Margaret Sanger, "Prolific Child-Breeding Scored By Mrs. Sanger," 10 June 1916.
Source: " San Francisco Call & Post June 10, 1916."
This is the second in a two-part series. For the first article see Tell Girls Things They Should Know , June 9, 1916.
Woman throughout the ages has been forced to take the role of child bearer. She has had almost no other function in our civilization. This action of passive maternity on her part has been of great injury, not only to herself as regards her health, strength and intellectual development, but an equal, if not greater, injury to her child and to the community.
The first and most important question which every man and woman should ask themselves as they start out upon life's journey together should be:
"How many children are we able to bring into the world?"
The first consideration should be that of the woman's health, and the next that of its environment.
There are thousand of women in this country today whose health has been broken because of too frequent child bearing. There are thousands whose health has been broken because of illegal operations, the tortures of which they prefer rather than unwanted children. There are thousands who go to early graves because of both.
It may seem at first that this feeling on the part of womankind who prefers to face this torture, and yes, even death, is unnatural and criminal on her part.
But let us look upon the question more closely and decide for ourselves who is the real criminal in this case, the woman or the makers of the laws which make it necessary for her to commit such crimes.
Let us take a woman and a man starting out with an average man's wage of $12 a week. She is fresh and young, he buoyant and strong; life lies before them, and their desires are the best and their motives the purest. In a few years time nature has provided them, according to her laws, with a child every year, and they find themselves, in five years' time, with four little ones, living on the same wage that at first was only sufficient to keep two. Already her health is beginning to fail, although she may be only 23 years old. His strength is overtaxed by long hours of labor and the worry of extra mouths to feed.
Can your imagination picture the conditions which await not only the parents, but also the unborn children which shall inevitably come into this home in the remaining years of her child-bearing period?
Would it not be better, not only for these already born, for the parents themselves, and for the future of the race, if no more children were allowed to come for these parents to feed, clothe and care for?
The answer seems so simple that any child could answer it, and yet millions of men and women seem unable to decide this question for themselves today.
One of the earliest pioneers of the woman's movement, John Stuart Mill, considered the production of large families the most serious difficulty which confronted humanity, and said:
"Little advance can be expected in morality until the production of large families is considered in the same light as drunkenness and any other physical excess."
We have in the United States 300,000 babies under one year of age which died last year from poverty and neglect, while 600,000 parents remain in ignorance of how to prevent 300,000 more babies from coming into the world this year to die of poverty and neglect.
Is this waste of human energy and little lives to be called moral?
Can we pride ourselves upon our morality while this condition exists?
Certainly not. So long as present conditions exist, the mother of a large family can not give her children the proper advantages for their development.
Mere prolific breeding is not a sign of intelligence or strength. What we need for the race is quality, not quantity. Our problem is for mothers to give to the race the best human quality, and to help its development.
It goes without saying that the first thing a mother should know is to care for her child physically. She should also have some knowledge of its intellectual and moral development.
Needless to say, this involves a great deal of care and study on the part of the mother, and we further know that the advantages gained while she has two children she will be unable to give to eight or ten.
We want women to demand their rights, as mothers of the race to regulate their families in accordance with their advantages of giving their children the best physical, mental and moral inheritance and environment. We want them to refuse altogether to bring weakly and diseased children into unwholesome surroundings.
What a magnificent future lies before humanity when woman shall demand these!
Millions of women go into the battle of forced maternity every year. Thousands of them die upon this battlefield.
There is no sadder sight in our modern life than the silence of society toward these casualties. Any reflecting woman should realize from this how low the value of motherhood has fallen, and convince her that the only hope of making motherhood truly respected is to make its function less prolific.
It is only through the fact that women have been freed from the burden of large families that the present powerful women's movement throughout the world has risen. It is this mainly which has enabled them to devote themselves to this work and other intellectual pursuits.
The voluntary and conscious regulation of the number of children by the mother is that which shall secure her social and domestic individuality. It is her fundamental and primitive right.
There is no mother living today who wishes to see her child toiling in factories and mills. Schools and playgrounds and fields are the dreams she has for them. We know from the figures where child labor exists that children are compelled to toil in these places because they are members of large families, and little brothers' and sisters' lives depend upon their pitiful earnings.
The most barbaric nations would not allow their children to toil and pass away their child lives under such conditions that we of civilization allow. Motherhood is supposed to be the prime and principal function of woman, yet it is the one vocation for which she receives no instruction or training.
We want strong, healthy mothers to produce a strong, healthy race. Woman must reject with indignation the old rule of blind chance and irresponsible motherhood.
Birth control will give her the power to break the chains which have kept her in bondage. It is unnecessary that she should be made a child-bearing machine. She will use this knowledge and control her maternity for the glory and uplift of herself and the human race.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project