Margaret Sanger, "The Passing of a Hero," Oct 1924.

Source: " Birth Control Review, Oct. 1924, pp. 288-89 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S70:1052."

The Passing of a Hero


From its stormy beginning, now something more than one hundred years ago, that struggle for human freedom and the battle to liberate woman from the cruel slavery of enforced motherhood which today is known as the Birth Control movement, has produced a long list of martyrs and heroes known and unknown–-an honor-list of brave men and courageous women who, without thought of recognition or official medals, unflinchingly have carried on the thankless battle against blind prejudice. Some of them, like those dauntless pioneers, the Drysdales, have won a place in the history of human freedom that can never be wrested from them. Others must remain anonymous, though their valor has been scarcely less heroic. Propagandists, publishers, booksellers, active agitators like those men who first circulated the "diabolical handbill" at the very outset of the Neo-Malthusian movement–-all have carried on the torch and kept our ideal alive.

Others have worked directly in the heart of the poor, in the midst of conditions and in the face of obstacles that would have discouraged men less staunch in their convictions, less loyal to the ideal of a liberated and regenerated humanity. One of the noblest heroes in this latter field has been Doctor J. Rutgers of The Hague, the news of whose recent death has just come to us from Holland. The severity of this blow to our cause is alleviated only by our realization of the profound influence exerted by this valiant worker in our movement. The work of a whole lifetime devoted with the highest idealism to a love of his fellow-men has not been in vain. The influence of Doctor Rutgers has been profound. For he was one of the first to realize that this whole problem of voluntary contraception is not one merely of controversy and discussion, of theory and polemic, the moral rightness of which may be decided solely by preachers or teachers. It is a problem of practical science, to be tested by intelligent men and women. And so, quietly, modestly, without any blaring of trumpets, actuated by the courage of his convictions and a profound love of humanity, Dr. Rutgers gave the Neo-Malthusian movement, as it was known during the latter half of the nineteenth century, a new direction and a new life. His instrument was the Birth Control clinic. To him we owe the establishment of Birth Control clinics in Holland.

In 1915 I went to him to learn all the practical aspects of scientific contraception. I shall never forget the long hours I spent under his guidance in those Dutch clinics, learning from this quiet humanitarian much more than merely the practical education I had gone to acquire from him. First of all he taught me, not so much by word as by practical demonstration, the paramount importance of the clinic as a means of educating women in the hygienic and eugenic aspects of Birth Control. He taught me that real Birth Control could never be merely a matter of printed and published information, but of practical and scientific hygiene. And so from Dr. Rutgers I came to see that the clinic must be the true goal of all adequate and thorough education in Birth Control. As conceived in the mind of this valiant worker and humanitarian, the clinic becomes the surest instrument toward individual liberty and the regeneration of the race–-profoundly eugenical and an institution of real hygienic education.

While to Doctor Aletta Jacobs must be awarded the high honor of being the first physician in Holland to offer practical advice to poor mothers, it was Dr. Rutgers' great achievement to organize the clinics, to educate nurses and midwives in this delicate work and to effect the establishment of clinics in the lesser cities and towns of the Netherlands.

In the face of unforeseen and almost insurmountable obstacles Dr. Rutgers carried on this great work to the point when the benefits of the clinics could be scientifically computed and practically demonstrated, to the point, in short, when the work, organized by the pioneer in this field, was officially recognized by the Dutch government as a humanitarian effort of national importance. By his devotion and tireless efforts, Dr. Rutgers had carried to fine fruition a lifework that at the beginning was almost blighted by neglect, misunderstanding, indifference and the enmity of his opponents.

I am proud to realize that through my efforts educators and social workers of other countries have been taught the importance of the clinic as a true instrument of eugenic education. My enthusiasm for Dr. Rutgers' clinic has led others to visit The Hague and to investigate his results for themselves. So that his example in the near future may have widespread influence, not only in the Occident but in the Far East as well.

How much the contemporary Birth Control movement owes to the example of Holland, the pioneer nation in this field, we all realize. How much Holland owes to the fine and unflinching idealism of Dr. Rutgers, it is too early to say. His is an influence the benefits of which cannot be determined in a single generation nor in two. When we point to Holland as an outstanding example of what can be accomplished and what has been attained in the quality of breeding as opposed to the blind and indiscriminate reproduction of mere numbers, we should not forget that this practical national demonstration of our conviction is the outcome of the tireless patience and indefatigable idealism of a single man-–Dr. J. Rutgers.

Let us honor his memory as that of one of the true heroes fighting for the liberation of humanity through the Birth Control movement.

Subject Terms:

Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project