Margaret Sanger, "Bermuda House of Assembly Address," 17 May 1937.
Source: " The Royal Gazette and Colonist Daily, May 18, 1937, pp. 1 and 10."
Sanger spoke at the Bermuda House of Assembly and Legislative Council. No complete version of the speech has been found, instead this press report provides quotes and summaries of the speech.
Yesterday afternoon, in a Committee Room of the House of Assembly, members of the Board of Health and His Lordship the Bishop of Bermuda, listened to an address on the need for birth control in the modern world by Mrs. Margaret Sanger, Chairman of the National Commission on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, and leader of the movement in the U.S.A.
Col. Dill, stating that it was his privilege to introduce the speaker to her audience, emphasised what he has so often remarked upon in the House of Assembly, the fact that Bermuda had the almost uncanny knack of reproducing in very minute miniature many important world problems. Bermuda, on chart of the North Atlantic, is shown as a mere comma, and yet, he said, he believed he was right in saying that she is one of the most densely populated of any place in the Empire, beaten only by Malta, Hong Kong, and Gibraltar.
Mrs. Sanger said:-
I feel that the movement that I represent owes a great debt of gratitude to those outstanding distinguished men and women in England who, from the beginning of this movement, have not only lent the dignity and prestige of their names to it, but have on many occasions thrown the whole weight of their influence to bring enlightenment to the English speaking world with regard to this question of limitation of population, more popularity known as birth control.
This term was coined in America by a group of us who thought that the old terms of Malthusianism and Neo-Malthusianism, were rather controversial questions in England, and that the newer term of the control of the birth rate by means that prevent conception would reach the common mind more quickly than the long explanation of what Malthusianism meant. I spent two years in England studying the question men and women there who knew a good deal about population, its control and distribution, and more and more I came in contact with men like Dean Inge, who was one of those who had the courage, the fearlessness, to speak his mind, and felt responsibility in doing so. Later on, Lord of Penn, who went before the Lambeth Conference, and who there perhaps gave one of the most magnificent pronouncements on this question that ever had been given in this generation, when he said to the churchmen at that time that it was their duty to go forth and tell the healthy young men and women, starting out in marriage, that they were assuming one of the greatest responsibilities of the world today, the responsibility of passing on the gift of life. It was for the Church to help them carry those responsibilities and to help them to meet the demands of the marriage. And in his address at that time, he said, that unless the churchmen would open their eyes and ears and go forth and speak that they would soon be closing their doors.
It was about a year, I think before the Lambeth Conference came out and made a statement, and it was rather a conservative statement then; but, considering the time, and the newness of the subject from a scientific point of view, and from the war of controversy that it had waged in England, I think it was perhaps a very courageous thing for them to take the stand they did, in which they claimed that according to Christian principles and ethics, that an individual had a right to practice contraception according to his conscience.
That started a controversy.
There was then issued the Encyclical from the Church of Rome--from the Vatican.
The British Medical Association, upon clause 3, came forth and stated where they stood. They said that they would not be dictated to by any group, for or against; they were going to take their stand upon the question of whether it was a human thing. That was a very courageous and splendid position to take. It was a medical proposition and the medical men would not be dictated to, either by propagandists, pro or con. That was a most splendid stand, because it influenced the medical profession in other countries. It was the way they felt and should feel.
A few years later, in 1931, the Ministry of Health, through the Maternity and Infant Welfare Agencies, claimed that they had a right to give information to the mothers who came to the Maternity Centres whenever there was a disease condition, or a condition that made pregnancy or childbirth a hardship, and later they followed that up by another statement maintaining that any disease that was hazardous to pregnancy, or childbearing was a condition upon which the physician should have the right to inform the mother against pregnancy.
And so we have had, one after the other, step by step, these outstanding men taking a stand that I believe future generations will bless them for I have always been encouraged in the many ups and downs one has in a cause of this kind in remembering the words of Hugo "There is no force in the world so great as that of an idea who's hour has struck." I believe that twenty years ago the time had come for people to think of progeny, not for their own convenience, but to think of it in relation to the future; to consider is as a qualitative factor; and to realise that there must be a consciousness in bringing life into being, not letting it be an accident-an accidental result of conduct; but more and more is should be a serious thing planned with a sense of responsibility for the child, its welfare, and for the race generally.
I think perhaps never before in the history of mankind is the ideal so important to put before the people of the world as today. There is no subject that has so large a practical significance, which at the same time goes so deeply into the foundations of social evolution, as this same question, the conscious control of birth. There is no other subject of equal importance that has been left so long in equal obscurity, and yet none that can shew so unequalled an in-interest, an interest which has leaped horizons nationally and internationally, as the subject has done in the past ten years, because it is of interest to the average man and woman. It goes close to them. Every married man and woman must think of this question, must want to know what there is to know, individually. And communities, those in charge of health of communities, must certainly long to do something to prevent the coming of children into the strata of life when it will be difficult to give them adequate means to carry though.
When I met John Maynard Keynes in Geneva in 1925 he was looking rather depressed and rather gloomy. He had then been sent down to Geneva by the British Government to the League of Nations to do something fine towards establishing international peace. Mr. Keynes said to me, "I am discouraged because they are not striking at fundamentals. They do not want to think of one fundamental question, and that is the population question. There is not a city, not a country, in the League of Nations today that will accept it, or discuss it, and until the nations of the world are willing to sit down and talk about their problems from the population point of view, its rate of growth, its distribution, and its quality, they might just as well throw their peace proposals into the waste basket, because they will never have international peace until they do consider that problem." I think he was a prophet.
I am more convinced today as history has shown with Italy, Germany, Japan-which have been long danger spots in the world, bound to move over geographical course from sea to sea-that John Maynard Keynes was right, and that in order to have international peace we must have population control.
There used to be three means of control, birth, death and immigration. But since 1924 when the United States closed its doors against Immigration the rest of the world felt that bar, because the United States was the open door into which the surplus population of the world, especially of Europe, had poured for over a hundred years.
Continuing, Mrs. Sanger said: since 1924, in spite of this we have increased twenty-five million, and we have ten million people on relief and sixty-five percent of the birth rate in the last three years has come from those people on relief.
After speaking of the economic situation in the United States and the possible ways of attacking the problem, Mrs. Sanger said that in Every country there were two groups, the group that has controlled its birth rate, and the groups that has not. It was the intelligent educated people who had controlled the size of their family, and the ignorant, usually the diseased and poor people who had not. She drew attention to the fact that the children of controlled families were able to enter schools, trade colleges, college, and universities and were not obliged to enter factories and mines.
“During the child-bearing period” said Mrs. Sanger, "women can produce from two to twenty children, according to their reproductive capacity, without interrupting their pregnancy, and that is the problem that England and the United States is facing today.
Mrs. Sanger quoted many statistics which appeared to establish her plea for a deliberate consideration of necessity for informing men and women of the means of preventing conception, and urged that it was a medical question, and asked why, since a woman of means could afford to visit a doctor and obtain from him privately in his surgery information which enabled her to control her family, a poor woman, faced with the possibility of pregnancy when in poor health and in fortuitous circumstances, should not be able to obtain the same information by means of a clinic established for such a purpose.
Mrs. Sanger, stated that the movement with which she was associated did not consider that early marriages were to be avoided, but that early parenthood was not desirable, since it was better for men and women to be thoroughly balanced, physically, mentally and nervously, before reproducing life. She considered, too, that pre-natal information was of great assistance to young pregnant woman.
Another important aspect of the case was emphasised by Mrs. Sanger when she spoke of the transmission of disease, and also of the undesirability of women suffering from what are regarded as perhaps common complaints, minor heart diseases goiter and so on from being subject to child birth.
At the end of the address, Dr. L. J. Williams, in response to a request for questions, asked whether the contraceptive methods recommended by the Movement with which Mrs. Sanger is associated could be guaranteed one hundred per cent.
Mrs. Sanger stated that that was a difficult question to answer, but that of 10,000 cases analysed in New York, the failures were classified in two categories, the technical failure and the human failure. The technical failure was responsible for only two and a half per cent of the cases, and the human failure-negligence and carelessness of the prospective mother-was responsible for seven and a half per cent.
Col. Dill asked His Lordship the Bishop to say a few words.
His Lordship stated that he was there by courtesy of invitation and because he thought that it was his duty to hear what was said. He had spent, he said, a very painful time because he entirely disagreed with the speaker, though of course he did not question her sincerity. He said that he was sure that without any intention Mrs. Sanger had, as so many other people also had done, misrepresented the most unfortunate pronouncement of Resolution 15 of the Lambeth Conference of 1930. He was thankful to say that he was one of a strong minority who resisted the passing of the resolution, not because they were in entire disagreement with what was said, as because they were sure that the effect that it would produce in the world would be lamentable and in the years that have been passed that has been shewn to have been the case. He agreed most emphatically with Mrs. Sanger upon one point, and that was the grave responsibility incumbent upon every parent of transmitting disease, particularly the transmission of mental instability. He said that he would like to press that point home because there was a desire to face fact, then that fact should most certainly be faced. He concluded his brief remarks by recommending the speaker to follow the example of Dr. Marie Stopes.
(We take this to refer to the fact that Dr. Stopes was recently admitted to the Roman Catholic Church which refuses to recognize birth control, and apparently forbids its members any independent thought upon the subject. The recommendation will not find favour with those who prefer reason to dogma--Editor.
Col. Dill in thanking Mrs. Sanger said that there were undoubtedly two points of view antagonistic on to the other, but he believed that it would be possible after due deliberation to resolve the two conflicting opinions.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project