words, if they know how to avoid having children,--that the race will die out, that we wont have children ↑that there will be race suicide.↓
Now, I believe that that is absolutely false. I think that in the first place this knowledge of Birth Control does not interfere in any way with anyone who desires a big family. We only hope to bring it to those who don't want to have a big family; and we say as we see it is a sound principle, that we believe that those who don't want to have a big family should have the same privilege as those who do want to have a big family. That is all.
Now The instinct of maternity is not a thing that can be wiped out or killed by such a simple thing as knowledge. That instinct is too old; and if any of you have seen the cases that I have seen in my gynecological work,--women who thought they could not become mothers, if you could see and know the agony and pain that they have endured in going though operations when there has only been one chance in a hundred that that operation would result in giving that woman the power of maternity! And yet hundreds and hundreds of these women take that one chance. The maternal instinct is very deep, and one of the reasons today that ↑why↓ (I believe) we have small families, sometimes only one child in a family, is because that child has come too quickly into that woman's life. She has never had a chance to develop herself; she has been first a girl, then a mother. This wife in her, the woman in her has never had a chance to evolve; and also any ↑the fact that motherhood was accidental or enforced makes that↓ condition thrust upon us becomes abhorrent to us ↑her↓ . If she had waited for a time after her marriage, if there had been a chance to develop that maternal instinct in her, motherhood would have been a joy to her and not a dread and a fear. And as I believe that this knowledge ↑of B.C. will increase the desire for motherhood.↓ the instinct will be developed.
Also we found in the high birth-rate and low birth-rate countries this fact,--that in the high birth-rate countries, like China, where there has been no ↑conscious↓ Birth Control applied where women have brought to birth children as often as nature has allowed it, the population has remained practically stationary for some hundred years. On the other hand, the low birth-rate countries, with the exception of France, which I will take up later, the low birth-rate countries, like England and Germany, Holland, New Zealand, and Australia, these countries, while the birth-rate has been lower and has continued to be lower, the infant mortality and the general death-rate have also been lower; consequently the population has increased.
And certainly we have three very good examples of what Birth-Control, when nationally applied and controlled, can do to disprove the argument of race suicide in such countries as Holland and New Zealand and Australia for, in Holland, for instance, in 35 years her birth-rate has decreased; her infant mortality in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague is lowest of any states ↑cities↓ in the world, and this is particularly so since Birth Control has been established there in cities. Holland has the fastest increasing population of any country in Europe. She also has a very queer thing that has developed there that we cannot find in any other country and that is taken from the army statistics in 1915--she not only had the highest military standing but she had the highest male stature in these 40 years. So That Birth Control goes for race improvement as well as increasing the population.
The race suicide theory simply does not stand. And besides, I often say to people who say that they are standing for bigger populations, they want more people to justify our existence, they will not be consistent, because if they were consistent they might stand for polygamy. There is no quicker way in the world of getting big families than through polygamy; but it doesn't stand; and they don't really stand for big families or increased population.
Another objection is that it is going to lead to immorality. That is a very serious objection and one that we cannot pass over lightly. It is a ↑this aspect of the↓ subject which took me to Europe before Birth Control was taken up ↑launched↓ in the United States. I found, for instance, in Japan that my son and I had to revise our ideas of morality. I found that the things we found immoral here were found very moral in Japan. Morality today has been immorality a hundred years ago and immorality today is likely to be morality a hundred years from now. I think it is an insult to suggest that our women will become promiscuous if they have knowledge of if they have not the fear of the result to keep them moral. In other words, you have got to ↑the inference is that a woman must↓ be kept ignorant to be kept live a clean life. I don't believe that is true.
Again, we might say that everything can be misused. All knowledge can be misused; we know that. Everything today has some misuse of it. But we don't stop the progress of humanity because of the few who misuse things. Automobiles can be misused; certainly razors can be misused, and as a matter of fact, when razors were first put on the market there was just the same objection. In the old days ↑a↓ man ↑could not shave himself only↓ a doctor had to shave a man secretly ↑that privilege↓ ; then ↑later↓ they had a public barber; and gradually men began to buy razors and shave themselves. And they said, "Why, if you let any man have a razor and ↑to↓ shave a man he will cut the throat of the man he ↑quarrels with.↓ " is mad with. We know the whole ↑The↓ secret of life is to teach people the proper use of knowledge. And that is what we have got to do with knowledge of Birth Control. We have got to teach ↑young people↓ the proper use ↑of knowledge↓ .
Again, we found in Holland, instead of increasing immorality it made increased in ↑the↓ marriage ↑rate↓ . Young people were not afraid to get married and they were not afraid of a big family that they could not support. In 1914 I went to the Central Bureau of the Hague and I was challenged to find a native woman alive in Holland at that time who was a prostitute. The first thing the parents do when they see the boy and girl interested in each other, if they are both of the families that they like, they encourage an early marriage and then they get their information from the Birth Control clinics, of which there are 55 in that little country today. And they are impressed with the responsibility of having children; they are told that to have a child is the greatest responsibility in the world and you have no moral right to have children that you cannot take care of; you have no right to have more children than you can support; you should not just have children and have your neighbor bring them up. And so the responsibility of parenthood is impressed upon the young couple very early.
They look upon it, and have even used the argument to me, "Why should we have children any more than we should have an automobile? It isn't only the having it here but it is the keeping it up." And this is the way the Dutch mind looks upon having children. It has not increased immorality; it has increased morality. Marriages are popular; there has been an increase of total marriages. Immorality and prostitution have decreased. By this I don't want anyone to think there is no prostitution in Holland. There was prostitution in Holland even then; but they told me it was professionals that came in from France and Germany to catch the trade.
Whether those same facts and statistics stand together today I don't know. It may be that the war has changed the conditions; but up to 1914 that was the condition in Holland. After all, we know that early marriages will do just that.
Again, we find that 77% of the men who frequent houses of prostitution are married men. Now, let us see why that is. In my own nursing experience I found a very extraordinary thing developing in this country, and that is, the wrong concept of the relations of marriage, the wrong concept of the whole process of creation. Women have developed almost a cloak of frigidity and they have an ideal in that frigidity; they believe that that is the natural, and right and spiritual way to be. I contradict that and I don't believe that that is the condition to create in themselves or that it is going to make for happiness in the home. And I also found that a woman would say to me, "Well, my husband is a perfectly fine man; he is one of the best in the world; but if only, well, if only this relationship of marriage did not exist I would be perfectly happy." Now that man, on the other hand, is a creature of evolution of nature and of expression. And we find there is one of the causes for this great percentage of men who visit prostitutes. So that we say that Birth Control knowledge back of that is going to help that woman to remove from her the fear of pregnancy because back of that frigidity is often that fear of pregnancy. She has standards to live up to; she has her life which she is developing and she does not want a big family; and the consequence is that she usually drives her husband away from her. They do not develop together fully; and immorality, or rather, lack of Birth Control is the cause of immorality in the home as well as out of the home. We believe that Birth Control is going to build up the home; it is going to stand for early marriages and for finer companionship in the home after marriage.
There is only one other objection that I am going to take up and that is that people say, "Wouldn't you do much better for the world if you were talking about self control rather than birth control?" Perhaps I would; I don't know; but let us look at what one means by control. After all, we all have to be controlled; I believe in self control; I believe in it most decidedly, most emphatically; but I believe in it as part of our development of character; I believe in it as part of our development in social evolution. We have to be controlled. I also believe in it as part of the beauty of marriage and of our comradeship in marriage: but I don't believe it is a good nor right method of Birth Control. I don't believe it is the best method of Birth Control.
Now, what do they mean, to be very frank. Let us look at these things frankly. It may mean when they say control, they may mean that the relation of marriage or the union of marriage should take place only for procreation. Well, that means that the average normal people who can only afford to have two or three children, to bring them up properly, that this relationship, which is allied to the divine, shall take place in your lives but two or three times. I think that is unduly harsh and unnecessary and is also a condition that cannot be lived up to by the average normal people.
Secondly, we must remember that even the most controlled people--and I have many cases in mind where people are controlled to the fullest of their ability--and yet with only one union a year there have been big families because that is all it takes to have one child,--a year and a half,--and you can have 15 or 16 children in a lifetime.
Again, they say they believe that there is a certain period in a woman's development when she is partly or wholly sterile; and this is untrue; it is absolutely untrue as applied to every woman. If it were true and if that is what is meant by control there might be some possibility of its being enacted; but when it is absolutely denied by the medical profession that this state exists in the average woman ,--in fact, they say it is only one percent of women who are at this time partly sterile,--so we say that control instead of birth control is not practicable.
Here is a case that came to me, a ↑social↓ worker had a very severe cardiac case; the woman was suffering from heart trouble and was pregnant. This social worker was rather annoyed at this condition, so she took it upon herself to call upon this husband ↑of the woman↓ on Sunday when he was at home. He was a young man about 32, a very fine, decent man and loved his wife and loved his children; he was what his wife called a home body ↑"good man."↓ He was a truck driver. This little nurse went to him and she told him he was taking his wife's life in his hands if she had another child. The man was amazed. What could he do? And this nurse, after calling him a few uncomplimentary names, said he should control himself. He said he would; it was the last thing he wanted to do to bring his wife to the grave. So the nurse went on; they had just a few farms ↑rooms↓ there. But in a short time, less than three months, this little wife came back to the social worker and she said to her, "You have ruined my husband; I had a good husband, a good man who never struck me, who never struck the children, but was always home; who gave me his money and we were happy together. Now I have a man who has turned into a brute; he corrected ↑beat↓ one of the children and when I tried to plead with him he struck me. He is never home; he is always out on the corner with one ↑some↓ of the loafers." And she said, "It is your fault; something that you said to him; and he has not been the same with me. I would rather have a child every year and have the love of my husband, than the kind of man you have made." This social worker was very much disturbed; she went to one of the physicians in charge and asked him about this case, and he said, "That is perfectly right; that is just exactly what would happen." This man who was a primitive sort of man was simply thrust out of one state of his evolution and put into another. It was suppression, which was something in ↑from without self control is↓ a condition that we have to live up to, that we have to evolve to. This is what self-control is; it is not a thing that can be thrust upon one from without; it must be worked up from within. Control is a beautiful thing which we should evolve to and develop within ourselves; but it is not either practical for all people nor is it the best or the most harmless method of Birth Control.
Now There are many,--in fact, I want to say there are three kinds of Birth Control; and I do hope if anyone who has come here this afternoon has expected me to discuss the methods of Birth Control--so many people have thought the methods of Birth Control would be discussed from the platform--it has never been our method or custom to discuss them here. We want to establish clinics in all thickly populated communities. We want them as they have them in Holland; they also have them in England, and also in China; and we in the United States still have none. We want these to be the places with doctors and trained nurses in charge so that women or men may come there and receive individual instruction suitable to fit ↑the↓ individual women ↑womans case↓ . We want to raise this subject of Birth Control from the gutter where it has been placed by our laws. We want to raise it to the same plane with other scientific measures. There are three methods: ↑continence: sterilization and means that prevent conception↓ one method is continence or celibacy, perhaps the best ↑safest↓ we have ever heard of ↑known↓ . Do you know that in your state that is a crime--to live a celibate today? Because your law says that you cannot use methods of Birth Control, and yet there is not a better method of Birth Control known in all the world today than to remain single. So all you single people who are over the age of maturity should be imprisoned. But, as Mrs. Porritt said, that is unique. You have that very unique law. Yet, continence is a method; sterilization is a method--and there are two kinds, surgical and that as ↑which is↓ induced by the X-ray. There is no doubt that the X-ray is going to take ↑play↓ a very important part in the whole process of Birth Control in the future. It is said they are now developing the X-ray to such an extent that they will in time be able to control the dosage; that is, that a woman suffering from tuberculosis should not become a mother until she is cured, that she can be made sterile by the X-ray for a period of three to five years and when she is cured then the power of motherhood would return to her. If this is perfected it will be one perhaps of the best methods of Birth Control.
Then from continence and sterilization we come to the medicinal and mechanical methods of Birth Control which would be common in public clinics which we want the physicians to give as applied to each individual, because every individual woman is different. A woman who has had nine or ten children and who has not perhaps had the best surgical care after the birth of her children must have different advice and different instruction from the woman who has had only one or two children. So we want to make this instruction individual, have it scientific, have it so the poorest woman can have the best information to her needs, physical, economical and often spiritual, because we want to direct this woman for the best interests of the race.
Now friends, after eight months' trip around the world I have found this,--that the people of all the world believe in and want to practice Birth Control. It is evidently all a process of responsibility. We want to be responsible for our acts. The people of China, of Japan, of India, of all the European countries, look to this as to a tolerance, while the governments of the same countries are blind to its improvement; they are blind to its improvement in reducing taxation, in reducing the burdens of charities.
Again we find churches are very timid in coming out and taking a stand for it, but we have had a few illuminating examples, such as ↑Lord Dawson ↓ physician who came to the conference at Lambeth last year, and took his stand firmly for Birth Control and told the people that unless they listened to them, they might just as well close their doors. Then there is Dean ↑ Inge ↓ of St. Paul's Cathedral. You have men like H. G. Wells, Gilbert Murray of Oxford, Bertrand Russell, Harold Cox. You have some of the finest thinking men in England; and John Maynard Keynes is also standing for Birth Control. He told me in London that this subject of Birth Control was a most important subject on the political horizon and he said unless we are going to recognize the population question, we may as well throw all our peace treaties and our agreements between nations in the waste paper basket; they can never come to anything until the population question is recognized. This is not only an individual problem, it is not only a national problem, it is a race, it is a world problem. I agree with H. G. Wells, who says in his last book that the whole world is crammed with meaningless lives, hordes of people who are born, who live, who die, and have done nothing to move the race forward one iota. There have been repetitions, all that has been said has been said before; all that they have done better before. They come and use up the energies and the resources of the earth.
Now on the other hand, what we are trying to do is to make for a better world, and we maintain that the greatness of a country cannot be measured by the size of its population. You have got to ask yourself, "Is your country breeding great men and women? Is it creating immortal records of poetry, art and science, and are these being used for the development of mankind?" We want to make the world a saner, better, cleaner place. We are fighting for the women and the children of this generation; we are fighting for the women and the children and the men of the next generation; and we want to safeguard everything that affects the dignity of womanhood. We also want to raise motherhood from the degradation and servility and sex slavery to a glorified privilege. We want to free woman from incessant child bearing; we want to free her from undesired pregnancy. We want children conceived in love and to be born only when they are wanted. Then we want to make these bodies of ours holy temples; we want to make them fit and perfect symbols that will be ready when examined to take its part in the mystery of material being.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project