Margaret Sanger, "Women in Germany, Part II," Jan 1921.

Source: " Birth Control Review, Jan. 1921, pp. 8-10, Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:0850."

For an earlier article of the same title, see Women in Germany, Dec. 1920.


Women in Germany

By Margaret Sanger

September 7, 1920, Dresden

The conditions in this city are somewhat better than in Berlin. The streets are cleaner, the people less hungry looking; the cars not so crowded. But the working woman is reduced to the function of pack-horse. This morning I saw a young woman, who could not have been over twenty-five years of age carrying a huge basket strapped to her back ,like horses, carrying produce from country towns to their homes or stores in the cities. They have become drudge animals in the fields. There are four women to one man taking the place of the truck and work horses. They nurse their babies beyond two years, to supply the milk which, in the absence of cows' milk, they hope will keep life in the children.

It was a great pleasure to me to meet that splendid pioneer of the Woman's Movement in Germany--Marie Stritt, a woman of refinement, culture, with a fine vigorous mind, speaking English with a care and better choice of words then most well educated Americans. Marie Stritt was a Pacifist in the war. Thousands of Pacifists were shot. She has been the pioneer in the Birth Control Movement in Germany, and organized the International Congress of the Malthusians in Dresden in 1912. She is the editor of the foremost official paper for woman's suffrage here Die Frauenfrage (The Woman Question). She thinks it is not necessary to propagate the idea of Birth Control in Germany now; she says that the birth rate has fallen so rapidly in the last few years, that there is no need for spreading knowledge, or encouraging the idea. The organized movement is almost out of existence, but the knowledge is spreading everywhere.

One of the most interesting achievements of Germany is Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexual Science. It is the only one of its kind in the world. Here is a beautiful dwelling, with palatial and spacious rooms, which at one time belonged to a member of the royal family. Since the Revolution it has been turned over to Dr. Hirschfeld, who has converted it into a College where one may study all subjects relative to, or treating of the science of sex. There are various departments, each with specialists in charge, each department equipped with laboratories and X-rays.

I am delighted to find Dr. Hirschfeld so well informed on the subject of Birth Control. He is a personal friend of Dr. Rutgers of Holland, through whom he has been kept in touch with the work. There is also the possibility of the subject of Birth Control taking its place as a department in this Institute. Dr. Hirschfield was most cordial and hospitable, and kindly extended to me an invitation to address an audience if I would consent to speak in the Institute. As I was leaving Berlin in a few days, it was impossible to do so, and I greatly regret missing this splendid opportunity of getting the message before the physicians of Germany.

I am now on my way to Munich to get the facts of the birth strike so generally reported in Europe. Then, on to Ravensburg to investigate the clinical preventive which is said to be one hundred per cent, perfect in safety and harmlessness, and is also reported as having the government's official sanction.

There are few people in Germany who will not acknowledge that country as overpopulated today. Everyone knows that, even though two million lives were sacrificed in the war, this deficiency has been made up by the million and a half inhabitants who were returned to Germany from Alsace-Lorraine. Also on the Polish side there was at least the same number returned to the Fatherland, while hundreds of thousands of men and women were deported from England, France and Italy, and sent to the land of their birth. Thousands of them hate Germany--Germany is now a foreign and detested place to them.

With all the facts of over-population before their eyes; with poverty, overcrowding, lack of food, mothers starving, children doomed to die in a few years, yet those in Germany elected to guide the destinies of the millions, will but reluctantly accept the idea of Birth Control for the masses.

Of course they all accept and practice it themselves--always--but for the working women it is different. I talked to many of the foremost physicians here, gynecologists and baby specialists. Surely, I thought, these men, considering the kind of work they do, must have a better understanding of the actual needs of the country than others. But in this also, I was disappointed. The physicians are content that woman shall breed; no matter what she suffers, no matter what kind of child she may bring forth.

I found not one physician, even of those in charge of all the appalling misery of Germany, who dared to say that Birth Control should be encouraged. I found several, however, who stood for women's right to have abortions--but for contraceptive advice, NO. "It is knowledge that is too dangerous," said one very well known gynecologist to me. He agreed that something should be done during these years of chaos, and for the next five years to prevent more babies; but abortion seemed better to him than Birth Control knowledge. Why? Because knowledge to prevent conception involved woman's freedom. "Once they know how to prevent, they will not go back to their old ways again," said the learned gentleman. That is the 'rub' in Germany.

I went into one home where there were ten children living--the oldest was twelve years of age, and too young to work. The father a locksmith, was out of work; he had been out of work for several weeks. The family lived on one hundred marks which they received every eight days from the Unemployment Insurance. This was Saturday; the money was to come on Monday. These children were huddled together in two rooms, all living, cooking, sleeping there. They had had no breakfast; no dinner; there was not one crumb or morsel of food in that house. They were waiting for Monday. The father had gone to the woods to find mushrooms to keep them alive until their money came. Five of these children had been born since the war began!!!

Many other families were in similar positions. They were all clean, but poverty and starvation stamped their faces horribly.

The Quakers' food stations--which by the way the children call "America"--are crowded to their fullest capacity. Only children who are ill enough, can come for food. Only mothers pregnant over seven months or who are nursing babies under four months, are allowed food. The spectacle of a nursing mother, or a pregnant mother, bringing her two or three wee children (not ill enough to be admitted) to share her food is too sad and horrible to dwell upon. The Quakers have a problem there, they can not put the children out, yet they want that mother to eat the food herself, for the benefit of the unborn child.

Sept. 11, 1920, Munich

There is a Birth Strike here. The common sense of the German mothers has caused it. It is not organized as one was given to believe, but certainly, the women are agreed that their condition is such that it is impossible for healthy children to be born or reared.

In this city--the most lovely in Germany--there is more life and greater abandon than in the North. Munich is the Paris of Germany. There is poverty and hunger here in plenty, but there is more food in the shops, more clothing and greater activity than in any of the other cities.

This is the city where, during the Revolution, the Soviet Republic flew its red flag from the housetops for over three weeks. I have met many of the leading people on both sides of the political arena. The Conservatives claim that the Communists were not able enough--that they were not capable of handling the situation. On the other hand the leaders of the Communists claim that they lost because they were not cruel enough. Their consideration, their ideals, their faith in human brotherly love, cost them their lives and their liberty.

I talked to Mrs. Musham--that Joan of Arc who, together with her husband, Erich Musham and Landau, inspired the masses to revolution. Landau is dead. He was kicked and clubbed to death by the White Guard. That gentle soul so believed in the good of man, that he talked and pleaded with the soldiers to be brothers, and urged them not to take life. They answered him in Prussian methods as they answered Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Then, having finished with Landau they went to find Erich and Mrs. Musham. Machine guns were used to wreck their apartment; not satisfied that they did not come out to escape, the White Guard stormed the place, breaking down doors, etc. Fortunately, both Erich Musham and his wife had been previously arrested and were safely in jail. Erich Musham is still in prison--his wife was released later.

There is bitterness in the breasts of the "Reds" because they were tricked and fooled by their own faith in humanity. They say this has taught them a valuable lesson, and they shall not forget it.

No wonder that the middle and upper classes will not give up their guns--they know this bitterness, and they know too that the class struggle is not settled, even tho the Red Flag is not flying over Munich. It is said that the upper and middle classes are prepared to make their escape at a moment's notice' they have peasants' boots and costumes ready and plans and money put aside for the emergency which all claim is bound to come.

I talked to the Medical Chief of the Bavarian Soviet--a well-known practicing physician. He was tremendously interested in the subject of Birth Control. He told me that women in Bavaria are determined to stop having babies. He has given practical information to thousands, and would have established clinics all over Bavaria, had the Soviet Republic remained in power.

I forgot to say, that in Berlin the Syndicaliste or the Free Workers' Union of Germany has physicians who give lectures on the practical side of birth control to the women of that organization.

It was only when physicians were allied with such radical organizations as the Syndicaliste that they dared to come out for the practical side of Birth Control. I was glad to find these men far more sympathetic and enthusiastic for the use of contraceptive methods than they were for abortions. In this they differed from the conservative physicians, who fear to give woman knowledge which will free her.

I visited hospitals in this city, and found them lacking in the simple and most ordinary articles of decency. No soap--no cod-liver oil, no rubber sheets to protect the beds--no linen to give clean bedding as required--and even the babies must be all day in wet napkins, because of the inadequate supply for the proper changes. This has given rise to skin trouble, and the poor little waifs are a sad, miserable lot. It would be a great kindness to let them die outright, I believe.

Another dreadful thing, which gave me the nightmare for weeks, was to see the children's little mouths covered with horrible sores: and upon inquiring as to why this was so, and why so prevalent, I was told it came from the meat and milk of the cattle suffering from "mouth disease."

The kind charitable folk may applaud the work which is keeping down the infant mortality rate in Germany, but I am not certain that their benevolence is so wise as it may seem. The old fashioned warrior who entered with sword and killed his victim outright has my respect after witnessing the "Peace" conditions of Germany.

The Military Party uses everything as "I told you so." It accuses the Socialists of bringing defeat upon the country. There is also the general feeling that had America not entered the war, a juster peace would have been made--for then none would have been victors and none defeated. This they say would have meant a lasting peace.

There seems to be no hatred towards Americans or the English, but only towards the French. All foreigners are made to pay a hundred per cent above the native price in hotels, and thus to prevent an influx of people who could easily live well at a small cost, owing to the difference in exchange.

When I asked one physician what the doctors were doing to help tubercular women from becoming pregnant, he replied, "for those who can afford it we advise articles of contraception, but there is no use in advising women to purchase these articles who cannot buy bread, so such women are usually aborted" (legally).

I asked him if the medical profession, as a whole, was doing anything to prevent bringing into the world those children whose backs were so weak that they could not sit up straight, with bones too soft to hold the weight of the body, etc. His answer was "they are doing their best to cope with conditions as they find them. It is not their work to change conditions."

Fortunately there is a very large number of women all over Germany whom Nature has protected from pregnancy. The lack of fats and other foods necessary to the system, caused the suppression of the menses. These facts were forcibly brought forth by Prof. H. J. Kraus, Director of the Medical Clinique of Charite in Berlin, in his address before the Congress of United Medical Societies, December 18, 1918. Some of these women have become normal again, but thousands of them have been made sterile.

The conditions of women and children are appalling. Thousands are suffering from tuberculosis, and are in need of foodstuffs which, unless they soon have them, are doomed to death before the winter begins.

The same official barriers exist in Germany as exist in England and the United States. Those who are closely in touch with these suffering, overburdened, tortured women, hold from them the knowledge which would best help them. The working women here--like those in England--want contraceptive advice. They ask their neighbors, their nurses, their friends, everywhere they seek. Anything they try. But those best qualified to help them hold off.

Is this refusal to advise over-burdened women against pregnancy caused by selfishness, I am asked. Or is it a sub-conscious realization on the part of the medical profession that it will affect their economic position in the community? Or is it a deeply-rooted conviction that it is against the laws of God?

I asked these questions of a well-known man in London today, who answered, "I think it is the Devil ."


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