Margaret Sanger, "Doors to a New World," 19 Jan 1939.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Mar. 1939, pp. 165-68."
Sanger gave this address at the Birth Control Federation of America annual luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City. For draft versions see Library of Congress Microfilm 129:582 and Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:14, 16, 24, 27, 38, 47, and 54.
It is needless for me to attempt to express the happiness I feel today. Words are not sufficient to express how much I rejoice that at last this miracle has happened which has brought the activities of both national groups into one national federation. Many of us have tried time and time again to do this, but we were not successful and each failure seemed only to strengthen our opinion that it could never be done. It took the high faith of Mrs. Suarez, the keen enthusiasm of Mrs. Potter, the experience and guidance of both Dr. Dickinson and Dr. Wile, and last but not least, the fairness, the justness and the impartial attitude of our chairman, Dr. Pierson, to bring this about. These are the qualities of the spirit which guided us into the harmony of today.
I wish also to thank all members of the Joint Committee as well as those associated with both groups who made many concessions to their loyalties. For it was the loyalties that kept us apart. Now let us transfer these splendid qualities, these loyalties, from persons to principles and together, today, let us lay the cornerstone of the soundest, finest, most constructive organization on this continent. As I look around this crowded room I see many faces of friends, old and new. Some of you, perhaps only a few who are here, came into the movement in those early pioneering days of 1915, almost 25 years ago. But as the idea of birth control has grown and expanded, you have seen the others come to take their stand beside us and it is thanks to the vision, devotion and fearless activity of both groups that the idea has grown and taken root until the principles of birth control have become accepted almost universally.
The great task now before us is to put those principles into practice. While the separation of the two national groups has caused some confusion in the public mind, the work of each has succeeded in stimulating and challenging the other to do its best. I have never looked upon the separation as anything but a healthy stimulus, like the splitting of a live cell which grows through a process of evolution. The parent cell splits and each part does its special function and eventually in the end all parts come together in a stronger form than ever.
The American Birth Control League has done a splendid piece of work in organizing state groups, in establishing clinics, and interesting the doctors.
The National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control did a concentrated piece of work of mass education through clubs, churches, conventions and conferences and secured the endorsement of nearly 1,000 important organizations whose total membership represented close to 20,000,000 citizens. Through the legislative bills introduced, national attention was focused on the principle that the giving of contraceptive information should be in the hands of the medical profession, and, secondly, that the physician should be free to advise a patient in his public as well as private practice.
The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau during the years has carried on far-reaching and significant work. It has not only provided clinic service for nearly 70,000 women, but has pioneered as a research, demonstration, and teaching center.
While each organization tried to outdo the other in results, fortunately we were at one on principles and medical policies, and that is why we can now unite our forces, save our energies, and pool our labors, interests and finances. Such a unified effort has now become a necessity to further our cause.
In looking over the history of the English movement, which began in 1879 and from which the present birth control movement stems, it is interesting to find approximately the same social and economic problems existing at that time as we are facing today. I ran across an editorial criticizing the relief work of 1846. It pointed out that in November of that year, 115,000 heads of families were on relief work and that from November to March--within four months--that army increased to 750,000 and it was estimated that, as these represented heads of large families, the number of persons who were being supported was between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 people “living on the tax-paying people, money got for idling away their time at work that is not necessary to be done at all.”
It all has a familiar sound to us in 1938 and 1939. The records revealed that finally the cost became so heavy that the project collapsed. England sent her surplus unemployed population to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, thereby increasing her colonial population, while Ireland increased ours. The rationalists of Europe and the “birth-controllers,” like voices in the wilderness, shouted that immigration was only a temporary way out, that the workers would only impede their cause in other countries, unless they kept their birth rate down to their earning power, and that they were not solving the problems of poverty or misery, but pushing their problems over to the next generation to solve. John Stuart Mill was quoted as saying: “It is questionable if mechanical inventions have done more than to enable a greater population to live the same life of drudgery.”
Then in 1881 the Marxian philosophy began to cross swords with the Malthusian and called upon the workers to swell their ranks. Discussion issued forth in papers and magazines as to whether a large population constituted the wealth of a nation. It was pointed out that if that were so, India and China should be ruling the world and islands like Puerto Rico should be among the happiest, most powerful and prosperous nations in the world. This was the situation in 1881.
Today we see Germany, Italy and Japan clutching at the throats of democracies and demanding more land, more colonies for the expansion of territory and markets with which to feed their surplus populations. How any of us who desire peace in the world and the advancement of civilization can clamor for a larger population is beyond me, as we survey the European scene.
The peace of Europe is not going to be permanently established by handing over a bit of territory or colonies to any nation with a high birth rate. This simply postpones the crisis. With some nations spawning to the utmost, the cry of “land and colonies” is not a permanent answer.
The discovery of America was the solution of the surplus population of Europe for some time. Now we shall have to see the discovery of another continent or the miracle of a new one rising out of the ocean to absorb the surplus population of Europe, unless the statesmen of the world will face population problems squarely and reckon with the facts. But there is no use in asking one nation to slow down its birth rate or its armaments while other nations speed up on their own. There must be an adjusted distribution of the birth rate of each country to its resources. This, of course, will be a touchy subject for some nations to grapple with, but a selective birth rate similar to our selective immigration quota will soon be in order nationally and internationally. Here is an exciting and controversial subject for the scientific mind to solve: “Who shall inherit the earth?”
The birth control movement in this country, during the past 25 years, was largely given over to efforts to demolish ghosts and fears--fears of the law, of nature, of immorality, and dozens of other fears with which you are all familiar. All of these fears of yesterday have been largely dispelled through education. But on the horizon of today loom the fears of tomorrow and we will soon meet the argument of the need for a larger population, for a higher birth rate, and fears of a declining or stationary population.
It has recently been estimated that in 1980 there may be ten million fewer people in this country. The picture is presented that there will be a nation of old men and women over 65 years of age, using spectacles, ear trumpets, crutches, and wheel chairs and these old people will dominate our health resorts and increase the call upon the services not of obstetricians but of neurologists.
To some this may seem a sad prediction, but I agree with Havelock Ellis, who says that perhaps a million more old people may make for more peaceful and happy conditions. That is the countries dominated by the racketeering young, with their black-jacks, their machine guns, their military drills, uniforms and the adventurous and exciting activities of arrogant youth, that have made for chaos in the world.
At a recent conference on public welfare, an outstanding professor of economics stated that 10 per cent of our population will continue to remain on relief at a cost of $2,500,000,000 a year and that it will be a long time before this number will level itself out. Must we wait until 1980 as the time when with fewer people there will be a smaller army of unemployed?
We hear a great deal about preserving our institutions of democracy and the traditions of liberty, free speech, free press and all of these ideals for future generations. Rather should we be concerned as to the quality of life that we are passing on today. What type of people are we breeding to form future generations? These institutions and traditions will take care of themselves if the people of future generations will have the intelligence to use and appreciate them. We have got to revalue our own human values. We have got to change the inference that the quality of our population depends upon the birth rate of college graduates. To me this is tinsel thinking. There are just as sound qualities to be found in the Arizona cowboys, in the artisans, the mechanics, and artists--the qualities of initiative and capacity for clear thinking as a result of sound minds and sound bodies--which must form the cornerstone of any enduring civilization.
To attain the objectives of this new Federation will demand concentrated effort on a national scale. We must take birth control up and down to every level of society. We must make is possible for every mother to use this knowledge to avoid unwanted and unwarranted pregnancies and to help parents plan for really wanted children. That will open the doors of a new world for us all.
Birth control can be used as a means to raise the level of the intelligence of our population; to lower infant and maternal mortality. It can be used to improve our general health and well-being and it can curb the pressure of population which explodes into war. We have a powerful instrument for good in our hands, and now that we have a unified, strengthened organization in the Birth Control Federation of America, let us see that this instrument for good is used intelligently and creatively for the best interests of all the people of this land.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project