R. R. Crisler, "Debate with Judge Richard B. Russell," 14 May 1931.
Source: " Margaret Sanger Given Verdict At Debate Over Birth Contol, Atlanta Constitution, May 15, 1931, p. 1 and Jurist, Father of 18, Debates Birth Control, Chicago Daily Tribune, May 15, 1931, p. 8."
Sanger's debate text was not found; excerpts were taken from press coverage.
Margaret Sanger, the mother of three children, met Chief Justice Richard B. Russell, the father of 18, in a debate on birth control Thursday night at the Erlanger theater. And the result--while it seemed to be pretty decisively in favor of the lady (as the gallant chief justice himself would be the last to deny) at the same time completely justified everybody’s expectations with regard to the gentleman. If he went down, under the onslaught of these new and somewhat bewildering ideas, he went--like the noble old Roman he is--with the standards of the legion intact.
Mrs. Sanger was first in the field, trotting out her light cavalry of statistics, her portable and compact artillery of logic and of modern ideas. And like a good strategist, she had not failed to provide her forced with an inexhaustible commissary of information. The old Roman, whose eloquence played no small part in winning him the place of honor on Georgia’s supreme court bench, must have realized that here was a different and somewhat disconcerting antagonist to deal with.
>But the lady’s opening speech was merely a ruse; merely a skilled maneuver to draw the enemy out: for she is the sort of fighter who must have something definite to strike at: and there was a very clever little ambush prepared!
The enemy marched into it, too, with trumpets blowing and flags whipping spectacularly in the breeze. It was the Roman phalanx going grandly and unsuspectingly into a nest of machine guns. Taking his text from the Scriptures, Chief Justice Russell reminded his opponent of the Biblical injunction to Noah, “increase and multiply.”
“Rat, tat, tat,” the machine guns, in rebuttal, spat like so many snakes. “And it might be opportune to remind my opponent,” Mrs. Sanger parried, “that when God laid this command upon Noah, there were only five people on Earth. My opponent must admit that the situation has altered a little since then.”
But people, the phalanx contended, are motivated by pure selfishness when they refuse to have children. In glowing words he painted the picture of a happy family group- the more numerous the better--with the mother and father actuated by feelings of self-sacrifice, willing to bear the pains and economic tribulations of life as well as its merely sensual pleasures. Once more the machine guns spat. “I love,” Mrs. Sanger remarked, laconically, “to hear men talk about the pain and sacrifice entailed by childbirth! They have so much first hand knowledge.”
It was too much for the phalanx. Placed so unceremoniously outside the pale, he was obliged to waste a perfectly good rebuttal in a tribute to womanhood, just to offset any possible misunderstanding. By a ruse, the lady had forced the chief justice to forsake his cause in order to defend himself.
The question at issue in the debate, whether or not the mails should be open to birth control information, was not always strictly adhered to by the debaters, for in spite of everything one can do the question of birth control always remains a broader one than that. It was the importance of birth control to the individual family that Mrs. Sanger stressed, the fact that it lowers infant mortality, increases the happiness and health of woman, and effectually prevents the economic disasters which threaten the large family with a small income. “It is for us to choose,” she asserted, “a decreased birth rate or an increased death rate.”
Judge Russell, on the other hand, would lump all birth controllers into the same class with communists, bolsheviks, and infidels. His most pronounced antipathy, however, is for those who profess the doctrine; he admitted that its practice if common. “Otherwise," he added, “how does it happen that Georgia has lost two congressmen?” The audience, highly appreciative of the witticisms with which Judge Russell’s remarks had been so generously interlarded, seemed to regard this as one of them and burst into laughter. “But maybe you won’t miss them,” he said, good-humoredly. There was a round of applause and more laughter. It looked as though the audience really wouldn’t---indiscernible.
Richard B. Russell, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, engaged in debate tonight with Mrs. Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate.
The jurist, father of 18 children, whose son, Richard B. Russell Jr., is the governor elect of Georgia, said a “flood of advertisements, fakers, false contraceptives, and quacks” would be loosed if the law which prohibits dissemination of birth control information in the mail were repealed.
Mrs. Sanger, the mother of three children, said that since the law was passed largely through the influence of Anthony Comstock 57 years ago 1,500,000 mothers have died of causes incident to motherhood, 90 per cent of whom might have been saved had not the law been in effect.
Fifteen million children, she said, had been “pushed out of life before they reached the first year because of weakened mothers, poverty, and neglect.”
Judge Russell said the law is needed to protect the home.
“Everyone in Georgia who needs to know about birth control already knows about it,” he declared. “Any state that wants contraception practiced can have it. But I don’t want the mails in my state opened to injurious matter to be placed before immature minds in the home. I object to opening the mails to depravity.
“I think Mrs. Sanger is conscientious in her objections to the law, but when she gets this thing started she can’t control it. There will be a deluge of advertisements, fakers, false contraceptives, and quacks.”
Birth control, said Mrs Sanger, is not only a health and economic expedient but also a means of improving the moral strength of the nation.
The way of nature has been to control population by the death rate, but social consciousness of the modern world, she said, prevents nature from having its way by destruction of the weak and unfit.
Birth control, she said, has been practiced for a generation or more by “a certain group, regardless of laws, where the best of this world’s things are found--intelligence, comforts, health, strength.”
Taking Benjamin Franklin as an example, Justice Russell said, “great men have always come from the poor,” and advocated mothers’ pensions to help them take care of the children, “some of whom will bless the nation.”
“It is not the self-sacrificing, home loving, man making woman who wants this,” he said, “but the so-called ladies who want to attend the theater and the club instead of staying at home caring for their children.”
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project