Margaret Sanger, "American Women's Association Testimonial Dinner Speech," 20 Apr 1932.

Source: " Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Margaret Sanger Microfilm, S71:426."

Sanger gave this speech on receiving an award from the American Women's Association. Additional final and a draft version of this speech can be found in the Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress


↑April 20, 1932↓

Dr. Dewey, Miss Phillips, Ladies and Gentlemen: You must all know that my heart is too full to express adequately my gratitude in words. Sitting here listening to all these touching and beautiful tributes, I asked myself, “Is it really true? Am I awake or is it all a pleasant dream?” For after nearly twenty years of indictment, suppressions, courts, jails, patrol wagons and police raids, it is simply wonderful. (Laughter and applause) It is wonderful to receive something besides a warrant. (Laughter)

Miss Phillips, I shall always prize this medal, not so much as a reward for my humble achievements in a great cause, but to me this symbolizes public recognition of representative courageous women, of the basic importance of birth control as a necessary instrument in the making of our civilization.

In conferring upon me this honor, I feel that you are entering this battle for a new civilization and that is why this means so much to me. The memory of it will go with me in the thick of the fight, in moments of weariness and discouragement. It will reassure me that I am no longer alone in this battle for knowledge, but that intelligent, courageous groups of women are standing not only behind us but shoulder to shoulder with us in spirit. (applause)

I wonder if I can take this opportunity to tell you something of the work that we have been doing in Washington. When I think of Washington in the past five months that I spent there, I feel that we have gone into the Congressional trenches, so to speak. Our little group of workers, valiant, intrepid, have been a sort of shock troop in trying to get our bill introduced in Congress.

When we arrived there last December, the very air seemed surcharged with all the important, pressing problems of the day. The mind of each Senator and each representative seemed like a busy telephone switchboard.It was difficult to plug in anywhere because every wire was busy. It was busy with questions such as war debts, reparations, moratoriums, unemployment relief, tariffs, as well as war in Manchuria, peace conferences and disarmament, prohibition, budgets and finally bonuses. Now what chance had we to plug in with a question like birth control in that hectic atmosphere? As a matter of fact, the very mention of birth control to the hectic, worried, troubled Congressmen was very much like announcing a messenger from Mars, except that I think that would have been more interesting and not quite so remote.

“Busy:” “Busy in conference:” “Busy in committee meetings:” “Busy on the telephone;” “No time to see you:” “No time to talk about this subject, come back later:” “Come back tomorrow:” “Come back next week:” “Come back after your bill has been introduced,”--anything to get rid of you, anything to get you out of the way.

Always we came back promptly and on the hour. Some days our workers called upon thirty to forty Congressmen with the result of seeing perhaps one or two of them. In fact, we considered two interviews a good day’s work. Up to date, we have seen and talked to and we think partially converted, more than 200 Congressmen and over 50 Senators. (Applause).

We found that the great difficulty was misunderstanding. We further found that the great majority of these men were both badly informed and misinformed. Of course, we found that the younger men, some of the newer ones, knew something of the pros and cons of birth control. One could easily know that by the size of their own families. But when it came to asking for a law to allow others to have the same privileges that they had had, the subject became a serious one that had to have their due consideration. Nevertheless, we found that the main thing that hung over them all like a pall was fear--fear of prejudice, fear of cloakroom joshing, I hesitate to say "kidding". (Laughter) But more than all was fear of out opponents. Our opponents are skilled in the art as well as the science of tactics. We find that they move to block our every move and plan before we have scarcely known it ourselves. They move in bloc and group activity. Our supporters, as you know, give us casual and individual support, but the opposition moves en masse and there is no use in our trying to compete with them in those tactics.

So we had to outmaneuver them in another way. We met them in the tactics of psychology. Theirs is the weapon of fear; ours, the inspiring instrument of courage. Finally, we inspired one Congressman to have the courage to introduce our bill (applause), Congressman Frank Hancock, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina! (Applause)

I have here a telegram from a Senator who says:

"Please extend my regrets to those responsible for inviting me to the banquet in your honor, in my inability to attend as much as I would like to."

He goes on and says something about the question of birth control, its humaneness and justification, and then he says, "I will introduce it." (Applause)

This is Senator Hatfield , of West Virginia. (Applause)

We have had our eye on Senator Hatfield for a long time. (Laughter) He has shoulders as broad as this table and a jaw equally as strong. We feel that in getting him to take an interest in this cause, he will put his back into it also, he will put his teeth into it, and I am sure he will never let go until it is won. (Applause)

Now all this, friends, means that we have had our bill introduced in the House ; it is about to be introduced in the Senate. This lovely meeting, this distinguished committee, this award, all mean that we are on our way to victory. Who can compute the tremendous suffering saved the human race when this bill shall be passed? For I firmly believe that when the fear of pregnancy is eliminated from the lives of women, heaven will be millions of miles nearer this earth. I believe that much of the social, economic and crime chaos that exists in the world today extends directly back to the reckless breeding of our forebears. As a result, we see countless men and women here today whose lives are enmeshed and entangled by the prejudice and the ignorance of the past. We must disentangle their lives. We must release them from ignorance and fear. We must free them from tyrannical laws. We must direct our own efforts and our own energies into settling questions that we know so well and in order to enlarge and explore the sphere of the unknown, the sphere of real life. We know that in every village, hamlet and town in this country women are living troubled and tortured lives through fear: many of them come appealing to us for help, but out of our reach millions are helplessly inarticulate, like doomed souls crushed beneath the weight of a cruelly prolific nature. It is these women we are dedicated to free.

This medal, this award shall be the pledge to bind us together and to spur us on to the continuation of our fight for the liberation of womankind. Thank you!

...The audience arose and applauded...


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