Margaret Sanger, "Interview with Gardner Bradford," 26 Feb 1936.

Source: " If I Were Baby Dictator of the United States, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 1933, p. H3."


If I Were Baby Dictator of the United States

"I'd put a stop," she declares, "to the having of 'Depression Babies;' they are going to give us a Mad Generation!"--a frank interview with the "mother" of Birth Control

By Gardner Bradford

“Just what would you do if you were appointed Dictator of Motherhood for the United States?--a sort of Mussolini of Maternity, with absolute power to act?”

Margaret Sanger, mother of birth control --and several children-–gasped. Obviously it was not the temerity of the question that troubled her, but the supposition of so much power! Martyr crusaders seldom picture themselves as despots. Prison doors are always closer than are those to throne rooms and Margaret Sanger, during her long battle to regulate the biological urge, has smilingly jeopardized her liberty to champion an idea.

I had pictured this world-renowned exponent of birth control as a raw-boned, hard-faced, domineering Amazon--a Carrie Nation barging about the country with a scalpel instead of a hatchet. It was pleasantly disconcerting to find her small, slender and soft spoken. One does not look for dynamite in baby blue frocks.

“If I were a dictator,” mused Margaret Sanger, “I would--”

What She Would Order

“First--Place greater responsibility upon social service workers, charities and all those having medical contact with the people and create a nationwide system of physical, mental and moral reports which would afford the government and every community a basis for intelligent action. “Second--Appoint a commission of three or five in every community to decide if couples should have progeny and determine when sterilization, isolation or free-will abstinence should be enforced. “Third--I might grant pensions to those denied the right to have children, as a recognition of their contribution toward race betterment, just as we grant pensions to citizens who serve their country in other ways. The commission would also conduct educational campaigns to establish what sterilization and isolation really are and emphasize that the former is not a punishment, does not unsex the subject and causes no change beyond the elimination of parenthood. “Fourth--Put the responsibility upon every mother to reduce maternity mortality. In the United States, two women die every single hour of the day and night from childbirth, the highest maternity death rate in the world. Any woman with tuberculosis, heart disease, goiter or kidney trouble, must be protected. I would compel them to take measures to correct their health. “Fifth--I would make parenthood a privilege. They would have to work for it. “Sixth--Economics would be a factor. A man’s earning potentialities, not his actual income at the time of the union, would be considered. I believe in birth control, not birth limitation, except in certain cases. From the moment of marriage there would be a periodical check-up to make sure that the birth rate and financial standing were proportionate.

No More Child Bearing

“Seventh--Treatment of children is important. Many parents prove they are unfit to have them. Parents who beat their children ‘because they have the right to’ would not be allowed to have any more. “Eighth--Certificates for parenthood issued with the marriage license, would be compulsory. To obtain them both man and woman would undergo physical, mental and moral tests; family medical and mental history would be recorded and financial ability to rear children. There would be a black list and a white one. Those on the white list, bearing no children, would be privileged to adopt some. No child should be in an institution. “Ninth--And then I would resign, for I believe in a co-operative education, not dictatorship!”

Yes, Margaret Sanger would resign. There is nothing of the militant crusader about her. Her method is to disarm her opponents rather than fight them and she relies upon education and common sense for her ultimate success.

Right now, if she could be a dictator for a single hour, she would declare moratorium on depression babies. “Worried mothers,” she declares, “starved, overworked, scared and devitalized, are bringing into the world a new moron, a mentally deficient, subnormal child who is forming the nucleus of a mad generation. No one can tell just what these children will be like when they grow up or what form their abnormality will take.

“Dr. Max Schlapp, the psychiatrist, examined 10,000 children born in one year on American soil of immigrant parents just arrived in this country. Three thousand of these, disclosed to have been born in an atmosphere of unemployment, homesickness and anxiety, were mentally under par. In no instance was there bad inheritance. They were the new menace to the survival of the race-–the Depression Baby.”

“It would be a simple matter to let them die,” I suggested, striving to be helpful.

“Oh, no!” Mrs. Sanger remonstrated earnestly. “We must regard imperfect babies as our mistakes--to be carried and cared for. But we must make sure that they, in their turn, do not have children. After all, the whole thing centers upon sterilization. When people learn what it really is, our first great stride toward betterment and preservation of the human race will have been taken.”

Modern Methods

“If people only would comprehend that modern sterilization isn’t the mutilation of olden times! It doesn’t unsex or kill the biological urge. It does not destroy sex life and is frequently a restorer of mental and physical health. Dr. Norman Haire of London cured thirty epileptics by that method.

“The disheartening thing is that if every person in America known to have a transmissible disease were sterilized today, it would still take five generations to eradicate the damage already done.

“Nowadays,” continued Mrs. Sanger, who, by the way, is a trained nurse and medical graduate, “X-rays have largely replaced other methods and there is in process of development a spermatoxin which will prevent childbirth by the same principles manifested by vaccination in the control of diseases once deemed incurable. Other new serums promise to give children to hitherto barren couples.”

I suggested, by way of deserting serums for a more tangible topic, that the younger generation of today, especially college girls, evince a stronger tendency toward race suicide than promiscuous progeny. Would they not, in course of time, make birth control and obsolete problem?

“You forget,” Mrs. Sanger pointed out, “that birth control is a matter of selectivity, not limitation. If a couple can produce twenty healthy children and raise and educate them properly, that is wonderful. On the contrary, the woman who lack the biological urge, who prefer poodles to children--and these college co-eds with non-maternal instincts-–are nothing but deadwood in the progress of the race; a form of parasitic moron who will die out, having done neither harm nor good.”

Civilization, Mrs. Sanger believes, is the main menace to the future well-being of mankind. It seems to have disturbed the balance of the biological urge, or, in other words, complicated the desire to mate.

Answering the Urge

“You see,” she explains, “human desire was first for food, then for mating. Love, as we know it, is something comparatively new, just a few thousand years old. Love has made the mating instinct lose its surety--love, law and civilization. The genuine biological urge, love at first sight, is seldom consummated, due to the barriers erected by civilization. We’d have better babies if men, feeling the true biological urge, immediately took possession of the women who inspired it.”

“You mean smack ‘em with a club? Cave-man stuff?”

“Exactly!” (Understand, she was speaking biologically only.)

“But the trouble is with the age, not the individual,” added Mrs. Sanger, hastening from cave men into safer channels. “The greatest menace to the future generations lies in the fact that the modern nerve forces have been depleted by the rush and noise and worry of our own creating. Our energy capital is used up.

“Another complication civilization has contributed to our biological life is the marriage of convenience or opportunity. From the reproduction angle, almost all of these marriages are misfits. They lack what poets call the ‘divine spark’ and the medical profession terms the ‘biological urge.’”

“Then how about these people who have eight or ten children and who are usually of the so-called ‘undesirable class’?” I wanted to know. “Doesn’t the fact that they are so prolific indicate that they are perfect mates?”

“Usually,” came the answer, “it is because the urge ceases to be an urge and becomes a habit! Sometimes there is a chemical affinity that makes for an abundance of progeny. Science, you know, has discovered that we have positive and negative sides, governed by too much or too little acidity or alkaline reactions. Now science gives children, through the use of serums, as well as prevents them.”

“Doesn’t that automatically make the doctors the birth control dictators of tomorrow?” I demanded.

“You mustn’t forget the biological urge. Next to life itself, it is the oldest most enduring and most unruly element in our existence. It may make a servant of science, but never a master.”

Mrs. Sanger’s husband used to be at the helm of the Three-In-One oil concern but retired to become the manager of his wife’s crusade. She denied that he had to take a lot of joshing on account of the nature of her work, but was, on the contrary, greatly interested in it and an invaluable aid to the cause. “And he pays bills beautifully!” she exclaimed with enthusiasm.

“It’s my boys, now in college, who must endure a lot of bantering from their classmates, but they don’t mind. What is more, they believe in my work and are excellent missionaries in a very important field. My oldest boy became quite interested in a charming girl not so very long ago and it looked as though it might be serious. He insisted that he undergo all the physical, mental, and pathological tests I have laid down as an essential part of birth control, but it seems that the young lady balked at the idea. And so they drifted apart.

“I find that college men are very responsive to the birth control idea. The majority take pride in the belief that they CAN successfully meet the requirements and would regard a parenthood certificate as a badge of merit, even though they expected to remain bachelors.

“The average college girl, on the contrary, seems to shun examinations of any kind. The majority apparently cling to the old idea that love, to be true, must also be blind and ask no questions. This attitude is not confined to colleges, however. In all walks of life, the majority of men take the suggestion of an examination as a challenge and woman as an insult. But the women who DO take the trouble to understand birth control are invariably its strongest supporters.”

“Larger Than Eugenics”

Is there such a thing as an ideal birth control couple? Apparently not, for the scope of the idea is far wider than mere eugenics. The mating of two “perfect specimens” seldom proves to be an ideal union.

Margaret Sanger’s birth control crusade, it is well to remember, is by no means confined to lecturing and the dispensing of educational propaganda, although, just at present, the big fight is so to amend the laws of the land that medical information pertinent to birth control may be sent through the mails.

But in New York she has a big birth control clinic which she hopes will be the model for countless other throughout the country. Here, through advice, education, medical and physical help, she practices what she preaches. She tells me that up to the present time more than 32,000 women have been helped.

“When I first embarked on my work,” she smiles reminiscently, “it created something of a sensation. I was the target for high praise and scathing denunciation. Little by little, a nation-wide hysteria was dissipated by cold facts and common sense, backed by science.

“Depression has proved a marvelous boost for the birth control idea, although the new adherents are mainly interested in it from the economical angle. Taxpayers have grown tired of supporting indigents with whole flocks of children. While this economy wave is merely one phase of the work, it may result in legislation that will facilitate the main objective of birth control--which is the betterment and perpetuation of the human race.”


Subject Terms:

Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project


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