Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control (Chicago Address to Women) ," Apr- May 1916.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collection S70:759."
During her United States tour, Margaret Sanger spoke three times in Chicago, giving a speech called "Birth Control," at the West Side Auditorium on April 25 and May 7, and at the Little Theater of Chicago on April 30. She was scheduled to appear before the Chicago Woman's Club on April 11, but the event was canceled because Sanger was perceived as too controversial. For a newspaper report of Sanger's April 25 speech, see "Birth Control."Sanger made many handwritten changes to the document which may have been the base text for several of her appearances. In an effort to offer the most complete version possible, the editors have opted to include all the text, including those paragraphs she may have omitted for some of appearances.For other speeches given on that tour, see "Woman and Birth Control," "Birth Control and Society," Apr.-June, 1916, and "Condemnation is Misunderstanding," Apr.-Jun. 1916.
We are regimented by conventions. Habits and customs control us. We are ever afraid of the untried, of the unknown. Instead of making of life a wide expanse of social development we allow ourselves to be herded into narrow tracks through fear of conventions. We are the victims of habit, not only of action but of thought. Our parents thought so and so; and we think so and so. The world expects us to do so and so, and so and so we do.
The earth is a globe, it revolves around the sun, it rotates on its axis: its inhabitants have learned this much in spite of opposition. And the whole HISTORY of Civilization is the history of the STRUGGLE between those obeying the OLD laws and those establishing the NEW.
↑And↓ Every age adopts that which was considered UTOPIAN in the last and wonders how its forefathers could have been so blind, backward, stupid, ↑for↓ Progress infuses itself into everything and woe to him who would impede its course.
Bruno was burned to death because he chose to teach the Italian people scientific truths about religion in the Italian language instead of using the dead languages which had been employed to cloak the REAL EMPTINESS of its dogmas.
Socrates was poisoned because he dared to combat the SUPERSTITIONS of his people. Not long after his death, the citizens of Athens, his countrymen, recognized the INJUSTICE of his sentence, and executed his accuser. Socrates thereby became a demi-god.
Jesus Christ was crucified because he attempted to SUPERCEDE the ritual of Moses. As time rolled on the opinions of men CHANGED until Christianity became an established dogma which it meant DEATH to dispute. Though he who does dispute it may be imprisoned, slandered and persecuted, if he has courage in his belief future ages may exalt HIM to a divinity and PERSECUTE others in his name as he was persecuted in the name of his predecessor. SUCH is the HOMAGE of the world.
Now we realize that Christianity came but to LAY ↑has come & has lain↓ CHAINS on the human mind, and to ↑has↓ imposed upon mankind the weary struggle to RECOVER the freedoms it had obtained.
↑Christianity turned the hands of Civilization back 1000 years it turned them back 2000 years for woman and↓ Today we find ourselves engaged in a relentless struggle with the SAME POWERS OF OPPRESSION which wrought from us the liberties our forefathers obtained for and gave to us for preservation.
Today we are engaged in a GREAT STRUGGLE FOR WOMAN'S LIBERTY,! for the freedom of HER OWN BODY, for her RELEASE from the domination and control, of CHURCH AND STATE.
Birth Control is the first step toward the goal of her ↑this↓ freedom. She can never gain political, social or spiritual freedom so long as her body remains THE SLAVE OF IGNORANCE. No woman ↑can↓ call herself free who cannot choose the time to be a mother or not as she sees fit. And women of today REBEL against spending the whole of their adult lives in bringing children into the world. Out of this rebellion, out of this impulse, out of this desire ↑for voluntary motherhood↓ has risen the Birth Control movement in the United States.
I believe that this is the first great movement since the Civil War, ↑most revolutionary movement of the day↓ and THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE of the Twentieth Century. Its advocates ↑too↓ have been SLANDERED, PERSECUTED, JAILED because they have voiced THE CRY OF WORKING WOMAN for their ↑her↓ BODILY FREEDOM.
In nearly every country in the world today the great mass of educated and wealthy women PRACTICE SOME METHOD OF BIRTH CONTROL, though in the same countries the WORKING WOMEN are kept in ignorance of this knowledge.
It is said by physicians and others who work among the working women, that as soon as she rises out of the lowest stages of ignorance and poverty her FIRST STEP is to seek information of some practical means to limit her family ↑control the size of her family↓ .
Everywhere she seeks for knowledge on the subject very seldom can she find it, because the medical profession refuses to give it to her and others with whom she comes in daily contact are as ignorant as herself of the subject.
The consequence is she must accept ↑any↓ stray bits of information wholly UNRELIABLE and UNINFORMED. The result is that quacks and abortionists thrive on her innocence and ignorance is perpetuated.
In my opinion the proper authorities to give ↑special & scientific↓ advice on Birth Control are the DOCTORS and NURSES ↑& midwives-↓ . No other class of men or women are so AWARE of the NEED of this knowledge among the working people as they. YET THEY HAVE REMAINED SILENT! The time has come when they MUST TAKE THEIR STAND in their progressive movement. For though the subject is largely social and economic yet it is in the main physical and medical, and the object of those advancing the cause is to open the doors of the medical profession, who in turn will force open the doors of the laboratories, where our chemists will give the women of the twentieth century reliable and scientific means of contraception hitherto unknown.
A meeting of this kind is somewhat new, but undeniably important. It may be DISAPPOINTING to some of you to hear that I am NOT going to give you information to prevent conception in this meeting. ↑I take for granted that every woman in this audience -- is serious minded & wishes to learn some thing about the sacred truths of her body sex functions. It is not the best place to give knowledge.↓
You have a LAW in this State which FORBIDS your getting this information ↑about abortions↓ . from me NOW but it does ALLOW your PHYSICIAN to instruct you ↑in prevention of conception↓ .
I do not intend to VIOLATE this LAW, nor to IMPOSE any legal defense of my cause upon your consideration, UNLESS YOU WOMEN OF CHICAGO desire me to do so.! I do intend however to give you special information concerning your bodies which Every ↑adult↓ Women Should Know and which it is well within your RIGHTS for you to hear. ↑my [ illegible] rights to tell you↓ .
The FIRST subject which we shall take up is:
It is important that every adult man and woman should know and clearly understand what CONCEPTION means and how ↑it↓ occurs.
WHEN ONCE THIS IS THOROUGHLY KNOWN IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO CONFUSE BIRTH CONTROL WITH ABORTION as the ↑ignorant↓ opponents of this movement are so fond of doing.
I regret that I shall have time only to go very briefly into the subject to give you a general idea of what actually occurs.
In every woman's ↑body there are two↓ ovaries ↑and within them↓ there are embedded millions of ovules or eggs. They are present in every female at birth, and as
[one page missing] fertilized ovum any attempt at removing it or preventing its development or further growth is called ABORTION. ↑B.C. is not abortion!↓
That there is almost no other country in the world where so many abortions occur as in the United States is a fact worthy of consideration and interest. That the laws in these same United States are the most rigid and the penalty the heaviest for any action toward abolishing abortion (by prevention of conception) of any country is also worthy of interest.
Abortion is the most common as well as one of the most SERIOUS disturbances of pregnancy yet it is said that ONE out of EVERY FIVE pregnancies terminate abruptly in abortion.
It is roughly estimated that at least 250,000 abortions occur in the United States EACH YEAR while 50,000 women die from their effects.
There ↑One of the most tragic facts today ↓ no doubtis that ↑our↓ women are apt to look upon an abortion as of little consequence and to treat it accordingly ↑lightly↓ . An abortion should be regarded as IMPORTANT ↑serious↓ a matter as a confinement and REQUIRES AS MUCH ATTENTION as the birth of a child at full term.
It is only the women of wealth who can afford to give an abortion the proper care and treatment both at the same time and afterwards. Consequently THESE WOMEN seldom suffer any serious consequences from its occurrence.
It is the WORKING WOMEN, whose means are limited ↑cheapest men incompetent↓ and who must continue AT WORK before they have recovered from the effects of an abortion, who are the GREAT ARMY OF SUFFERERS and it is from among THESE WOMEN that the DEATHS due to abortions usually ensue.
If women had the knowledge to prevent conception there would be almost NO NECESSITY for abortion.!! It is because abortions occurring so frequently among the working women today -- the suffering, illness and death resulting from the carelessness of their performance, -- that has urged me to make ANY SACRIFICE and direct my efforts to make it possible for these women to obtain: CLEAN, HARMLESS KNOWLEDGE OF THE MEANS TO PREVENT CONCEPTION and thereby PREVENT ABORTIONS and the NECESSITY FOR THEM!
During my nursing experience in New York I came in contact with some of the midwives and had occasion to view their appliances which they use in their profession. I was HORRIFIED at the filthy condition of the scissors, forceps, brushes, etc. their kit contained.
IS IT ANY WONDER THAT DEATHS OF THE POORER WOMEN MOUNT SO HIGH?
The more I see of women who have had abortions and the more I see of the RESULTS of abortions, the more convinced I am of their INJURIOUS effect on women and the stronger do I urge the knowledge of the prevention of conception.
The results of abortion are usually of far more serious effect on the woman's health than a full term child birth. There is the possibility of the womb not returning to its natural size but remaining large and heavy and tending to fall away from its proper position in the body.
Then one abortion so often leaves the uterus in a condition to conceive very easily again, and unless prevention is strictly followed another pregnancy will SURELY occur. Frequent abortions have a tendency to establish sterility or barrenness in the woman as well as result in pelvic ailments.
There are many cases of women suffering from tuberculosis, kidney disease, heart disease, pelvic deformities, etc. to whom pregnancy stimulates the disease and often means death, so that the physician must perform an abortion in order that her health and life may be preserved. THERE IS NO LAW AGAINST THE PHYSICIAN'S DOING THIS, yet our laws ↑must state↓ make it a CRIME for that physician to inform that same woman how to prevent conception and thereby prevent abortion and its tragic suffering.
KNOWLEDGE TO PREVENT CONCEPTION IS THE ONLY CURE FOR ABORTION.
May the women of this country rise up and demand the REPEAL of the laws which force such abhorrent conditions upon them ↑& demand this knowledge to prevent abortion.↓
Naturally one of the first questions asked by all concerned is:
It is always difficult to say that ANYTHING is CERTAIN in its result. A surgeon would not succeed with the most serious operation was he not most particular to take every precaution and insist that all directions be faithfully carried out.
IT IS THE SAME WITH PREVENTION. There is EVERY REASON to believe that if the directions are carefully followed in preventive methods some means are quite certain.
The educated women have been practicing methods of prevention for nearly a half-century and have found them certain and safe. Of course -- if a woman is TOO INDOLENT or TOO INDIFFERENT to ↑(douche)↓ to take precautions and to give herself certain attentions in cleanliness and hygiene, then NOTHING can be certain, but I have found most women desirous and anxious for knowledge, no matter what inconvenience it implied.
One ↑Another↓ of the questions so often asked by women who are fearful to use preventatives is:
A very prominent authority claims that there is far more injury to a woman's health to live in CONSTANT FEAR of pregnancy than the use of all the preventive measures in the world. It is further claimed by some physicians that some preventive is absolutely necessary and even helpful to a nervously weak woman in helping her to regain her health. But much depends upon THE KIND of method used.
Strong solutions of anti-septics for the douche are one of the many injurious methods. When they are ABOVE THEIR PROPER STRENGTH they are liable to injure the delicate membranes of the parts. The same solutions in weaker proportions ↑ bichloride tablets in bag. salt ↓ act as a cleanser and are seldom injurious. ↑but as↓ Every woman is susceptible to a greater or lesser degree to all drugs, and ↑it is best↓ if possible a physician should advise the use of them.
There are also certain mechanical methods ↑buttons etc wishbone pessaries↓ employed by some women which might give rise to an irritation and cause disease, but the temporary use of the same would be quite harmless.
In employing any preventive measure there is almost NO DANGER TO THE MAN'S HEALTH at all. Even the habit of coitus-interruptus which is so commonly practiced everywhere is not considered as dangerous to his health as was formerly thought, but on the other hand is considered by many prominent authorities as injurious to the woman's nervous system. In fact it is considered the cause of many nervous disturbances in women. ↑(explain)↓
This question is often asked by women early in marriage, who desire to use preventive methods for a period, until it becomes economically possible to care for a child ↑family↓ . It is feared that the use of preventives will cause sterility, and when a child is desired the woman will be unable to conceive.
↑Physicians agree that↓ There is no ground for this fear. It has been shown by hundreds of cases where parents have lost a child, that though they had practiced prevention for four, five, or even ten years, conception has taken place when desired. Personally, I know a patient who gave birth to a child after 20 years' use of preventives.
As mentioned before, strong solutions should be especially avoided in this respect. But it is well to get the advice of your family physician and bring these questions before him. ↑It all depends upon the proper method used.↓
There are some women who believe there is a safe period in the month when CONCEPTION does ↑can↓ NOT take place. That if intercourse does not occur from four days before menstruation until a week after it has ceased, in the time remaining conception will not occur.
There are many women who have found this to be true in their own experience, but most medical authorities DENY its infallibility, and personally I have known of more abortions resulting from this method that those with whom it has been successful. IT IS NOT WISE TO TRUST TO IT.
There are also many women, and a few men, who claim that intercourse is intended only for procreation, and that it should not take place unless a child is desired. In this way no preventives are necessary.
I must admit I that held this view for years, and I have a lingering regard for ↑interest in↓ it still. I believe the sexual act involves a CREATIVE ENERGY which can be directed into channels for creative work and self-expression.
I lay special stress on CREATIVE WORK, which in my estimation draws on different forces in the body than mechanical, physical or routine labor.
But I know, too, that the sexual life of man differs greatly in nature and the course of its development from the sexual activity of woman, and also that the MAJORITY of men and women today are doing VERY LITTLE creative work, which leaves almost the only outlet for their creative energy through the sexual act.
The consequence is, all modern life FORCES a sexual outlet through intercourse, and IT IS ONLY THE FEW EXCEPTIONS who are able to live up to this theory, even if it is accepted.
When once we throw down the bars of Puritanical bigotry and look upon sex and its expression apart from procreation as a fundamental basis of all life, we shall come to realize that all the repressive measures employed by legislatures and laws cannot solve our sex problem. Let us rather BEAUTIFY them and direct their flow into creative channels for the benefit of society, and look upon sex as Emerson did when he said: "Work your passions into poetry".
A new world awaits humanity when women shall raise the standard of sex and raise man to its level, of beauty and significance and recognize and accept and understand it, instead of suppressing and denying it ↑& debasing it↓ .
It is well for a woman not to give birth to a child: 1. Before she is AT LEAST twenty-two years of age; better twenty-five if possible. 2. From TWO to THREE years after the birth of the LAST child, in order to properly nurse and care for the last child and to allow the mother to renew her strength for the next. 3. Whenever a woman or man suffers from diseases such as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, cancer, epilepsy, pelvic deformities, insanity, drunkenness, and mental diseases. 4. When parents, though healthy themselves, find that their children are physically or mentally defective. 5. Whenever the conditions of life and the uncertainty of livelihood do not give the prospect of bringing up children decently and of giving them a better chance than the parents have had. AND FOR WORKING WOMEN ↑She should not have a large family↓ 6. So long as society remains indifferent to the needs of the worker's children. 7. So long as child slaves still ↑her children must↓ toil in mills and factories. 8. So long as a system of society exists in which children must compete in the labor market with their fathers for their daily bread. 9. Let us remember that so long as the mothers of the race must breed in ignorance, they shall continue to fill insane asylums, penitentiaries, jails and almshouses with their offspring and provide the trenches of the world with their flesh and blood that has already reddened every battlefield in history.
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Some of those who take their stand against Birth Control do so by the thought that we have no right to destroy potential life.
A little study of human and animal physiology would convince them that every celibate male and female as well as married men insistently and inevitably waste MYRIADS of germ cells which had the potentiality of fusion with an ovum and consequently produced a child had the opportunity been given them. ↑ If it's a crime to prevent creation then its a crime to refuse to marry a man--↓
For the supposed sake of one or two of these myriad sperms ↑cells↓ which must NATURALLY and INEVITABLY die ↑any way↓ they encourage ↑insist upon↓ the production of babies in rapid succession, which are weakened by their proximity which might otherwise have been sturdy and healthy, had they been conceived further apart from each other.
Such people, while awake to the claims of the unborn and even the unconceived, continue to be BLIND to the claims of the woman's health and will force a woman to BEAR and BRING FORTH a child ANNUALLY. When each child following so rapidly its predecessor saps and exhausts the vital strength which is available for the making of the offspring which lowers the vitality of each child and EVENTUALLY MURDERS THE WOMAN who bears them.
Dr. Ploetz found that the death rate of the FIRST BORN infants is 220 a thousand.
The death rate of the SEVENTH is 330 a thousand. While that of the TWELFTH is 600 a thousand. So that when "Nature has its way" and twelve children come to sap a woman's vitality so little strength has she left that nearly 60 percent of these later ones die.
WE FIND THAT EVEN NATURE TENDS TOWARD BIRTH CONTROL!!
But what a hideous waste of vitality! What a hideous orgy of agony. For mothers to produce in anguish, DEATH-DOOMED and SUFFERING INFANTS.
To those who protest that we have no right to interfere with THE COURSE OF NATURE one must point out that the whole of CIVILIZATION, EVERYTHING THAT SEPARATES MAN FROM ANIMALS, is an INTERFERENCE with what people commonly call NATURE.
Railroads, boats, bridges, walking upright, living in houses, ↑shaving↓ , wearing clothes, cooking and talking all in the beginning were AGAINST Nature. We have come to realize that all civilization means the CONTROL and DIRECTION of Nature.
Actions differ in their relative positions in the scale of things. ONLY THOSE ACTIONS ARE WORTHY WHICH LEAD THE RACE ONWARD TO A HIGHER AND FULLER COMPLETION AND TO THE PERFECTING OF ITS POWERS, which steer the race into the main current of that stream of life and vitality which courses through us and impels us forward.
We ↑who advocate Birth Control↓ are trying to raise the STANDARD and HEIGHTEN the sacredness of human life, promote the well-being and happiness of the hopeless ↑humanity↓ and ↑we are↓ trying to ↑intelligently↓ solve some of the MOST DIFFICULT AND URGENT PROBLEMS of our times.
We recognize the importance of everything that ↑safeguarding↓ the DIGNITY of the individual woman, ↑motherhood,↓ and we want to raise her ↑it↓ from the DEGRADATION OF SERVILITY and SEX SLAVERY to a high, ↑far higher,↓ and GLORIFIED ↑privilege↓ womanhood.
↑For we believe that↓ It is the SACRED DUTY of all who dare to hand on the terrific gift of LIFE to hand it on in a vessel as fit and perfect as it can be fashioned, so that the body may be the STRONGEST and MOST BEAUTIFUL ↑INSTRUMENT possible, in the service of the Soul we summon to play its part in the mystery of material being↓ .
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project