Margaret Sanger, "Testimony Before the United States House of Representatives on H. R. 11082," 19 May 1932.
Source: " Birth Control: Hearings Before the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives Seventy-Second Congress First Session on H. R. 11082 (Washington, 1932), pp. 6-16, 137-143."
The following is an excerpt from the hearings, including only Margaret Sanger's testimony and speech she responded to directly. For additional comments made by Sanger, see Comments at House Testimony on H. R. 11082, May 19, 1932.
Mrs. Sanger. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, first may I thank you in the name of our committee for your kindness and consideration in giving us so much of your valuable time this morning.
I also wish to assure you that were it not for our deep conviction that the bill we are trying to persuade you to enact into law, means so very much to millions of women in the country, we would not worry or trouble you to give us time at this particular period of mental distress, in the hurry of your own work.
This bill directly affects 25,000,000 married women of child-bearing age in this country. It indirectly affects the health and the future development and the education of 45,000,000 children in this country, of which 10,000,000 are handicapped, mentally or physically, according to the reports given at the White House conference called by President Hoover last year.
More than 1,400 experts reported that those 10,000,000 handicapped children were handicapped because of conditions of poverty, ignorance, or neglect. And yet, Mr. Chairman, no fundamental cure was offered to prevent the coming of 10,000,000 more children who will eventually be handicapped, from causes of ignorance, poverty, and neglect.
Because of the controversial nature of this subject, commonly known as birth control, I wish to tell you something about its general application.
This movement in its modern state began in this country in 1914. I myself, as a mother of 3 children, a member of a large family of 11, and a trained nurse, early came to the conclusion from my own experience in the slum districts of New York City, that this was one of the most vital factors in maternal health and in the health of children.
I found everywhere women who were seeking some means, some knowledge of what they could do to prevent the coming of other children whom they know, owing to their physical defects, they were unable to bring into the world in a healthy condition; or, owing to their husband's economic circumstances, they would be unable to provide for.
So I began to wonder if we could not do something about this law, which was passed by Congress in 1873, nearly 60 years ago. With all the advance that women have made and with all the advance of our charities and our philanthropies and with all the billions that are spent upon disease and defects, delinquency, and dependency, we still allow – in fact, we almost force married persons who continue in their normal, marital lives, to bring into the world children for whom they themselves could not provide.
So, in order to stir up interest in this question and to get this law changed, it was necessary to organize public sentiment, which has now grown into the birth-control movement.
Birth control is the conscious control of the birth rate by means that prevent the conception of human life. We emphasize “prevent”; not interrupt, not destroy. It does not mean abortion. It does not mean the interruption of life after conception occurs. There is not more an interruption of life or a destruction of life in preventing conception than in remaining single or living in abstinence or celibacy. Physiologically speaking, there is no difference.
We say “control.” When we control, we do not have to limit any more than when you control your furnace you have to put the fire out. We control the furnace according to the heat that we desire to maintain in the home, according to the season, according to the hour of the day or night. You control your motor car, but you do not have to stop the engine.
So, in controlling the size of the family or controlling the birth rate, we control it in accordance with the mother's health, in consideration of the quality of inheritance that we are going to pass on to our children, in consideration of the father's income and his earning capacity.
This law, Mr. Chairman, was put upon the statute books at a time when there was very little recognition of the value of the practice of family limitation, when there was very little knowledge of the technique of contraception.
Birth control or prevention of contraception was classed in the obscenity clause with abortion, pornography, and indecency; and it does not belong there.
There was no exemption for physicians. There was no exemption for hospitals or dispensaries.
Mr. Chairman, when that law was passed, it practically closed the avenues of knowledge to the medical profession in this country; it closed out knowledge of research that has been going on in other countries.
It has left us, in so far as the control of child bearing is concerned, practically as in the days of barbarism or savagery. Furthermore, to all intents and purposes, the day that law was passed, women were placed into the category of child-bearing machines. Under this law they practically become conscript mothers.
President Hoover in his address before the White House conference said:
“Let no one believe that these are questions which should not stir a nation; that they are below the dignity of statesmen or government. If we could have but one generation of properly born, trained, educated, and healthy children, a thousand other problems of government would vanish. We would assure ourselves of healthier minds in more vigorous bodies to direct the energies of our Nation to yet greater heights of achievement. Moreover, one good community nurse will save a dozen future policemen.”
There are altogether seven very definite reasons – perhaps more – but I shall take up only seven, why we claim that birth control should be practiced.
First. Wherever there is a transmissible disease, either the husband or wife suffering from insanity, feeblemindedness, epilepsy, or any other form of transmissible disease, neither of those persons should consider being a parent.
Second. In conditions where the mother or the woman has a temporary disease, such as tuberculosis or a heart or kidney disease, pelvic deformity, goiter, and various other conditions, pregnancy becomes a great hazard to the woman's life. We claim that the mother should be protected by having contraceptive information so that she can regain her health before she takes upon herself the burden of pregnancy.
Third. Where parents though seemingly normal themselves, yet have already given birth to defective children, children with cleft palates, children that are subnormal, that are deaf and dumb, we claim that just for the good of the State those parents should refrain from further child bearing, even in spite of the great desire and hope for a normal child.
Fourth. Every mother should safeguard her health as well as that of her unborn child by spacing the births of children for a period of from two to three years.
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, the days are past when it was a very easy matter for women to give birth to children, as it was two or three generations ago. Today it is known that the whole organism of a woman's life, her nervous organism, is quite different from what it was in her grandmother's days, and child bearing is a greater hazard today than it ever was before. In many, many cases, it leaves her not only in a precarious condition at the time, but often in a damaged condition for the future.
We ask that she be able to recuperate from that ordeal, to take the time to enjoy her baby and to take the time to prepare herself physically and mentally and spiritually for the coming of the next child they may wish to have. That means a spacing from two to three years between children.
Doctor Woodbury, of the United States Children's Bureau, published some very interesting data where he clearly shows that too short an interval between childbirths markedly affects the infant death rate. Where the interval between births is three years, the infant death rate is 86.5 (per 1,000 births); when the interval is two years, the rate is 98.6; and when it is only one year, the infant mortality goes up to 147.7. Certainly a very striking increase.
Fifth. There are economic considerations. We believe that it is unfair, that it is not right, for people to have children for whom they cannot provide, and it is just as unfair for a man and woman to have children that society or the community or their older children have to provide for as it is for one country to spill over the other country's border. It is just the same morally.
We know that in our work we have had women come to us who 10 years ago were unable to provide for 4 or 6 children and who today have 12 or 15 which the community has been providing for and taking care of.
Mr. Chairman, we found in our records that most of these children have to go out to work, have to compete with their father in the labor market just as soon as they get old enough to get a labor certificate from the community.
We claim that our young people, while they may marry, and it might be advisable for them to marry early, should wait until they are fully complete in their development, through the adolescent period, before they become parents. We believe it would do away with a great many questions of immorality, promiscuity, and various other questions that concern us all today if this were more encouraged on the part of society.
Sixth. The adolescent period must be considered. We are learning a great deal about the adolescent boy and girl. In the old days the Greeks advised their young men not to marry until their twenty-fifth year. There was something very important in that. Perhaps they did not know scientifically, but today we know that a man does not become really a man until his twenty-fifth year and that the woman does not become a woman, she is a girl, practically, until after the twenty-third year.
This is illustrated by other findings of Doctor Woodbury. In homes, for instance, where the average number of persons per room is less than 1, the infant death rate is 52.1; where it is two or more per room, the death rate is 135.7. Furthermore, in families where the per capita income from the father's earnings was less than $50 the infant mortality rate was 215.9, as compared with a rate of only 60.5 where the per capita amount averaged $400 or over. These figures clearly and strikingly indicate the influence of family over-crowding upon family well being.
Seventh. Adjustment.-– A point on which many may disagree with us. I believe it is very important to our young people's future that they should take at least two or three years of marriage just to get acquainted. Marriage is more today than just a question of providing for children. When there is a fine companionship in marriage between men and women, a spiritual development results. We believe that if two people have a chance to get acquainted, a chance to adjust themselves mentally and spiritually and physically, before they become parents, we shall have larger families. That is our belief, Mr. Chairman. We have seen it come true in the past 16 or 17 years since we have been advocating this idea.
There are three main methods of contraception or birth control.
The first is continence. There are no laws against it. Anyone who wishes to practice continence or to live in celibacy is legally free to do so. No one disagrees with their right to live in this way, if they wish.
The second is sterilization. There are 14 States in the Union today where there are sterilization laws. These provide for sterilization of certain types of persons who are morally irresponsible, who are able to bring into the world only progeny that will be a detriment to society.
The third is chemical or mechanical means of contraception around which most of this controversy is waged.
As you will see from this bill, we want the medical profession to direct the practice of contraception. We want no promiscuous distribution or scattering of knowledge of supplies as there has been in the past and there is today.
We want, for all time, to have this knowledge properly controlled and we believe that this bill provides for that. It places responsibility of giving such information upon the medical profession. We have further found in the 28,000 cases that we have advised at the Clinical Research Bureau in the city of New York, which operates legally under the laws of the State of New York, which permit a physician to give information for the cure of prevention of disease, that knowledge of anatomy and physiology is necessary to instruct a woman properly according to her individual need. We have had 28,000 women who have come to us and who have been benefited by the advice given them, as their homes will show, as their children will show and as their own health will show.
We have found from these 28,000 cases, that every woman differs. You can no more claim that continence is the one and only method that should be practiced than you can say that everyone should be sterilized. Every woman is different physiologically. Family conditions are different in each case and so it takes the trained physician with his knowledge of anatomy and physiology to advise that person, just as it takes a trained oculist to advise as to the proper fitting of eye glasses. We do not send our people to 10-cent store nor to the corner druggist to get their supplies for contraception over the counter.
We want this thing to be put on a decent basis, to be handled in a scientific way. That is what we are asking.
This bill does not compel anyone to use such information. It does not compel any physician to give information. It simply permits contraceptive information and supplies to be sent to doctors or to hospitals and clinics from other countries and through the United States mails or by common carriers and permits supplies to be sent to druggists for use in their legitimate prescription business.
Many of you may say, “Well, is there not everything in this country that we may wish?” And I wish to say, “No.” There is a great deal of research going on in other countries, in Oxford and Cambridge in England, and in Edinburgh University in Scotland; a great deal of research is going on there which, according to the laws, can not come into this country.
I have here today a letter from the customs official of New York City saying that certain things were sent to me from Germany, two articles, that will be destroyed. I have sent a letter and asked that they be readdressed to the physician who is the medical director of our research bureau in New York City, stating that though they may articles to prevent conception, they also fulfill another function of preventing the spread of disease or protecting health. I asked that they be sent to one of our physicians. The answer was that they could not be sent to anyone and I would like to offer this letter, Mr. Chairman, if I may.
The Acting Chairman. You may put the letter in the record.
[The correspondence between Margaret Sanger and H. C. Stuart was omitted.]
Mrs. Sanger. The law, section 305 (a) of the tariff act does not allow any article of that kind to come into this country, and we are thus denied the results of research. We are denying our medical profession the benefit of knowledge obtained in various other countries where a great deal has been going on in the way of research, where they are unlimited in their research. There are only two countries in the world that have laws such as ours and they were patterned after our laws, unfortunately. Those countries are France and Italy.
We have in this country nearly 100 clinics, birth-control clinics, that are legally operating in the various States. Forty-seven States allow the physician to protect the woman's health and to give contraceptive advice as he sees fit. At the same time these physicians, while they may give information orally, have to bootleg their supplies from New York or Chicago or some place where they are manufactured in order to do what they should to protect the health of the woman in their own State.
In the State of California, in Los Angeles, under the county medical department 11 birth-control clinics have been established. If I should write and tell a woman in Los Angeles where one of those clinics is, or send her the address or name of the director of those clinics, I subject myself to the possibility of five years' imprisonment and $5,000 fine under section 211; even to write her where she may go to obtain that information.
It is preposterous; it is absurd. This whole situation is preposterous. Our laws are tangled and confused and as long as they remain as they are on the books, the situation will continue to be as it is.
I myself have received over a million letters, a great majority of them from mothers. I am going to conclude by asking you if you will listen patiently to just a few of them, because I want to analyze them, to show you what the real condition is.
Here is one that says:
I am the mother of 12 children, 6 of which are living. I have had 8 miscarriages in 20 years. I have been married and have a husband that does not support his family like he should. If you can and it is in your power, please tell me something to keep me from getting pregnant. I think I will die if I ever have another baby. So please help me if you can. And may God bless you as long as you live.
Now, that is a 50 per cent loss. That woman has had 12 children and only 6 of them are living. She has had 8 miscarriages. Think of the wasted time, think of the loss to that woman; think of the loss of the power of motherhood when we make this woman go through such a ghastly ordeal.
Here is another letter:
I have six children, my youngest 2 months old, and I am just scared to death for fear I will get that way again, for I never can live to go through with it again. I came near dying this time. For three months before my baby was born, I could not get any shoes on my feet and I could hardly get my eyes open to see. I was bloated up so bad. The doctor wanted to take the baby away when I was 8 months, but I said no, I did not care if I lived or died and I did not have the least idea of living, but the Lord spared me probably so I could go through it all again. But I live on the banks of Lake Erie and just as sure as I get in a family way again I will end my troubles and be at rest. Now, if you can tell me of any way, I would bless your name forever.
That is another one. You can imagine that mother with that fear in her mind, with that sword hanging over her head.
I want to say, Mr. Chairman, that since this law was passed, 1,500,000 mothers have passed out in the great beyond from causes due to child bearing.
There is just one more that I want to read to you, because these are the women who are urging us to pass these laws to give them some relief from the evil condition from which they have been suffering.
I just passed my 21st birthday August 5th (this year). I am already the mother of five little children, the oldest six, and the baby three months. My husband has been out of work over a year and a half now. We would have starved to death long ago but for our relatives who, among them, gave us $5 a week. It's awful hard, Mrs. Sanger, to live like this, and my husband got so down and blue when he found I was that way last time, that he wanted to go away and live in another place, but his folks wouldn't let him do that. My children are well, thank God, but I'm awfully weak, only weighing 90 pounds. I do all the work, and if only I could get strong and not have any more babies, I'd take hope and so would my husband. Won't you help me, please? I know that God will bless you if you do.
One more. This is a classic:
I am only 34 years old and have given birth to 12 children, only 3 of them living. They die so quickly after they are born, it seems they don't have strength to live long. My husband is a good hard-working man, but the best he ever made was $1.50, and never for long. We're poor people, Mrs. Sanger, and the coffins of the last two are not paid for yet. It's hard on a woman to see them go like that, and I think that if I did not have any for a while I could keep the three I've got and give them better than we had.
Is there any man in the world that would continue a business that shows a 75 per cent loss? Of course not. And yet these mothers are not only losing live babies, but they are interrupting pregnancies, thereby sapping their health and strength.
One woman is only 34 years old, the other is only 21. Can you see, gentlemen, what it means to look ahead? Can you see that these women have years and years ahead of them of child bearing, of hopelessness, of despair? Why, the very entrance of a smiling, loving husband is a terror to these woman. Is it any wonder that homes are broken up? Some of the speakers will tell you something about the attitude of men. The young husbands have their problems too. They are trapped. They do not know what it is all about. They do not know what to do. They do the best they can, and yet the only thing they can do when they find their wives in a pregnant condition, with their hopelessness for the future, is to abort. In many of our cases we have brought them back again so that we can teach the husband and wife that it is not necessary to continue to bring children into the world that they can not take care of, and we have made many of these homes happier by proper instruction.
These are the facts. These are the conditions; and there is just one thing that we must realize: The United States Government has already recognized that there is a population problem, at least as far as the quality is concerned, for you know that the Government has claimed the right to exclude immigrants whose condition is likely to be a serious danger to the well-being and happiness of the country. A very important law was passed, and there are now excluded by the immigration act of February 5, 1917 (39 Stat. 874), regulating immigration of aliens to and residence of aliens in the United States, which reads as follows:
Sec. 3. That the following classes of aliens shall be excluded from admission into the United States: All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such alien to earn a living; persons who have been convicted of or admit to having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists, or persons who practice polygamy or believe in or advocate the practice of polygamy; prostitutes, or persons coming into the United States for the purpose of prostitution or for any other immoral purpose; persons who directly or indirectly procure or attempt to procure or import prostitutes or persons for the purpose of prostitution or for any other immoral purpose; persons who are supported by or receive in whole or in part the proceeds of prostitution; persons likely to become a public charge.
There are also provisions for the exclusion of illiterates, or of persons 16 years of age, physically capable of reading, but who cannot read English or some other language. All are refused admission into the United States of America.
Mr. Chairman, I think it is a good law, and all that we are asking is, that if such persons and such types are not good for the country, to come in from the outside, that they also, by birth control, be prevented from coming into the world. If these types are not good for a country, and are a source of danger to our well-being and happiness, then I say, shall we not have the right to have these types of persons in this country excluded from birth?
I thank you.
The Acting Chairman. Are there any questions?
Mr. McCormack. Mrs. Sanger, I was rather interested in your statement that you think a married couple should wait two or three years just to get acquainted after marriage. What did you mean by that – a probationary marriage or trial marriage? I think you ought to explain that.
Mrs. Sanger. No; I mean a permanent marriage. I think marriages would be more permanent if there were a proper adjustment and opportunity for getting acquainted at the beginning.
Mr. McCormack. Suppose they do not become acquainted?
Mrs. Sanger. Of course we are going to give them a better chance to become acquainted; far better than they have today. If I may just digress a moment, what opportunity is there for young people to get acquainted? In the first year after marriage a woman's whole physiological condition is changed. There may be some opportunity for the man--he does not have to have his whole physiological condition changed, but for the woman who comes back from her honeymoon with headaches, morning nausea, and a new nervous strain-–not only is marriage a new condition for her, but the process and the possibility of motherhood entirely changes her whole being.
Now, I say that those young people have not the first chance to get really acquainted. The man never knows his wife as a woman. He only knows her as a girl before marriage, and then he knows her as preparing for motherhood. I say it is unfair to the relationship of marriage. It is unfair to the child that is about to be born, and we know that it makes a great difference, and that marriage can be more permanent if there is the opportunity to become adjusted.
Mr. McCormack. You made reference to some statements made by President Hoover. Did you intend thereby – I am sure you did not, but I would like to have it in the record one way or the other – did you intend thereby to let the inference be drawn that he was supporting this movement?
Mrs. Sanger. Not at all. I simply made a statement that he believes in a healthier childhood, and that children should be given the opportunity to be born well.
Mr. McCormack. Continence is the exercise of the affirmative mind, is it not?
Mrs. Sanger. Not always.
Mr. McCormack. What was that conference at which President Hoover made that statement?
Mrs. Sanger. The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, in 1931.
Mr. McCormack. Continence is the existence of the affirmative mind by the individual; that is true, is it not?
Mrs. Sanger. Not always the affirmative mind. It may be an exercise of a negative mind.
Mr. McCormack. But in an affirmative direction?
Mrs. Sanger. Not altogether. I think it is negative just as it is affirmative. It is denial.
Mr. McCormack. Well, denial. It has to be an exercise of an affirmative mind to deny themselves something that their inclination desires, does it not?
Mrs. Sanger. Well, it is a denial of a positive function, I should say.Mr. McCormack. Now, as to the chemical means of contraception, what is meant by drugs, or the use of drugs? I notice this bill says: Any article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing that may be used for the prevention of conception. What kind of drugs do you have in mind?
Mrs. Sanger. Chinosol, quinine, and various other things that may form a suppository which will kill the spermatozoa.
Mr. McCormack. What kind of instruments has this bill in mind?
Mrs. Sanger. Condoms and pessaries of various kinds.
Mr. McCormack. Of course, the purpose of those is for use prior, with the purpose of preventing conception?
Mrs. Sanger. Absolutely; no interference afterwards.
Mr. McCormack. In other words, it is a means of affording self-satisfaction and preventing the consequences thereof by the use of artificial means?
Mrs. Sanger. If you wish to put it that way.
Mr. McCormack. Mrs. Sanger, in your statement you referred to “this law.” Which law do you refer to?
Mrs. Sanger. Sections 211, 245, and 312 of the Criminal Code and section 305 of the tariff law.
Mr. McCormack. Is that the Comstock law which Congressman Hancock referred to?
Mrs. Sanger. Yes. They were enacted by Congress at the instigation of Mr. Comstock in 1873.
The Acting Chairman. We thank you, Mrs. Sanger, for your presence and your contribution to the hearings.
The material submitted by Mrs. Sanger was omitted by the editors.
FURTHER STATEMENT OF MRS. MARGARET SANGER
Mrs. Sanger. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I wish it had been possible, without going into the personalities, to take a vote and to have shown the number of children born to and reared by those who appeared for and against this bill. It would be amusing were it not tragic in its significance to see a childless woman who is a Member of Congress appear here against this bill when she herself, were she obeying the laws of nature, would probably be at home attending to her 10 or 12 children.
I have found in the arguments presented here that it as been a case of personal opinion against facts, theories against practical knowledge.
For instance, I can illustrate that with some of the remarks made by Dr. Howard Kelly. When he was asked about contraceptives he knows-–everybody who knows anything at all about this subject – that a douche is not a contraceptive but a cleansing agent, used more for hygienic purposes than for contraception. It means simply that Doctor Kelly has not been in school in the last 20 or 30 years, where he might have learned something of the modern technique of contraception.
That is a case illustrative of the point I wish to make, the opponents of this bill do not know the facts. Here is a man like Doctor Kelly who has made his reputation in medicine, through long years of great achievement, coming here and talking not on the merits of the bill, but on a defense of “morals.” That is amusing, particularly when taken in conjunction with the statement of Dr. John Ryan, who is a theologian, a representative of the Catholic Church, who comes to theorize on economics and the population aspect of this question.
That is all very right and proper. They may express their opinions, but Mr. Chairman, the merits of the bill have not been discussed by the opponents of the bill.
As a matter of fact, when you weed out the personal opinions expressed, no one has said that the physician should not have the right to use the United States mails and common carriers. No one has dared to say that the physician has not the right to give contraceptive information where he sees that it is right and where he sees that a woman really needs it.
That is the sum and substance of what this is all about.
Canon Chase made a statement for which I think he owes and apology to the Federal committee, when he said that this is a “crook's bill.” I am not going to take the time to refute these stupid, senseless, futile, personal accusations. I want to say that he did say one good thing. He said, “No sensible person can oppose giving the trustworthy physician freedom to do what is necessary to protect the lives of women which would be endangered by another pregnancy if their husbands can not control themselves.”
I thank him for that statement.
Some people have said here that this bill would infringe upon State rights. That is not true. We included a statement in the proceedings yesterday to show that there are 47 States that give the physician the right to give information on the prevention of conception. About 24 States do not classify the prevention of conception in the obscenity laws at all. That is, there are 24 States where any one could give information. We are trying to direct public opinion so that it shall look to the physician to get such information and we are trying to make it possible for the physician to have the best information to give. There is only one State where there is any doubt about it.
Mr. Canfield. What State is that?
Mrs. Sanger. Mississippi. This bill does not open the mails to promiscuous distributions so that anyone can have information. It simply asks that the physician shall have the right of the United States mails and the common carriers, and that licensed clinics and the hospitals shall have the same right.
Mr. Chairman, I do not know whether the bill as it has been amended has been offered or not. Mr. Hancock made some changes.
The Acting Chairman. Those changes are a part of this testimony and as the committee considers this measure they will consider all that has been said with reference to it.
Mrs. Sanger. I want to say that the physician will not use the United States mails to advise or prescribe for patients. Let me try to make that clear to you. Every physician who knows his job at all will see the patient, will study the indications. He will advise her as to her personal needs and personal requirements. He will take into consideration not only her health but her whole gynecological formation and condition. He will take into consideration her economic situation, and he will advise her then, and that will come under the State law. But before he can advise he must have information, he must know what is available in the world in this regard. The medical schools of the past have not given this knowledge to him.
Not only shall the doctor advise the patient orally, but he must then give her a prescription by which she can get the articles recommended. That is why he must use the United States mail.
In many cases he himself will give her the article or device and in some cases he will give her a prescription for the drug store.
In my estimation this is the only way that the present promiscuous scattering of information and devices can be corrected. I consider this the sanest way of trying to correct the misuse of knowledge or misinformation that has been and still is so prevalent throughout the country and which both proponents and opponents deplore.
There are 150,000 physicians in the United States who belong to the American Medical Association. There is some difference of opinion among them. The American Medical Association as a whole has never gone on record for or against this measure, but a few years ago the section on obstetrics and gynecology and abdominal surgery did go on record by a resolution to the effect that they recommended “the alteration of existing laws whenever necessary so that physicians my legally give contraceptive information to their patients in the regular course of their practice.” That resolution, Mr. Chairman, was submitted in record yesterday and is printed elsewhere in full.
To give you a brief idea of how the medical profession regards this question, I shall cite from a questionnaire sent out by the Medical Journal and Record in 1927. Two hundred and seventy-three doctors replied and out of the 273, 248 were in favor of birth control or proper legislation leading thereto; 19 were against; 2 of them said they were unable to express an opinion. One said that he thought that contraceptive methods would be abused. One said that methods shall be advised only after consultation with a physician, with the sanction of the United States Government, and the Bible; and one thought that this generation knows too much about such things, and that the poor would not avail themselves of this information.
Those in favor represent a pretty large proportion of the number that expressed themselves in this symposium.
Following that up, the Medical Journal and Record in 1929 sent out another questionnaire, and 118 doctors replied to that, of which number 99 said that they were in favor and only four said that they were not informed sufficiently to express an opinion. Fifteen were opposed.
I just mention this to show you that there is a division of opinion, but there is a very much larger number of physicians who are for this than are against it.
Evidence was presented yesterday of the large number of county and city medical organization in favor of this particular legislation and also of many who are in favor of the principles of birth control.
Two ex-presidents of the American Medical Association have made statements in our favor – Dr. Abraham Jacobi and Dr. Allen Pusey.
It has been stated that contraceptive measures or practices left a harmful effect upon the pelvic organs upon the nervous system of those who practiced it.
Again these statements are made by people who have an opinion but who have not the facts. We have the facts. We have been following up cases not only in New York but throughout the country where there are a hundred or more clinics. There have been 28,000 patients in one clinic in New York, the Birth Control Clinic Research Bureau, whose case records reveal facts to the contrary. We have had the patients come back to us, and we have a detailed study and analysis made of the first 10,000 of those cases, a record which is too voluminous to bring here today; but we have the actual facts from which to substantiate our conclusions.
I am going to ask, Mr. Chairman, if I may, to present one case that I took at random as an illustration.
An Italian woman, 29 years old on first visit (married at 15 years). Diagnosed as “high-grade moron” with husband classified as “mental case.” Three children, youngest an infant; two miscarriages, both due to overwork. Five pregnancies in all. Clinical contraceptive advice now successful for four years. This family able to carry on without help from social agency by whom she was referred to us.
It seems to me that that tells something of what the actual practice of contraception can do; how it will relieve the tremendous and growing burdens of charity now resting on society.
Here is a report by Dr. Lily C. Butler, medical officer of the Walworth Woman's Welfare Center, presented before the Seventh International Birth Control Conference held last September in Zurich, which reads as follows:
So much is stated by opponents of birth control as to contraceptive subsequently producing sterility that the figures we have obtained on going through our cards at Walworth and East London are interesting. We note that 101 patients have wanted another child after periods varying from one to five years, and in 98 of these cases they have become pregnant on discontinuing the use of the contraceptive.
That shows that when proper means are applied to protect the individual woman there is no question that it is helpful to her and that it does not make her sterile.
To answer Mrs. Norton's challenge regarding my statement that 1,500,000 women have died from causes due to childbearing since this Comstock law was passed, I wish to state that this estimate was based on the figures of the United States Census Bureau, Department of Vital Statistics.
I wish to refute directly one other statement made by Mrs. Norton. In a reference to the sale of contraceptives, Mrs. Norton used the words “commercially profitable to their advocates.” Never have I, nor to my knowledge have any members of the committee, of which I am the national chairman, been interested in contraceptives for commercial profit. Mrs. Norton has seen fit to say that several of the statements made by me and other witnesses appearing for this bill were not supported by fact. I wish to say the same regarding her statement which I have quoted.
There is one other phase of this matter that is rather amusing. I think it was briefly stated yesterday that the geniuses, the flower of the family usually came at the end of a long line of children in large families.
I have here a study of over 700 persons of personalities who have come down to us through history.
I will mention these briefly, and then if I may, I will put this list in the record.
The Acting Chairman. You have that permission.
Mrs. Sanger. Ninety-six of these were the only child; 204 were the first child; 113 were the second; 64 were the third; 50 were the fourth; 43 were the fifth. This goes right on down until you get to the eighteenth and nineteenth. John Wesley was the fifteenth and Caruso was the eighteenth, but a pitiful number of the other children in these families had died in infancy.
There are only two or three among those men and women who can be classified as “great” who were born late in the family's life, while those that were second or third make up a much larger portion.
The document referred to has been omitted by the editors.
The further we look into these things, Mr. Chairman, the more there is to be said for the care and the consideration that parents can give to 1 or 2 children or 3 or 4 children according to their means, according to their health. Further evidence is found in the Bible:
Isaac, in whose seed all the nations were to be blessed, was an only child, born after long years of preparation. Sarah, his mother, was a beautiful, talented woman, whose counsel was highly valued. Isaac's only children were twins-– Jacob, the father of all of Israel, and Esau. Isaac's wife, Rebecca, was also a lovely woman of fine character, whose opinion was sought and valued. Joseph, the child of Rachel, was born late in her life, and she had but one other child. Samuel, who judged Israel for 40 years, was an only child, born after years of prayer and supplication on the part of Hannah. John the Baptist was an only child and his parents were well along in years when he was born.
Jesus was the first born of Joseph and Mary and had no children.
So that even on the question of the place of great men in the family, our position is much stronger than that of our opponents.
Mr. Chairman, I want to yield the rest of my time to Doctor Meyer, because of the statement that has been made by the opponents with regard to the question of continence. Continence, Mr. Chairman, is something on which there has been recent study by a large group of medical men. They have come to know something about continence and its effects upon the human being and I now ask Dr. Adolf Meyer, professor of psychiatry in Johns Hopkins University, to take up that part of our presentation.
Mr. McCormack. Mr. Chairman, if Mrs. Sanger is yielding to Doctor Meyer because of the limitation of time, I ask unanimous consent that she be given an additional five minutes.
Mrs. Sanger. Thank you, Mr. McCormack, but I think I have finished my statement and I would rather the committee heard Doctor Meyer.
The Acting Chairman. Thank you, Mrs. Sanger, for your statement. We shall be pleased to hear Doctor Meyer.
The statement by Dr. Adolf Meyer was omitted by the MSPP editors.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project