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Margaret Sanger, "Testimony Before the United States House of Representatives on the Strike at Lawrence," 5 Mar. 1912.

Source: " House of Representatives Records, National Archives Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents C15:19."

Sanger was asked to testify before the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. about her role in supporting the striking workers in Lawrence, MA.



March 5, 1912

MR. POU. You are from New York, are you?


MR. POU. You were instrumental in taking a number of children away from Lawrence, were you not?


MR. POU. I will be obligated to you if you will just go ahead and state in your own way what took place.

MISS SANGER. Well, I helped to take the first section of children, when there was no difficulty in getting them away. We brought them to New York and gave them supper; we took them to the Labor Temple, where people were waiting to take them to their homes; there they had a supper and they were distributed, and that was all there was to think about.

MR. POU. How long was that before the day we have been talking about, the 24th of February, I think it was?

MISS SANGER. I think that was two weeks.

MR. POU. How many of the children were taken to New York?

MISS SANGER. One hundred and nineteen at this time and 92 a week afterwards.

MR. POU. Altogether that would be something over 200?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. POU. Well, you had no trouble with the police?

MISS SANGER. No; we had no trouble.

MR. POU. They had not decided to prevent the children from leaving when you took these away?

MISS SANGER. No; not at this time.

MR. POU. Did you talk with those children about their manner of living in Lawrence and about the food they got?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir. I am a trained nurse, and I was especially interested in the condition of the children.

MR. POU. Now, as a rule, is it true that the children of the working people in Lawrence--the class we are investigating now--only got meat once a week.

MISS SANGER. Those were the assertions of not only the children but of the parents that I interviewed.

MR. FOSTER. How long were you in Lawrence?

MISS SANGER. I was only there one night.

MR. FOSTER. You arrived in Lawrence in the evening and left the next morning?


MR. FOSTER. You did not visit any of the homes of the strikers?

MISS SANGER. No. When the people brought the children to the hall the next morning to be taken away I inquired of some of the parents about the children.

MR. FOSTER. You say you are a trained nurse?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. FOSTER. And what was the physical appearence of these children that you took to New York? You know something about how they should look; were they properly nourished?

MISS SANGER. Well, the condition of those children was the most horrible that I have ever seen.

MR. FOSTER. Tell the committee something about how they looked.

MISS SANGER. In the first place, there were four little children who had chicken pox that we kept there; we would not allow them to go away; and then one of the children had just gotten over chicken pox, and the father begged us to let the child come; he had one 2 years old and another 3 1/2 years old, I believe, and he begged us to let those children come, because he was a widower and had no wife or anyone to take care of these children; he left them with the neighbors during the day. So I took these little children, and we isolated them on the way to New York, and when we got there they were placed under the doctor's care. All of these children were walking about there apparently not noticing chicken pox or diphtheria; one child had diphtheria and had been walking around, and no attention paid to it at all, and had been working up to the time of the strike. Out of the 119 children four of them had underwear on, and it was the most bitter weather; we had to run all the way from the hall to the station in order to keep warm; and only four had underwear.

MR. FOSTER. You say only four had underwear?


MR. FOSTER. What was the character of their outer clothing; was it wooolen?

MR. STANLEY. Were the people working in a woolen mill?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. STANLEY.Where they make underwear?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. FOSTER. How about the outer clothing?

MISS SANGER. It was almost in rags; their coats were eaten off as though they were simply worn to shreds.

MR. FOSTER. Was it woolen clothing?

MISS SANGER. No, sir; I do not think that any one of them had on any woolen clothing; that is, to my own knowledge.

MR. FOSTER. What was their color? Did they seem to be well nourished?

MISS SANGER. They were very much emanciated; every child there showed the effects of malnutrition, and all of them, or almost all of them, according to the doctor's certificate that night, had adenoids and enlarged tonsils. They were all examined at the station. We had a little time in the morning, and they were examined before they left.

MR. FOSTER. They all looked thin and pale?

MISS SANGER. Yes. I would like to say that when they had this supper it would bring tears to your eyes to see them grab the meat with their hands and eat it.

MR. FOSTER. They ate the meat as though they really enjoyed it?

MISS SANGER. Yes; decidedly.

MR. FOSTER. And you say there were only four out of 119 that had any underclothing?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir; and it was the bitterest weather we have had this year.

MR. FOSTER. And the outer clothing was ragged?

MISS SANGER. In rags. I think perhaps 20 of them had overcoats.

MR. FOSTER. What kind of shoes did they have?

MISS SANGER. Almost on the ground, except some of the older girls, who had been working in the mills; they had better shoes; but the little ones, who had to depend on others, were in a most deplorable condition.

MR. FOSTER. Did they have on woolen stockings?

MISS SANGER. I do not think any of them had a bit of wool on their bodies.

MR. FOSTER. And yet working in woolen mills?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN. Kindly read the letter I now hand to the committee.

MR. FOSTER. May I ask Miss Sanger what organization she represents in New York City.

MISS SANGER. I was previously the Woman organizer of the Socialist Party.

New York, February 1, 1916. To whom it may concern: We, undersigned Italian doctors invited to make a preliminary physical examination of the Lawrence strikers' children, verified that all children were of poor physical build, defective, and underfed. The majority of them had enlarged glands, throat, nose, eyes, defective, and affected. All were poorly clad even against the rigor of the season. (And signed by six physicians.)

THE CHAIRMAN. Can you read their names?

MISS SANGER. Diamede Petilex, M.D., 56 Mulberry Street; Dr. Exore Jeseau, 175 Worth Street; Dr. Alfredo De Filipi, 56 Mott Street; Dr. Rocco Bellantoni, 373 Broome Street; Dr. J. Loquito, 200 Grand Street, New York City.

THE CHAIRMAN. Does that refer to the same children of whom you have been speaking?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. WILSON. Where did those doctors live?

MISS SANGER. They were physicians of the Italian federation of New York City, who volunteered their services to take charge of the children while in New York.

MR. LENROOT. Can you give the committe any information as to how the condition of these children compared with that of other children in similar circumstances of life?

MISS SANGER. Yes; I have been brought up in a factory town where there are glassblowers and children of glassblowers, and I must say that I have never seen in any place children so ragged and so deplorable as these children were. I have never seen such children in my work in the Italian districts of New York City; in the slum districts, I must say, there are always a few of them who are fat and rugged, but these children were pale and thin.

THE CHAIRMAN. Have you any other statement you would like to make to the committee?

MISS SANGER. I would like to refute the statement that has been made that the children appeared at a mass meeting. That is not so.

THE CHAIRMAN. You may make any statement you deem proper about that.

MISS SANGER. That is not so. I was on the children's committee for both consignments of children, and they have never appeared on a platform in New York City, except the second time; when the children came to New York, in order to prevent the terrible rush when they were going for dinner, we crossed over at Union Square on a little platform to get ahead of the rush, so they could get into Arlington Hall before the rush and mob came. That was the only appearence they ever made on a platform, in crossing from one side to the other.

THE CHAIRMAN. Speaking for myself, I do not think that needs an apology. I think if they wanted to parade them before public they had a constitutional right to do so.

Editor's note: We have ommitted the text of a short conversation between the Chairman and Mr. Hardwick over whether the Committee should express itself on the consitutional right to parade the children.

MR. HARDWICK. It is true or not--I am not expressing an opinion one way or the other, although I have an opinion on that subject, the same as my colleague, but I do not care express myself at present--that these children were in any way exhibited to the public during their stay in New York?

MISS SANGER. Only from the time they left the Grand Central Station until they went to hall where they were to have their supper

MR. HARDWICK. When they went to the hall, of course, there was a crowd there, and was that a public affair?


MR. HARDWICK.How many people were there?

MISS SANGER. Well, no one was allowed there except the committee who were to take charge fo the children and to give them their food.

MR. HARDWICK.I have seen some statements in the New York papers about these things, and you probably have read them, too. I was under the impression that one of those statements was to the effect that these children were taken to some mass meeting of either the Socialist Party or some labor organization. Is that true in point of fact or not?

MISS SANGER. No; that is not true. They have never been taken to a public meeting in New York.

MR. HARDWICK. They never were?


MR. HARDWICK. When they came to the station natural curiosity brought a great crowd to see them?

MISS SANGER. Yes; and they wrapped their coats about these little children; the men took their coats right off and carried them on their shoulders to their place of destination.

MR. HARDWICK. Just the natural curiosity to see these little suffering children?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. HARDWICK. And outside of the usual publicity that attends such a thing as this there was no attempt to give it purposeful publicity?

MISS SANGER. No; I do not think there was any special attention given to that; they were simply taken from one place to another--from the Grand Central Station to their place of destination.

MR. HARDWICK. They were not used at any public place or at a mass meeting?

MISS SANGER. No; there was no attempt to exploit these children, as the papers stated.

MR. HARDWICK. I am very glad to hear you say that is incorrect.

MISS SANGER. That is absolutely untrue.

THE CHAIRMAN. Will you explain a little further about the index cards or identification cards so we may understand about them exactly?

MISS SANGER. We first had an application blank made out in printed form. Any applicant who desired to have a child would make this application, stating that at a specified time, or whenever the parents desired, the child could be returned to them, or whenever the strike committee asked that the child be returned. Then there was another identification card; on one side was the child's name. Its parents' names, the place of residence and nationality, and on the opposite side of the card was the child's tutor or guardian. Those cards were signed by the committee from Lawrence. A special committee came with each nationality; the Polish people sent a Polish delegate, the French people sent a delegate representing their nationality, and so on, so that all of the children were placed in families where they could learn to speak their own language. And those cards were signed, and we kept them together.

THE CHAIRMAN. In other words, you had a perfect system of identification?

MISS SANGER. A very good system, yes.

MR. HARDWICK. Those children are still in New York, you say?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. HARDWICK. You are taking good care of them?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. HARDWICK. Treating them nicely?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. HARDWICK. And they are enjoying their vacation?

MISS SANGER. They have enjoyed it very much.

MR. HARDWICK. And their physical condition has improved very much?

MISS SANGER. We have a number of letters from the people who have the childrens saying that they have noticed an improvement in their physical condition.

MR. HARDWICK. You seem to be very thoroughly familiar with the details of this thing, so far as the New York end of it is concerned. I want to ask you a plain question and I want a candid answer to it, and I believe you will give it to me: Was the purpose in carrying these children to New York single or was it twofold? Was it single in that its only purpose was that of taking care of the children and helping the strikers, or was it twofold in that it was not only for the purpose I have just mentioned, but also for the purposes of aiding the strikers and helping break down the opposition of the bosses?

MISS SANGER. The main purpose in my estimation was that it was going to help them--

MR. HARDWICK. (interposing)Win the strike?

MISS SANGER. Yes; win the strike. For instance, a father that I have in mind sent five boys with me: I said to him, "Is this going to help you?" He said, "God, I do not know what I would have doen with the five children if you had not taken them," and so on. The people all expressed themselves int he same way--that this was going to be of great assistance to them.

MR. STANLEY.You mean they could weather the storm if they did not have to provide for the children?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

MR. HARDWICK. As this is a new departure in American strike warfare I want to see what it means. Was it also the idea that by sending these children to other cities it would excite the sympathy of the people and aid the strikers in their warfare?

MISS SANGER. I think it is having a great deal to do with it.

MR. HARDWICK. I thought you would answer frankly. I am not expressing my opinion one way or the other.

MISS SANGER. I think it has.

THE CHAIRMAN. Personally, was it your purpose to aid the strikers or to give the children a home.

MISS SANGER. I was first interested in it as soon as I heard the children were coming to New York, when I telegraphed that I desired to take care of the children; that was my first interest.

THE CHAIRMAN. That was your main purpose?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN. Personally?

MISS SANGER. Yes, sir.

Thereupon a recess was taken until 2:30 o'clock p.m.


The committee met, pursuant to the taking of recess, at 2:30 o'clock p.m., Hon. Robert L. Henry (chairman) presiding.

THE CHAIRMAN. The committee will be in order. Miss Sanger, will you take the stand again?


THE CHAIRMAN. Miss Sanger, it has been stated that it would have been cheaper to have kept the children in Lawrence than to pay the railroad fare to New York. What about that?

MISS SANGER. Yes, that phase of the subject was considered by the New York committee before the final arrangements were made to bring them here. I myself went about a number of people who had volunteered through the press, their request for the children, and I came to the committee with an assurance of about $100 that the people would send to those homes in Lawrence. But after the committee figured out the number of children there to be taken care of, it was asserted that there would take something like a hundred thousand or a couple of hundred thousand dollars to care for the children there, and it was decided that it would not be as beneficial to the children as to bring them to New York and put them in families.

MR. WILSON. May I ask you a question?

MISS SANGER. Certainly

MR. WILSON. You stated this morning that four of the children out of the one hundred and nineteen had on underclothing. It was suggested during the noon hour by individuals, to me, that the rest of the children were possibly in the habit of wearing underclothing during the cold weather, but that it had been taken off to create a little more sympathy, or excite a little more sympathy. Do you know whether or not these children were in the habit of wearing underclothing?

MISS SANGER. My candid opinion is that the first consignment of children were not in the best condition, because they were simply picked out of their homes without any preparation, and I do not believe this is true. They were simply taken out of their homes, being told the night before that they had to start on the early train. Some of the fathers and mothers brought the, to the station with their own clothing wrapped around tehm to keep them from the cold.

MR. WILSON. Do you think that these same children, when going to New York, wore their poorest clothing, thinking that they would be replenished when they got in New York by your friends, and that they left their better clothing at home for the purpose of getting more out of it than if they had taken their other clothing?

MISS SANGER. I thought of that at the time, and I asked the children if they had any better clothing, and not one of them had. They wore the very best clothing they had. They all tried to look their very best. The girls wore their best ribbons

THE CHAIRMAN. You may stand aside.

Subject Terms:

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