Margaret Sanger, "ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS OF BIRTH CONTROL Preface," 1948.

Source: " One Hundred Fifty Years of Birth Control: Malthus (1798) to Cheltenham, England (1948) (New York: 1948), pp. 1 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:287."


In the 150 years since Malthus expounded the law that population tends to outstrip available food supplies, mankind has paid a terrible price for the inability to heed the brilliant clergyman’s warning. the reckless exhaustion of land, water, timber, minerals to provide inadequate subsistence for ever increasing people has at last forced mankind into a realization that our civilization is doomed, not because of the atom bomb, but because man is reluctant to bring his physical numbers into a sane balance with the resources of nature.

We have reached the limits in spending the resources of posterity in saving ten million lives today so that fifty million may starve tomorrow. Not more than a fifth of this earth’s people eat what we know is an adequate diet. More than half are chronically undernourished or starving.

The great Movement for birth control was British in its inception, British in its development, an essential and integral part of our never ceasing Anglo-Saxon struggle for freedom and self government in every phase of living. Its advocate have all been men and women of vision and courage. But while the inception of birth control was British and one has witnessed the courageous efforts of its pioneers of birth control, history must record that equal efforts have been made by the pioneers of the United States. It was the pamphlet on contraception of a daring and enlightened physician of Boston--Dr. Charles Knowlton--which was distributed by Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant that brought them to the Bar of Justice in England in a famous and historical trial. But in the United States while Dr. Knowlton was promptly and without due publicity sent to jail, the Besant and Bradlaugh trial was heralded throughout the land as a challenge to free speech and their victory a triumph of courage, and a free press. The whole modern movement for birth control still threads its way throughout the history of both countries. Leadership in the field has swung back and forth across the Atlantic until at last sufficient interest has been aroused to draw delegates from all parts of the globe to the Congress at Cheltenham.

The Malthusian law has operated through the last 150 years so that we face today the blunt alternative between militarism and birth control. Militarism, unless the next war destroys civilization itself, offers no solution. Birth control does.

Margaret Sanger

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