Curt L. Heymann, "Interview with Curt L. Heymann," 21 Dec l952.
Source: " The 'Culmination‘ of Margaret Sanger's Life Work, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 1952. p. B5."
“The international conference of the World Planned Parenthood Federation which I helped organize and just attended in Bombay, India is the culmination of my life work," confided Margaret Sanger as we settled down for an interview in the lobby of the Hotel Crillon. “I have waited 40 years for it.
The worlds most outstanding crusader for birth control, who had circled the globe to be present at this historic event of which she said it would influence plans for the future of the whole world, seemed to be satisfied with the results of her latest crusade.
It was a trip that took her from the United States across the Pacific, first to Japan, then by way of Hong Kong and Singapore to India. From Asia Mrs. Sanger flew straight back to Europe and she was on the last leg of her global voyage here in Paris before returning to New York and Tucson, Ariz., where she now makes her home.
The 40 years she mentioned were a reflection upon her four decades of crusading. And as she referred to them with emotion, her thoughts probably went back to the days before and during World War I when she fought against a formidable array of opponents, including the U.S. government itself.
Those were the days when she was persecuted and suffered from mental anguish, served a prison term and was indicted for the violation of the Comstock Act of l873 which classified contraceptive information as obscene. She left the country in 1914 on the eve of the trial which never came off. The indictment was quashed, but the Comstock Law was not changed.
Three years later she and her sister served 30-day prison sentences for operating a birth control clinic in New York. But the vigorous little red—haired woman, one of ll children, had inherited her rebellious nature from her Irish father, Michael Higgins, and decided to fight for “freedom of the mind from dogma and cant."
On New York's Lower East Side she had nursed women whose pregnancy was what she called a “chronic condition." In despair she gave up nursing and embarked on a powerful idea for which she was finally awarded world recognition.
Wistful and fragile, Mrs. Sanger is a quiet and unassuming person. Now close to 70, the protagonist of a once controversial movement for which she fought with the courage of a lion still speaks with the eloquence of a crusader. But there is a contentment in her voice when she reviews the last 20 years of her work.
Thanks to her efforts, birth control in the United States has been recognized by the American Medical Association and is legalized in 46 States. Only two, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have laws against it. Birth control under medical supervision is sanctioned by many church groups. Only the Roman Catholic Church remains, on religious grounds, its principal opponent.
In 1914, when Mrs. Sanger chose the name National Birth Control League for her young venture, she probably didn't dream that the movement would ever grow to world proportions. In the 30s all her efforts to win Congressional support and all measures contemplated to legalize the idea were defeated.
Today, child spacing is part of public health in a number of States and Mrs. Sanger is honorary chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America which has its headquarters in New York. Herself the mother of three children (a daughter died but her two sons are practicing physicians in Arizona and New York) she has eight grandchildren.
Recalling that she visited Japan 30 years ago, Mrs. Sanger told me that she predicted a Japanese war in Tokyo in 1922, because of the country's high birth rate and Japan restricted territory, too small to accommodate her overpopulation.
“But then only a group of intellectuals listened to me," she said. “The military turned the idea of birth control down and the subject was not to be discussed. Japan, at the time, had a population of 60,000,000, a birth rate of l,200,00 per year and a territory two—thirds as large as California. The country could have remained without war and slowly increased her birth rate, but evidently Japan wasn't ready for birth control.
"Today, 84,000,000 Japanese must live on a much smaller territory and the nation’s birth rate has risen to 2,000,000 annually. Japanese women are quite conscious of the fact that a high birth rate meant and still means war. So they have been resorting to abortions. There were 1,500,000 reported abortions in Japan last year. That's not our idea of birth control."
“But aren't abortions illegal in Japan?"
“No, they are not. They are legalized under the hygienic protection law of 1949. The sale of contraceptives is also legal, but they are being used without general knowledge or information."
“If my information is correct, you were supposed to visit Japan several years ago to advise on contraceptives. What prevented you from going there?"
“The occupation authorities. I was invited by the editor of Tokyo's Mainichi Press to visit Japan in 1949, shortly after the protection law was passed. But my American visa was refused by Gen. Douglas MacArthur who considered my presence outside interference. After the end of our military occupation, Mainichi invited me again and I combined my visit to Japan with my trip to Bombay."
“And what are the results of your Japanese visit?"
“I spent two weeks in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka where three large meetings were arranged for me. They were open to the public and held late in the afternoon so that both men and women could attend. I talked at each gathering for 40 minutes on the subject and it took an interpreter about three hours to translate my speeches."
"There were in addition round tables for professional people, physicians, nurses and social workers. Wherever I spoke people were very much interested and alert, much more so than in any other country, not excluding the United States. The poorest people would arrange street meetings in Tokyo and I would stand on top of a bus talking to them. And I would tell them that birth control means prevention--not interference."
“Is birth control objectionable to Buddhism or any other Eastern religion?"
“No, it isn't. There's no remonstrance on religious grounds. And as far as the Japanese are concerned they saw the light of truth through war: no more political objections--only economic and hygienic considerations.
It will take awhile for them to get organized, set up clinics, manufacture contraceptives and get used to the formulas which I gave them. But eventually they'll be used and distributed by the public health authorities."
“I suppose the Chinese Communists are not interested in birth control?"
“No, of course not. Like all Communist countries and nations behind the Iron Curtain they have been giving prizes for large families, regardless of social, economic and hygienic conditions. That, in the Far East, is in strong contrast to the situation in Hong Kong and Singapore, which in the last two years have established excellent birth control committees and clinics.
“Those colonies are terribly overpopulated through refugees. Hong Kong, which had a prewar population of 700,000, has now 2,400,000. Birth control is still private. But eventually it will come under public health authorities to make it more effective."
“From there you flew directly to Bombay for the World Birth Control Conference?"
“Yes. The Indians called it the International Conference for Family Planning. It was held from Nov. 21 to Dec. 2 and was attended by 500 delegates from l5 countries, including India. There were 21 Americans in our delegation. Lady Rama Rau was president of the conference and by unanimous vote was elected president for the Orient. I was made honorary president for North American and Dr. C. P. Blacker of London became director of the world federation."
"This is the culmination of my life's work and I firmly believe that a new leaf has been turned in the history book of birth control. Because for the first time Orient met Occident in a planned parenthood conference held in Asia on an international level."
"In my address to the assembly I recalled my visit to Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. We talked about birth control in India and he agreed that some form of control would have to be instituted or India would remain enslaved. Gandhi thought the ideal number of children for each Indian family would be four."
How excessive is the Indian birth rate?"
"There were 5,000,000 births in 1950 and the same number in l95l--far beyond the country's possibilities of feeding, clothing or housing them. In Bombay alone thousands sleep in the streets and every Indian city tells the same story. But birth control and reduction of births are not enough."
"The Indians must improve their land to produce more food and in order to do that they must increase their water supplies. But whatever they do--reduction of the birth rate must precede these steps."
How do you find the birth control situation in free Europe?
"It's lagging far behind because of the last war. Chief antagonism does not come from the people but from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church which dominates political action and threatens to boycott every activity of the public health officials wishing to give birth control information and advice."
“While all Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, have made the greatest progress, and countries like England Holland, Switzerland and West Germany practice birth control freely, such predominantly Catholic countries as France, Italy, Spain and Belgium have banned contraceptives."
“Will you or the world federation help Western Europe to organize birth control?"
“No, the people of free Europe have got to fight for that liberty themselves."
The late Heywood Broun once complained that Mrs. Sanger had no sense of humor. I asked her nevertheless to tell me an amusing anecdote that might have occurred on her round-the-world tour. Now as then she retorted with the same reply:
“I am the protagonist of women who have nothing to laugh at."
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project