Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control Comes of Age Dinner Speech," 12 Feb 1935.

Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm, Smith Collection Collections S71:0708."

Sanger gave this speech to open the "Birth Control Comes of Age" dinner, held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the founding of the birth control movement. This text comes from a Feb. 13, 1935 press release.


If any of you think that it was the birth control advocates who suffered defeat when our Bill was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee a week ago today, you are greatly mistaken. The fifteen men who voted against discussion of the Bill did not defeat us; they defeated themselves. They defeated themselves by going on record as petty politicians, some of them without vision, others without courage or moral stamina, thinking only of elections.

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 statesman we can claim to have in this country in our present condition of relief and unemployment chaos, where billions are being spent to relieve poverty, 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. It is quite likely, too, that these future generations, like Europe will refuse to pay them. 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 out a population with millions of morons and defectives which we are handing down for our children’s children to manage.

Black is the guilt of those thinking only of themselves and elections when they were delegated with a solemn trust to protect the health, happiness and well being of the nation and its future.

Population may not be pressing upon the means of subsistence in this country as Malthus a hundred years ago claimed it might and could do, but population is certainly pressing upon our relief funds which is the means of subsistence for over 12,000,000 men and women unemployed in our country today. Population is pressing upon the relief agencies, upon the dole, upon other fellow’s job. It’s pressing upon the structure of our social system and upon every educational and cultural agency, the existence of which is threatened by increasing hordes fearful of hunger and want. Let us rid our minds that the vast extent of unemployment is only a temporary and transient condition. The growth, increase and development of mechanical appliances in production is a most significant factor in the problem of unemployment. It is bound to become more acute and widespread as science and invention continue to be applied to industry and agriculture. There has been for the past decade, and there continues to be, less need for manual human labor power in the production of the necessities of life. We have our choice of scrapping this machinery and all future invention of production or slowing down the birth rate.

What is to become of the children? Of the million whose parents are today unemployed and many of them unemployable? What is to become of the millions of children who are born of parents equipped neither mentally or physically to support neither themselves nor their children? Who wants them? What is to become of them? What nation will take the moron, imbeciles, defectives off the hands of another nation? They are not even wanted for war. Many of them have already become heavy liabilities upon the nation, yet the stream from these sources flows on unchecked. If twenty years ago the Birth Control Movement had had the support of organized labor and those religious and social agencies whose mission it is to help to eliminate our human miseries, it is safe to say that there would be far healthier conditions and fewer of these social problems which we are facing today.

If it is true that our population has increased from 122,000,000 in 1930 to 144,000,000 at the end of 1934, then certainly we have a right to ask of our government, in fact to demand, to know from what strata of our population this increasing horde is coming from. If under the very eyes of our social agencies and with their help and assistance this increase comes from the physical and mental defectives, the diseased, helpless and destitute, then truly they and those governmental agencies behind them are creating a national Frankenstein. There are some basic truths which should form the cornerstone of any plan for permanent national security, one of which is, that we can never permanently improve the general standard of life until we greatly lessen the precaution of physically and mentally unfit to the general population.

The Birth Control Movement is designed and organized to do just that. It is designed and organized to make available to the poorest and most afflicted of our people, scientific information, to regulate and control the size of the family. It is in my estimation the greatest and most important single and immediate means that scientific thought has devised to raise the mass population to a higher intelligence and level of life.

“Oh,” say some of our opponents, “it can never do that, because people who now practice birth control are the wealthy and intelligent of the population, who practice birth control for selfish reasons.”

Well, why should it not be practiced by the intelligent--for any knowledge or means which will enhance the beauty, happiness, and fulfillment of life, will always be more readily accepted by the intelligent of all classes. That’s the natural place for Birth Control to begin, but it need not end there!

To say that it is practiced from selfish motives is not true. The desire for birth control knowledge and its practice comes from a higher and much more permanent cause than that. It is due to increased respect for the sanctity of life and an increased regard and responsibility for the welfare and education of children. Such parents are inspired by the hope that by having fewer children whom they can educate and properly care for, that they may help them escape the grinding poverty and hardships they themselves have endured due to the accident of birth.

These same opponents glibly tell us about the ennobling effects upon parents in the struggle of poverty. People who talk like that know nothing about poverty. To me it is the most degrading, demoralizing struggle that a human being can encounter, and we find the very people who so loudly praise its noble effects upon character spent their energies and efforts in trying to escape it for themselves. Who are the people that we are trying to legislate for, and why is this legislation necessary? We ask an amendment to the existing law, to allow physicians, hospitals, clinics, public health agencies to be exempt from the present law. We know that an enormous part of our population apply to these agencies for medical aid. If passed, this bill would open the doors and unite the hands of physicians in these institutions so that people coming to them could receive adequate information suitable to their individual problems and conditions.

Are we too optimistic in hoping for success? No--for we know that the people throughout the country are thinking of family planning as never before. We know that we can win if we can arouse these people out of their lethargy and indifference and inform them how this law interferes with their obtaining adequate scientific knowledge. We want to organize in every state of the union. We want to put fifty field workers into action within the next thirty days. We are circulating petitions asking Congress and the President of the United States to help us. We expect to get not less than 1,000,000 signatures. The action of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives has inspired this action. It was a springboard for us to leap into a wider area and extend our activities throughout the nation.

Ten years ago I addressed a letter to President Coolidge, urging the formation of a Federal Birth Control Commission. I suggested that this commission be composed of impartial scientists distinguished in the fields of biology, genetics, economics, medicine and philanthropy, and should be given free access to all facts and statistics relative to the racial health of this nation. This appeal was ignored. I now suggest to the present administration the organization of a Federal Population Bureau as an immediate and imperative necessity to survey our human resources. This Bureau should be scientifically equipped and empowered to diagnose the population problems confronting the Nation today, with the aim of formulating a Federal Population policy. This policy must be determined upon the primary considerations of public health and racial conservation. This survey and analysis would be concerned with our liabilities as well as our assets out of which our future population must be recruited.

Through such a Bureau, it would be possible to correlate and co-ordinate the findings of scientists and their bearing upon the problems of crime, delinquency and other related problems that now threaten to engulf the nation. I am sure you will agree with me that what this nation needs is a definitely crystallized population policy by which we may acquaint ourselves with the population problems and solve them on the basis of human conservation.

No program for the future can command an enduring respect unless it can prove that it can eradicate the evils of the present. “Beyond thyself shalt thou build,” said a great modern prophet, “but first of all, thou must thyself be built strong and wholesome in body and soul.”

Looking over this audience tonight, seeing friends gathered here after years of struggle and sacrifice, I am convinced that on this 21st Anniversary of the Birth Control Movement, it is sound of body and spirit and we may count on it to build beyond itself a true civilization in America.


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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project


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