Margaret Sanger, "American Women's Association Award Statement," 8 Feb 1935.
Source: " "Results Worth the Fight, Margaret Sanger Says After Her 21-Year 'Birth Control' Campaign," Washington Post, Feb 9, 1935, p. 14."
Who is this woman who won the first award for achievement given by the American Women’s Association as one who has "fought against almost every influence which in the past was considered necessary for the success of a cause?" Who is this woman of whom H. G. Wells said, "She has created a unique position for herself in that she has changed the thinking not only of her nation but of the world?"
She is Mrs. J. N. H. Slee, better known as Margaret Sanger, coiner of the words "birth control" which she has made significant. Publicized by her enemies as "that Sanger woman" and that "birth control fanatic"–-called by her friend "one of the greatest living women," and recognized by those who neither censure nor endorse her as a pioneer and an outstanding personality–-Margaret Sanger has battled for her cause with dogged persistence for more than two decades.
The "coming of age" of her work will be celebrated Wednesday at the Hotel Mayflower when the American birth control movement commemorates its anniversary.
Perhaps no woman, in the last 21 years vitally concerned with any cause, has battled against greater odds than Margaret Sanger.
"But what stormy, yet thrilling, years those have been," Mrs. Sanger said yesterday in her apartment at the Fairfax. "Looking back now and considering the great change in public opinion toward birth control, the result has been more than worth the fight."
"Every inch of the way has been gained in desperate battle, with theological prejudices to be overcome, ethical questions to be considered, scientific points to be settled. No wonder I am used to fighting by now."
Yet there is nothing of the fighter in Mrs. Sanger’s appearance. Mild in manner and calm even while discussing the most turbulent of her experiences, she is the antithesis of the proverbial feminine champion of Amazon proportions, booming voice and mannish attire.
In a blue wool dress that brought all the beauty of her reddish hair and hazel, amber-flecked eyes, she looked very much the attractive, unassuming type of woman who is serene in the face of any difficulty.
One senses beneath that composed exterior, however, a steel that has sustained this courageous woman in the face of ridicule–-a steel that has strengthened her through arraignments and even a prison sentence and prompted her to continue her fight for a cause that seemed hopeless two decades ago.
One of the 11 children, Mrs. Sanger was interested in birth control long before the movement began. "Very early in childhood I associated poverty, toil, unemployment and debts with large families. My experience with over-burdened mothers when I was a nurse on the lower East Side in New York crystallized my determination to do something to help those poor unfortunate women."
The birth-control movement had its inception in that determination.
"And from then until now it has been a struggle," she said. "I had three children of my own to look after and very little money, but what has been accomplished convinces me there was reason enough for such a fight."
"At times, of course, the battle has been almost unbearably difficult." (Was she thinking of the eight times she had been arrested? Her sentence to a penitentiary? The numerous times when halls engaged for her lectures were closed against her at the last minute? Her encounter with the postal authorities relative to her publications, "The Rebel Woman" and "The Birth Control Review"?)
"Eighteen years ago I opened a clinic in the crowded Brownsville section of Brooklyn, where mothers could obtain information on birth control for a registration fee of 10 cents," she reminisced. "Within a few days more than 500 women applied for and received this information."
Among them, however, was a police woman who having been given advice by the nurses in charge of the clinic, returned later with five policemen who promptly arrested Mrs. Sanger and her two helpers and took them to court.
"But harrowing as that experience was, it was that incident that brought my fight to the fore and attracted attention to the cause."
The fight continued. In Mrs. Sanger’s own words, "The first ten years were spent in divorcing the term ‘birth control’ from illegal means of avoiding childbirth. In other words, we devoted most of those first years trying to show people what birth control was not. We had to prove that it was not the taking of life, that it was not against nature; that it did not make for race suicide."
The next period, she pointed out, was spent in educating and organizing those who were interested, those who understood the real purpose of birth control. "After agitation, came education and organization. Now we are working for proper legislation."
She mentioned her goal now is to bring about an amendment to the 62-year-old Comstock law, which forbids the dissemination of birth control information as "obscene."
"This antiquated law," Mrs. Sanger explained "prohibits even physicians from sending or receiving through the mails such information or necessary medical supplies. It is illegal to transmit the address of a clinic where information may be obtained, although many clinics are legally operating in a number of States."
Mrs. Sanger pointed out, also, that the latest birth-control bill was tabled in the House of Representatives last Monday. "Tabled, without discussion," she said. "When that happened I was dreadfully discouraged at first. But now, I have a clearer picture of the situation. I realize we can accomplish more by throwing forces into the field where the need of birth control is so apparent.
Once the Comstock law is amended, our fight in this country will be won, as it has already been won in many others. What transpires after that will be merely a matter of time."
Did she think it would be long before her goal was attained?
"Not another 21 years, I hope," she laughed, for the first time during the interview. "No, seriously, I don’t think it will be long. I can’t bear to think it will be 10, or even 5 years before the poorest woman can obtain the same information and the same contraceptive supplies any woman with enough money can get now from a private physician.
"Surely with the turn of the tide of public opinion prejudice and opposition will be conquered soon, so that birth control information will no longer be available only to those who can pay for it. For 21 years my fight has been for the poverty-stricken, the inarticulate women to whom motherhood has become a burden. Ultimately victory will come only after every intelligent voter has been awakened to the importance of proper birth control legislation."
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project