Margaret Sanger, " Birth Control the Concern of Youth ," 14 Mar 1935.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm, Smith College Collections S71:714 and 716 Home, Family Under Scrutiny in Conference," Boston Evening Transcript, Mar. 14, 1935."
Sanger gave an address at the American Home and Youth Conference, organized by the Massachusetts State Federation of Woman's Clubs, in Boston's Statler Hotel. at a Youth Conference. No complete version of her speech has been found. The text below comes from three sources: a Mar. 14 press release, "Margaret Sanger Addresses Youth Conference," an incomplete speech draft, "Conference Speech," and from news coverage.
There is no group more deeply concerned with birth control and all it can do for good and for ill than your generation, the men and women in their twenties, who will shape tomorrow’s world. I suppose you are a bit tired of hearing of your responsibility, and of how you will have to get the country out of the mess it is in. I suppose you often want to shout back at us: “Why did you tangle it all up? Why didn’t you manage better?”
We should have managed better, and it is up to us to do what we can to set things straight before we have to turn the whole affair over to you young people. It may make you less impatient with us to remember that we too have had to untangle confusion bequeathed to us by the generation that went before. We have been busy, up to our ears in work, trying to rectify mistakes not entirely of our own making.
A mistake that has worked incalculable harm, and that I have spent the best years of my life trying to straighten out, was made by Anthony Comstock in 1873, when the laws were passed prohibiting the sending of obscene literature through the mails. The overzealous Comstock made the tragic mistake of classing contraception with obscenity, and the result has been confusion worse confounded.
As you perhaps know, the Committee of which I am the president, the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, is seeking the amendment of these Federal laws. The amendments, (Senate Bill 600 and House Bill 5600) now before Congress would make it possible for doctors, hospitals and licensed clinics to secure contraceptive information.
Someone has said that the difference between a statesman and a politician is that the statesman thinks of the next generation and the politician thinks of the next election. By that definition I wonder how many statesmen we can claim to have in this country, in our present condition of relief and unemployment and misery, only to increase the population which increases poverty, unemployment and misery.
Everyone knows that we are piling up enormous debts for future generations to pay. But it is not only financial or money debts that I am referring to--such debts may be easily cancelled–but it will not be so simple for future generations to wipe out of existence the debt of inferior racial qualities that we are passing down to them, or to wipe our a population with millions of morons and defectives which we are handing down for our children’s children to manage.
You and your children will have to deal with these debts, with the results of the petty acts of politicians. You must put pressure on our lawmakers to legislate for the future, which belongs to you.
Some sort of birth control is being practiced today, and will continue to be practiced. For birth control is here to stay. But which is better, you have a right to ask your elders, your parents, your teachers and you congressmen: Bootleg, uncertain and often harmful methods, promoted by commercial firms for profit, or scientific, harmless, efficient methods prescribed by physicians for the best interest of you and your children?
The political problems of today are the unsolved social and economic questions of yesterday. We are trying to face them. The social and economic needs of today will be the political problems of tomorrow. These are for you to face.
Ten Truths about Birth Control 1. Birth controllers are divided into two groups, the largest group are those who want knowledge for themselves; another, though smaller group, is those civic minded people who wish to see birth control used, for health and economic reasons by those who need it. 2. Only a very small percentage of people who practice birth control are perfectly satisfied with present day methods. 3. Research and the development of better methods are retarded by existing restrictive laws. 4. These laws, which have been on the Federal Statute books since 1873, still class prevention of conception with abortion and obscenity. 5. Neither physicians, hospitals, nor medical books are exempt under this law, and violations provide a penalty of five thousand dollars fine or five years in prison or both. 6. The law, however, is unenforceable because there are thousands of articles and drugs, that prevent conception and which may, at the same time, be used for the prevention of disease. 7. This situation has given rise to bootleg manufacture and distribution of contraceptives and has placed the matter in the hands of commercial firms operating for profit rather than of physicians working for the public good. 8. If the Criminal Code were amended, scientific birth control instruction could be included in the public health program of the Federal Government, and physicians, hospitals and clinics could secure supplies legally and give information. 9. The knowledge of how to control the coming of children is necessary for happy marriage. 10. The youth of America should demand this knowledge.
As a result of the Comstock laws, birth control instead of being recognized for what it really is, a fine, constructive thing, necessary for health and happiness, has been besmirched and driven underground. Here is medical information, which should be prescribed by physicians. Leading medical supply houses should be putting their best talent to work in order that we might have ever better and ever less expensive contraceptive supplies. Instead, up to the present time, birth control supplies are a bootleg product, and their manufacture and sale does not come under the regulation of any government agency.
What concern is all this of Youth? As the just married, or about-to-be-married couples of today, as the mothers and fathers of the future, I think that you, more than any other group should understand the present situation. Many young people would marry today, and have all the joys that should rightly come to young people--the start in life, the companionship, the chance to make of marriage a fine and constructive force--if they could feel certain that they could postpone founding a family without harm to themselves or to their future children. Many a girl would follow her natural inclination and marry, if she did not fear the coming of childbearing and baby tending before she was ready for them. The early months and years of marriage should be a time of adjustment between a young man and woman. They should learn to know each other first as comrades and human beings before assuming the role of parents.
Many outstanding organizations of and for young people have taken a stand on birth control. The Y.M.C.A. at its biennial convention last May, adopted a resolution in favor of “social legislation such as measures which will provide that the dissemination of birth control information shall be placed under authorized medical direction.” Many local Junior Leagues have endorsed birth control and the Junior League magazine has run several articles on the subject. The National Conference of Allied Youth, sponsored by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, YMCA and YWCA, and other youth organizations, faced the issues squarely at its Youth Today dinner last fall. Should young couples have children when they had no assurance of the child’s future, they queried? Why is it not possible to obtain birth control information safely and legally and decently?
Among the many letters that come to me, I received one the other day from a young man who wrote: “I am thinking of getting married, and am not in a position to have children. I know there are dozens of preparations on the market, supposed to be alright. The question I am asking you is what is the safest and the best way to prevent children until I am able to care for them. I asked my doctor about this, and he went into a tirade about the fall of Greece and Rome, and gave me a lot of generalities which told me nothing.”
You have a right to ask of us, the older generation, about these things. And it is our duty to give you, not a lot of generalities about Greece and Rome, but the scientific and helpful truth.”
"Many young people would marry today and have all the joys that should rightly come to young people--the start in life, the companionship, the change to make of marriage a fine and constructive force--if they could feel certain that they could postpone founding a family with out harm to themselves or their future children. Many a girl would follow her natural inclinations and marry, if she did not fear the coming of childbearing and baby tending before she was ready for them. The early months and years of marriage should be a time of adjustment between a young man and woman. They should learn to know each other first as comrades and human beings before assuming the roles of parents.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project