Margaret Sanger, "Woman of the Future," 3 Sept 1933.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S71:492."
Margaret Sanger delivered this speech at the International Congress of the World Fellowship of Faiths in Chicago, Illinois.Additional versions of this speech can be found on Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S71:445, 460, and 477, and Library of Congress Microfilm, 131:463B and 441. Shortened versions were published in Unity, Nov. 27, 1933 (Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S71:325) and in the Proceedings of the International Congress of the World Fellowship of Faiths.
Humanity today stands at the crossroads.
One way leads down to decay and destruction. It is the way of the shiftless, careless, irresponsible ignorance of the past.
The other is steep and narrow. It points upward demanding of us who inhabit this globe all that we possess in intelligence, knowledge, courage and vision and responsibility.
The steep ↑upward↓ road leads to the fulfillment of human destiny on this planet.
Which road shall we take? There is no time to mince words, to procrastinate, no time for hypocritical evasion. The problem is immediate. As the great French philosopher Bergson expresses it: Humanity must make up its mind whether it wants to go on living, not only whether it wants, merely to live, as the beasts and insects live, but whether it wants to continue to carry on the Torch of Progress.
Progress! We are gathered here in Chicago from all countries of the world to celebrate a Century of Progress. Nowhere is the advance in the sciences of Humanity more impressively shown than in the exhibits of that remarkable Hall of Science. There we find eloquent evidence of Man's conquest of the Air, of his daring explorations in the realm of the infinitesimally small, his war against microbes and germs; we find there all the miracles of the atom and of Radio-Activity. In brief, in the last one hundred years, Science has taken remarkable steps in the conquest of the external forces of Nature. Man has tamed and harnessed many natural energies and directed them for his own use.
But before we congratulate ourselves too complacently upon all these achievements of modern science, it might be a sign of wisdom to evaluate these achievements in terms of a higher and finer civilization. Unless these and other results of man's creative energies are utilized with vision and foresight they may become not scientific achievements but instruments of ↑human↓ destruction.
↑For↓ how can we boast of the conquest of the air or of the marvels of chemistry when whole nations of innocent men, women and children are compelled to seek protection against these by wearing gas-masks?
Why should we take pride in the advances of surgery, if its main use is to be the salvaging of the maimed and mutilated?–-or of the art of medicine if the physician makes it his business to preserve evils in order to “tinker at them?”
How can we boast of our philanthropy and great enterprises of charity when countless millions are born in conditions of disease, ignorance and misery– whose very existence depends upon the continuation of private and public charity?
NATIONAL RECOVERY-- the NRA-- is the great slogan of today. We hear on all sides of Codes for the producers, codes for the consumers, codes even for the control of PIGS. Here in your Middle West there is to be pig control on a large scale! But do we ever hear of a Biological Code for the race? I propose a Code for Babies, so that each child brought into the world shall be assured of a welcome, so that each child may help toward permanent National Recovery by coming into this complex realm with a heritage of health, a sound body and mind, and with the certainty of a happy home and proper nourishment to arm him for life's unending struggle. Unless this is assured to each and every child born into the United States, real national Recovery can never be realized.
Consider for a moment: the millions, nay the billions of dollars we shovel every year into the bottomless pit of so-called charities. Futile extravagance! – this effort to keep alive the delinquent, the defective, the dangerous classes that, in all compassion should never be brought into the world at all!
Science may well pride itself on the conquest of the external forces of Nature– electricity, radio-activity, atomic energies, hydro-electric power, but despite all the miraculous achievements of the past century, Science has not succeeded in getting Humanity out of the man-made muddle in which we find ourselves today. For strangely enough this great Conquest of External Nature has been accompanied by a gross neglect– a misuse– a tragic waste of the greatest creative force within human nature itself– the creative energy, force and power of womankind.
The great prophetic American poet, Walt Whitman, wrote:
“Be not ashamed, Woman, Your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest, You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul..”
Not only the gate of the body and soul, I would add, but Woman is the main portal to the future. Only through the emancipation of Woman's creative energies, her sex force, can Humanity redeem itself. Civilization is marking time: Mankind cannot choose the road upward to the fulfillment of its true destiny until the other half of its self–Woman–-is released– freed– emancipated. Emancipated? – I can hear you say. Has she not the right to vote?– to work?– the right to engage in any activity where man goes? Yes, and she has fought for these activities and their power ↑proven↓ , for ↑an↓ equal ability in her ↑these↓ undertakings. I do not consider such superficial rights as sufficiently important, however, to be called emancipation.
Because I am not looking upon woman merely as “the Mother of Men” (even great men), let us set aside as a masculine invention the sweet, simpering, clinging imitation of woman and see Woman liberated, Woman awake, Woman conscious of her invincible creative powers, imperiously and autonomously wielding that power with vision and intelligence.
Looking back at the long centuries of woman's bondage to man-made religions, customs, laws and creeds, there might be reason for discouragement, for women have been compelled to be all things to all men. They have been throughout the ages and still are today in nearly every country of the globe beasts of burden, pack animals, slaves, servants, instruments of pleasure. (Now and then they've even been inspirations.)
Everything, you see, in terms of masculine psychology; everything in terms of the needs of men.
Age after age has shown woman taken from her lofty heights, where previously she was referred to as a Creative Deity–-Giver of Life–-Divine Mother–-and placed on the level of the nurse-maid, permitted to care for man's offspring, allowed to compete with his animals as pack-horses whose honored destiny it was to suffer and to serve.
With this vast reservoir of racial and spiritual energy, why has woman never challenged the supremacy of the male?– you may well ask. And in that answer lies the problem which confronts us today and which must be solved if we are to evolve upward and onward in the march of civilization.
Christianity was founded on the suppression and sublimation of the sex instinct. Previous forms of religious worship, from prehistoric times, were founded upon the unfathomable, inevitable mystery of Sex and its creative function. People were and still are as ignorant and confused about sex as they are about God. We must cast the light of science upon the former in order to understand the latter.
While the mental attitude and religious teachings on the basic function of life confuse it with shame and sin, Mankind cannot rise to its highest possibilities. Our ecclesiastical fathers have decreed that there were only two states of respectable womanhood open to women– virginity or motherhood. Sex in any of its manifestations was akin to sin, and for the woman only the bearing of a child sanctioned its expression.
Thus we find that woman's bondage in the past as well as today is based solely on the biological task of child-bearing. Consequently, until that function is under her complete control woman can never hope to rise to the heights of her own spiritual destiny.
Throughout the centuries it has been the Churchmen who have decreed that woman's first and only-duty to man and God is child-bearing. Did not Martin Luther assert that women shall bear and bear and bear even though they sacrifice their lives in an endless waste of sacrifice! And today from that great Church with its headquarters across the sea in foreign lands, sits a Celibate Pontifical Dictator (whose office predicates that he has never known the problems of fatherhood) yet whose voice reaches into the lives of 43,000,000 American women of child-bearing age and forbids Congressmen to liberate scientific knowledge whereby children may be wanted, conceived in marital love, born of the parents' conscious desire and given the heritage of healthy bodies and sound minds! Until this voice is stifled, this influence checked, the slavery of futile child-bearing will continue.
Why this clerical glorification of breeding? Why this idolatrous urgence of reproduction, a function in which the human race is surpassed, from the point of view of quantity, by the house fly and the fishes of the sea– a function which has blindly plunged the world into chaos and confusion so grave that the future of the whole world is threatened?
Breeding orders to women in the past were:
For the sake of the Clan.
For the strength of the Tribe.
For the Pride of Man and Family.
For the Glory of God and the Church.
While now the pleas are:
For the military strength of the Nation and the Preservation of Peace.
All of it emanates from that classic in Psalms 127:
“As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, So are the children of youth, Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
In this we find the suggestion not of peace, but of war. Men are advised to have sufficient children to hurl at their enemies, just as the militarists of Europe today clamor for an increased population to enlarge their armies. Certainly for people who in spite of world conditions still believe in the possibility of “peace on earth, good will among men,” it would be well to refrain from quoting this war appeal to increase the birth rate.
Against this and other much quoted Biblical texts may well be set the following verses from Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha (Chap. 16):--
“Desire not a multitude of unprofitable children, neither delight in ungodly sons. Though they multiply, rejoice not in them, except the fear of the Lord be with them. Trust not thou in their life, neither respect their multitude, for one that is just is better than a thousand! And better it is to die without children than to have them that are ungodly.”
To the pleas of the militarists, woman must refuse to listen. She must awaken to the responsibility which is hers as a creative force. She shall become an instrument to a World of Peace. Until this consciousness becomes a reality, all the great grandiose schemes for “world improvement” must fail. Birth control is the first sign of an awakening consciousness in Mankind. It signals a new moral responsibility, a higher regard for life, not only after birth, but even before life has been conceived. It is the conscious control of the birth-rate by means that prevent conception.
Not only a health and economic expedient, it is also a moral principle, a spiritual factor in the lives of women upon which the development and advance of the family depend.
It is truly strange and ironical that the Women's Movement in the United States has kept itself apart from any cause connected with sex hygiene or sex reform. It is even stranger that they have been silent on the subject of birth control, knowing, as we do, that only because of its practice among themselves, as the birth-rate among the educated, intelligent, and wealthy indicates, could they have battled for Suffrage or any other social or cultural movement during their child-bearing years.
What woman constantly in the condition of pregnancy or who is submerged in the daily fears of pregnancy can compete with man in social or economic efficiency? Where are the women with large families? In the grave yards or in the kitchen slaving to make an inadequate wage feed too many hungry babies.
Women in all lands of all creeds and nations look to this new freedom as a blessing.
In England, the Women's Cooperative Guild, a league of more than 75,000 married working women, mostly mothers, were the first to endorse this movement. Practically every liberal and labor group of women in England have followed the Women's Cooperative Guild in an overwhelming endorsement of the principles and practice of birth control– with the result that more than 80 Maternal and Child Welfare Centers are including such advice in their instructions to working-class mothers.
In India in the spring of 1933, the All India Women's Conference passed a resolution in favor of birth control and demanded that the Government should give information to mothers. This Conference represents many millions of enlightened women of India.
In the United States, the first national group of women to endorse this movement was the Jewish Federation of Women.
In other countries, such as Italy, Ireland, Germany, where militarism of either State or Church triumphs, women still count only as breeders.
I want to go on record here and now to the effect that child-bearing and rearing are NOT the end and aim of woman's existence. Nor do I consider the first duty of the young married couple to be “non-stop” perpetuation of their kind. I go even further: in many cases I regard it as man's patriotic duty to refrain from this crime against posterity and world-peace. Let me explain why.
Take the case of Japan and her population policy. According to statistics made public by the Statistical Bureau of the Japanese Cabinet, Japan's population was increased last year by a total of 2,182,743 births– or four babies a minute, twenty-four hours a day, day in and day out. Japan is breaking her own record for population increase. The whole crisis in the Far East– so menacing for the peace of the world at large–-grows out of this “full-speed-ahead” cradle competition between Asiatic races. It is not time for the League of Nations or the World Court to turn on the red traffic light? Japan's determination to find an outlet for this surplus population precipitates the so-called “undeclared war” against the Chinese, the creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo, the breaking of solemn treaties, the sowing of the seeds of another World War! And yet some people solemnly tell us that Birth Control would not help solve her problems! If this is patriotism, let us have a little less of it.
If this menace of uncontrolled cradle competition screams aloud to us from across the vast Pacific Ocean, the evils of indiscriminate child-bearing are painfully evident to impartial observers at home. While our Federal penal code forbids the dissemination of scientific information on contraception, and the Roman Catholic Church actively campaign against it, many of our states have been compelled to pass sterilization laws to protect themselves against the perpetuation of the feeble-minded, the defective and the moron population which threatens to engulf us. I want to read to you part of a decision given by the venerable Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes for the United States Supreme Court, concerning the case of a feebleminded woman who was herself the daughter of a feebleminded inmate and the mother of mentally defective children. This decision so admirably sums up the whole case of civilization and the future of the race that it should be compulsory reading for all Americans. Listen:
“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It is better for all the world, if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
If the United States Supreme Court can hand down this decision concerning compulsory sterilization, what possible judicial of moral case against Birth Control could be validly sustained? Only the age-old masculine tradition, entrenched in the powers of darkness, in reactionary ecclesiastical authority hell-bent to perpetuate its tyranny in a world in which the light of science is creating a new day for humanity, dares still ↑to↓ withhold from the masses of women this benevolent, clean, safe and scientific instrument of their liberation.
Sterilization– a necessary, harmless means of protecting the race from the perpetuation of those whose physical, mental and moral fiber is too weak to apply the knowledge of birth control or contraception.
Another grave problem (long kept in the dark because of the conspiracy of silence) now forces itself upon the attention of the medical world. This is the problem of abortion. An ugly word, I agree, but because the forces of reaction maintain the obstacles in the way of scientific instruction in contraception, this complicated question must be faced sanely and humanely.
Women in all lands of every religion and creed are forced to resign themselves to unlimited pregnancies unless they have proper information in contraception. When this is denied them their only resort is to abortion. Out of fear– because of their misery, poverty and ill health, they seek to evade a motherhood which would bring with it destitution and possible starvation to an unwanted baby.
Medical men are discovering that if they withhold from the awakened womanhood of the world a proper, safe and dependable means of birth control they are bound to be confronted by the infinitely more complicated problem of abortion.
As this department of medicine has as yet not been legalized (except in Russia), women who refuse to bring miserable, sickly, feebleminded offspring into the world are thrust into the channels of quackery where profit is made out of their ignorance and misery. It is the opinion of competent medical observers during the last twenty-five years that there are more criminal abortions performed in this country than in any other country in the world. The national total of abortions has been estimated to top 2,000,000 per year.
This total does not include the number brought about by drugs or by instruments used by the pregnant woman herself.
All this vast activity is carried on in defiance of laws, penalties, punishments or the possible consequence of death. And this violent and harsh means of freeing herself from undesired pregnancy will continue in the future as it has in the past, for nothing short of contraceptive practice can put an end to the horrors of abortion.
The history of abortion shows that it was opposed by law, by religious canons, by public opinion,– and the penalties range all the way from ostracism to imprisonment; yet neither threats of hell nor the infliction of physical punishment has availed. The two million abortions annually in this benighted country testify to that. Women will deceive and dare. They will resist and defy the power of Church and State. They will march to the gates of death to gain that liberty, that freedom from unending child-bearing which the awakened woman demands.
Intricate and complex, I admit, is this whole problem of woman's control of her procreative function, but it remains the pivot of a new civilization. A great cosmic mystery lies hidden here: that the union of male and female, a communion that seems to private, so personal, so secret indeed that it can scarcely be spoken of in public– among Puritans at least– is actually of the most fundamental and public significance for the whole future of the race as well as for the peace of the whole world! In that intimate relationship lies concealed not only the joy or misery of the individual sharing it, but of their children and the children of their children. Here indeed are the gates of the body and here are the gates of the soul!
Never in the whole history of this planet has Woman's place in the creation of the structure of the Future been so important. Today we seem to stand at the end of an era. We witness the bankruptcy and the collapse of Man's attempt to conquer the universe– of man's one-sided, womanless battle for supremacy. Man has successfully spanned the oceans, flung railroads and airlines across continents, conquered the air, harnessed the endless torrents of water-power. Thorough the lenses of his telescope he has explored distant universes, through the lenses of his microscope he has waged war against germ and microbe; girdled the globe in the fraction of a second with his radio broadcasting.
Everything has been accomplished in the desire to unite peoples and nations and to bring them closer together. Yet because of the ceaseless hordes of human beings ever multiplying and increasing their numbers, we find mankind goaded on to a frenzy of exploitation and war. Before there was a Capitalist, there were hungry mouths to Feed. In going forth to battle, to destroy, to subjugate other nations and races, he has found himself destroyed and mutilated by his victories.
Thanks to our opponents who keep human beings in ignorance regarding contraception, each day reveals about 50,000 extra babies on earth. For every 100,000 who died between dawn and dawn, 150,000 are born. These new inhabitants who survive daily have contributed to the 330,000,000 which have been added to the world's population since 1920, a horde larger than all India's.
In all these ventures woman has been allowed to march beside him– to serve his physical needs. Man has seemingly succeeded in conquering everything but his own ignorance. My good friend Dean Inge has pointed out that “Nothing fails like success,” and that is the kind of success we witness today. I am not pleading for the substitution of a Woman-made World. For we have had quite enough of exclusively masculine adventure, enough romantic destruction, chaos and confusion. Rather do I look forward to a Future created by the unified, harmonious endeavor of women and men working together as equals.
But before this can be accomplished the pendulum must swing back to get its balance, and in doing that Woman as a creative entity must liberate herself in the constructive work of the world. She must give voice to her female longings, her intuitions, her wishes and desires. She must thrust her energies into the laboratory of experience, just as a scientist goes to find the secrets of the unknown in the mystery of experiment.
Thousands, nay millions of women have in the past sacrificed their lives in devotion to religious creeds. They have abandoned their beauty, interest, education, talents, ambitions, love and motherhood in order to dedicate themselves to their Faith. Is it not time that this same force, idealism and devotion be turned to Science, to the building of a New Civilization? If one thousand women were to offer themselves to Science (as millions have uselessly offered themselves to religion) as to the Laboratory of Life, with their creative and intuitive powers at full speed, we would forge tremendously ahead in Human Progress.
There are three purposes in this Human Laboratory:
1st, Give themselves, their bodies and intelligences, to Scientific Research.
2nd, Put their own creative faculties to developing Science.
3rd, Become creative instruments to bring a New Race into being.
The solidarity of Woman is as noble as the brotherhood of man.
In the life of every woman come other women, less fortunate, less enlightened, many of them crushed under the burden of poverty and child-bearing. They are too inarticulate to cry out, too poor to have influence, too weak to demand their liberties. The very fact that they have come into your life gives you a spiritual responsibility toward their emancipation. Sympathy is not enough, palliative emergency help is not enough, philanthropy is not enough– nothing less can you do than help to set them free. Free that they may help themselves. Free that they may grow in wisdom and enlightenment.
Just as the physical sight developed in the body, so shall our spiritual vision unfold as we move upward and onward into that current of life we call consciousness. When we become conscious of our acts, conscious of our responsibility, we shall be conscious of the greatest of all responsibilities– that of handing on the precious yet mysterious gift of life.
In this let us at least pass it on in a body as fit and perfect as it can be made. Then will the soul that is summoned have at its command an instrument suitable for its highest development.
Only through Birth Control (I assert with all the vehemence I can summon) will women ever gain control of their bodies or develop their souls. Only through knowledge can they ever unlock the great gates to a Future in which joy and happiness will prevail. Only through a new consciousness of birth can Humanity at large ever extricate itself from the man-made muddle in which it is grounded today.
Instead of a world created by irresponsible hordes in hatred and antagonism, free woman shall guide us into a future created by all-embracing love through the consciousness of birth control.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project