Margaret Sanger, "Creating a World of Tomorrow," 10 Apr 1939.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Smith College Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:083."
Margaret Sanger gave this speech at the Birth Control Federation of America meeting at the Park Lane Hotel in New York. Handwritten corrections were made by Margaret Sanger. For draft versions see Library of Congress Microfilm 130:756 and 759; for other versions see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:70, 73, and 101.
We are soon to witness the opening of the New York World’s Fair and will doubtless stand amazed at the progress that Science, Invention and Medicine have made during the past century. We shall find eloquent evidence that man has taken remarkable steps in the conquest of the external forces of Nature and has harnessed natural energies and controlled them for his own use. He has successfully spanned the ocean, flung railroads across continents, conquered the air, harnessed the endless torrents of water power. Through the lenses of his telescope he has explored distant universes. Through the lenses of his microscope he has waged war against germs and microbes. He has girded the globe in a fraction of a second with radio broadcasting. Everything has been accomplished in a desire to unite peoples and nations--to bring them closer together.
Yet--because he has utterly neglected to control and direct that great creative force within human nature itself--the power of his own fertility--and has allowed ceaseless hordes of human beings to multiply and increase beyond their capacity to provide for themselves, we now find nations and peoples separated by hatred, bitterness and jealousies, and mankind goaded on to a frenzy of exploitation, aggression, arrogance and war.
We now witness the conflict of two forces in nature--the slow growth of the mind and the high power of human fertility. One is of slow development, the other can multiply itself beyond the mind’s capacity to deal with it. It is this uncontrolled force, the results of which now screams to us across the world.
The population of Europe which was 200 million in 1800 rose to 600 million in 1914, an increase of 400 million, in spite of the fact that many of the Western countries were opened to pioneers and that within 70 years more than 50 million persons from Europe alone migrated into the new lands. Each country in Europe contributed some of its surplus numbers to the United States, Canada, South America and Australia, but in spite of this ↑Europe’s population↓ they grew more and more congested, and finally there was an explosion into the World War which nearly wiped out our civilization.
Yet from 1910 on the German authorities were issuing statements of warning to the world that her population was increasing to the explosion point and her needs of expansion and land were dominating her every political and economic move. General Bernhardi in 1911 published the statement: “Strong, healthy flourishing nations increase in numbers. From a given moment they require a continual expansion of their frontiers; they require new territory for the accommodation of their surplus population. Since almost every part of the globe is inhabited, new territory must be obtained at a cost to its possessors, that is to say, by conquest, which thus becomes a law of necessity”.
And more recently in 1936, General Goering issued the statement: “The territory in which the Germans live is too small for the 66 million inhabitants, and will soon be too small for the 70 million, 80 million, 90 millions which we want to become”.
Mussolini, in an address to the world a few years ago, said: “If Italy is to amount to anything she must enter into the second half of this century with a population of at least 60 million inhabitants. We must at a given moment be able to mobilize 5 million men, thoroughly armed. We must strengthen our navy, while aviation must be on such a large scale and so powerful that the noise of its motors must surpass any other noise and the area of the wings of our aeroplanes must obscure the sun from our land. Then between 1935 and 1940 we will be able to make our voice heard”.
Italy has since spawned herself into conflict and the culture of the world is marking time until Europe comes to her senses and settles these disputes by a sound population policy for each nation. For there will be no permanent peace until these national population problems are solved, and the first and most important step to take towards their solution is to recognize that intelligent planning of population increase, among nations, is as essential to world peace and international welfare, as family planning is essential to the welfare and happiness of individuals.
We have in our own United States a population of 130 million people (an increase of 30 million since the birth control movement began in 1914.) There are about 45 million women of child-bearing age whose health and happiness depend upon proper knowledge of this function of child-bearing. This group is divided into two classes. One class has a knowledge of birth control, and the women in this group practice it successfully and are able to obtain and pay for such advice from the family physician.
In the second and larger group the women also desire information, but can seldom get adequate or proper advice-- ↑They↓ try everything and anything, and when failure is evident, often turn to the abortionist for the solution. We have been reading lately of discoveries by the police of notorious abortion “rings”. We know that these “rings” operate at great profit and in many cases menace the health and lives of women on whom these operations are performed. Over 8000 deaths a year represents a most conservative estimate. Yet the personal histories of these women often reveal the tragic conditions and desperate circumstances which led them to risk their health and very lives. Eminent authorities on the subject tell us that the rate of abortions to confinements has changed from 1 to 7 forty years ago, to 1 to 3 at the present time. Contrary to popular belief, 9 out of every 10 women who undergo abortions are married. The greatest increase in the number of abortions is noted primarily among mothers of three or more children. Abortion becomes therefore less a problem of morality than of economic necessity. Were contraceptive knowledge available and accessible to these women before pregnancy occurred, they would not go knocking on the doors of abortionists. Yet in New York State, it is still difficult for poverty-stricken women to obtain contraceptive knowledge on economic grounds. And so they seek the abortionist in despair. And the abortionist then becomes the evil that Society seeks to destroy, rather than applying intelligence to remove the causes that promote a demand for these services.
Many of these women are poorer, more ↑are↓ inarticulate, even less ↑others↓ ↑in↓ accessible to any information, hopeless, poverty stricken, “always ailing, never failing,” hard working, frequently sharing with their husbands the task of earning enough to keep body and soul together. To me their lives are the great tragedies of our modern life. They are physically and economically, and often mentally, unfit to be mothers, yet they continue to constantly increase their families throughout their child-bearing years. Great hordes of these families try to eke out a living on farms, in camps, and on plantations. They are often classified as share-croppers, tenant farmers, or migrant workers. They huddle into camps or into areas where crops are to be picked, cut or crated. They earn from 50c to 80c a day when they work. The areas in which they live are called the “blighted areas”, where problems of poverty, high infant and maternal mortality, child labor, delinquency and truancy are largely found. These areas supply from 80% to 85% of the relief clients in these communities.
These problems are not confined to any one locality but are fairly prevalent in every state in the Union. In particular the infant and maternal death rate is appalling yet nothing is done to provide these families with the knowledge whereby they could space their children or limit their families, saving both mothers and children. In these sections we find children born so close together that the mother has not had an opportunity to regain her strength from bearing one before another comes. The Children’s Bureau has provided the facts that prove what a knowledge of birth control applied to these groups could mean. Reports of the Children's Bureau reveal that infant mortality is directly affected by the fathers income, and the place of the child in the family, ↑and the matter of spacing of births.↓ We know that of first born children, 22 out of 100 die, while of the 6th born, 29 die, and of the 12th born, 60 die. They tell us, moreover, that when children are born one year apart 147 out of a thousand die; when they are born two years apart 98 die, and when they are spaced three years apart only 86 die. These are the facts collected by the Children’s Bureau and yet they have not had the courage to extend birth control knowledge to save the lives and health of those they are dedicated to serve. Of the 2 million babies born in 1937, the mothers of a million had no nursing care after the birth of the babies, while a quarter million of these mothers had no doctors. Nearly 150,000 mothers and infants died last year, yet approximately 66% of these deaths were needless according to Dr. Thomas Parran, Surgeon-General of the U.S. Public Health Service. Our maternal mortality is among the highest and has not been decreased to any degree during the past 20 years.
These are some of the tragic facts which arouse our indignation, knowing as we do from the reports received from the 485 birth control clinics in the country that mothers lives could be spared for their children and their families if they were given contraceptive advice before pregnancy occurs.
This is the situation we must change if we are to take birth control down to those in the lowest economic strata of society. Great Britain has done it through her Ministry of Health and through a network of approximately 3000 Maternal and Infant Welfare Stations, the mothers of England can obtain advice how to space, limit or control the size of the famtheir families (in accordance with the mother’s health, the father’s earning capacity, and the standard of living they wish to maintain).
We should look upon birth control as a matter of social insurance not only for the health of the mother, the welfare of the children born, and unborn, but also as a protection for Society against the increase an multiplication of the unfit and mentally unstable. When our opponents say that these people in the lower economic brackets of society will not use birth control--that they are too lazy, too listless, careless or stupid--we can well reply: “Who has ever given them a chance? Has any effort ever been made to help them through birth control? We have hedged this knowledge about with taboos and restrictions, and made it as difficult and dangerous as possible for people to get it, so that for the most part only the upper strata with intelligence and means to buy this information have had access to it.
Now thru Public Health agencies we should demand that this service be included and given to the underprivileged to enable them to help themselves. Only in this way can those unable to afford the services of private physicians secure this essential information.
About ten years ago a group of Chicago doctors, all noted men in their profession, presented a statement at the Woman’s Aid Society in that city.
These eighteen doctors who signed the statement, wished to record their belief that “it is wisdom & justice to make legally available to any woman of legally marriagable age the knowledge to prevent conception.” The statement concluded: “Finally, we, as men, believe that if we had to undergo sickness, disfigurement, limitation of activities, discomfort, pain danger and sometimes death for the birth of a child, we would insist that it was our absolute right to choose our own time for the process. Therefore we believe this an essential and absolute right of women and encourage them to claim this right”.
This is a splendid attitude. The woman shall say “when” and the man shall say how many.
The task now before us is to translate these good ideas into action. With the millions of dollars being spent for health and welfare for the masses, not one cent is allotted or allowed to be spent on contraceptive service for the people who can ↑not↓ afford to have children.
The Birth Control Federation of America is dedicated to help these women & to free them from this unnecessary bondage.
This new organization into which has been merged the two oldest birth control organizations has a destiny to fulfill. It has come into being at the psychological hour. . . .the hour has struck. This new federation is laying the cornerstone, yes the foundation, for the greatest experiment in race building the world has ever seen. For we are building not on environment, but on the quality of life itself. We want to encourage a new consciousness and personal responsibility in bringing a child into the world. There is no greater responsibility than that of passing on the gift of life. We want our young people who are to become parents to look upon their bodies as fit and perfect instruments in the service of the soul that shall inhabit that body in which it shall play its part in the mystery and consciousness of human evolution.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project