Margaret Sanger, "Humanist of the Year Award Acknowledgement," 2 Mar 1957.
Source: "Ellen Watumull Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C18:380."
This award was given by the American Humanist Association. Sanger did not attend the presentation, which was held in Cincinnati, OH. An excerpt of the speech was published as A Summing Up, Humanist, July 1978, p. 62.
I am sending this message of thanks from The Reef. No--I have not been shipwrecked on a desert island. I am resting at The Reef, which is a hotel overlooking the beach at Waikiki. Much as I regret being absent for the high honor you are conferring upon me, the great distance from the Mid-Pacific to the Middle West has prevented me from being present this evening.
Lying here within the pounding of the ceaseless breakers of this vast Pacific, I have been able to look upon the great events of the past forty years, and to get a new and true perspective upon my own activities during those tumultuous years.
Somewhere I have read that there are two types of human beings–-those who, like the fox, know many things; and those who, like the hedgehog, know one big thing. I do not need to remind you that I belong to the second class! But I have discovered–-indeed I have always known–-that it is not enough just to know one great truth. Truth must be lived–-not merely passively accepted. Truth must be lived, even though your truth make you a minority of one. A wise man has told us that unused iron soon rusts. Still water stagnates. Unless a tree put forth its branches into the sun and winds, it must wither away and perish. So, inaction saps the vigor of the human mind. Passive acceptance, even of a great truth, is an evil-–the evil residing not so much in the acceptance as in slothful inaction.
So, I have discovered, human beings must test their truths on the battlefield of this world, must fight for them through the derision of the press, the prejudices of the courts, even through the ordeal of prison. Truth cannot be ladled out by the spoonful, ready made like “instant coffee”, into an agreeable beverage.
For me, it has not been difficult–-never was-–to decide upon my one great truth. From the time of Malthus the idea that children must be brought into this strange little planet of ours by choice and not by chance has been stated time after time, generation after generation. But until this truth had been put into action--dramatized--it could not increase and grow strong enough to bear fruit in combating popular prejudice and entrenched bigotry.
No one has expressed what I have learned by experience–-sometimes bitter, sometimes rewarding--than the late Stewart Edward White; who wrote somewhere:
“One acquires a truth as one believes in it, and tries to stick to it. Until that truth has become in you an unfailing motive power; until you have established yourself in it without intermission; until you cannot help acting any other way but in it; until you cannot help supporting elements, as it were, you do not gain the full benefit of its possession.”
Some doubter may rise to question the Great Truth that has animated my life. Is not Birth Control, he might ask, merely a negative concept? To this I promptly reply that, on the contrary, the philosophy of Birth Control envisages humanity redeemed, regenerated, may even reborn by this new instrument of intelligence and liberation. It is based not merely upon the keen prophetic foresight of Thomas Malthus, but the inspiring vision of a Francis Galton--that long-neglected genius, by the evidence of the latest findings of those patient young researchers, the new generation of demographers. It has awakened and stimulated thought in all countries of the world today, especially in Asia. It should be the Humanist spearhead in the endless battle against entrenched complacency, against mass conformity, against the glacier-like menace of prejudice. My reward has been to see seemingly insurmountable prejudices melting away like icebergs under the sunlight of challenging truth.
In the beginning I was confronted by contempt, derision, and persecution for my convictions. I was literally run out of the country. To paraphrase Thoreau, I could not keep pace with that conformity imposed upon American women in that dim, distant pre-World I period. My mind and soul were attuned to a different truth. But I had the courage to keep step to the music of that inner truth, however faraway or strange its measures seemed to my fellow-women.
Tonight, in spirit, if not in body, I am present with my fellow-Humanists, and the honor you confer upon me will always be remembered as one of the proudest moments of my life!
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project