Margaret Sanger, "Interview with Zilfa Estcourt," 18 May 1939.
Source: ""Margaret Sanger Carries on Crusade for Health and Peace through Birth Control, San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 1939, p. 65."
A dauntless crusader was guest in our town last week--a woman who never quivered at the clang of the police gong, who took misunderstanding, humiliation and jail in stride--Margaret Sanger, advocate of birth control.
And whether you agree or disagree with her ideas, you must admire the courage that, undaunted, could go on year after year until the tide of public opinion changed and brought honors in place of scorn and the respect of statesmen as well as the idolatry of the women of the poor, for a cause that is still a matter of controversy.
We met Mrs. Sanger the other day at luncheon, after a lapse of 17 years. The hair that once was a coppery fluff was silver but the blue eyes with their zealot's light were the same. And so we knew before we heard her speak that Margaret Sanger was still in the ring battling for liberated mothers, for better childhood, for controlled populations, for peace and a more civilized world. For in her mind and in those of thousands of others, birth control, peace and civilization are inexorably linked.
Before we tell you some of the things Mrs. Sanger said at the joint luncheon of the San Francisco Center of the League of Women Voters, the local branch of the American Association of University Women and the Family Relations Center, we must go back to the beginnings of a career that parallels those of other deeply beloved feminist leaders.
Following a college education, she studied nursing at a White Plains, New York hospital. To this she added a post graduate course at the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital. With this background she plunged into volunteer nursing in the East Side tenements of Manhattan. Even after her marriage to William Sanger, New York artist, she continued her social service work and it was through her experiences in trying to aid the pitiful mothers of the poor, that her ideas crystallized and her tremendous reform movement was begun.
In her reminiscence, [two words missing] going to aid the mother of a destitute family who had tried to stop the coming of another child. For days and nights "Nurse" Sanger fought a battle with death and won. Hardly was the fight over than she was called again in the same tenement, but this time she arrived just in time to close the eyes of a dying woman.
Returning sadly to her home where her husband and her own three children were peacefully asleep, she stood at her window until dawn visioning thousands of poverty-stricken mothers, facing more and more births and then death.
"I decided then I was through with nursing broken bodies," she related in after years. "I was determined to strike at the root of the evil, to save the bodies before they were broken."
And so she gave up her work in the tenements to launch, in a contrary world, a move to make available to all women asking it, information that would permit them to regulate the size of their families. And what a bitter battle she precipitated.
For years she devoted herself to writing, lecturing and organizing the American Birth Control League. Over and over again she was hauled from her platform and hurried off to face the law. But nothing could stop her. And gradually the strong silent sentiment that grew up in support of her theories became vocal and under President Wilson's administration, the hounds of the law were called off.
How this work has grown is indicated by the fact that California has just organized a State Federation of Birth Control Leagues with some 24 units as a starter.
And now in a world depressed with economic problems and faced with a war of nations fighting for space for their overflowing populations, Margaret Sanger's ideas have the approval not only of social workers, and the great feminist organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and the American Association of University Women, but of statesmen.
Figures cited by her at a luncheon Thursday at the Western Women's Club under auspices of a group of the leading women's groups showed that the World war was caused by Germany's need for territory to provide for her increasing population. Similar conditions in Germany, Italy, and Japan today, she said, make another conflict almost inevitable.
"Italy and Germany have spawned themselves into another world conflict," she said. "I believe there will never be world peace in this world until a definite population policy is formed."
As to the situation in the United States, Mrs. Sanger pointed to the fact that 65 per cent of the 2,000,000 babies born in the United States last year were in families on relief. Women of the more affluent class have access to information that permits them to space their children, she said, and it is only among the desperately poor that children are brought into the world faster then they can be cared for. Of the 2,000,000 more than 75,000 were still-born and 69,000 died in their first month of life. This mortality, public health reports indicated, is due to the lack of vitality of the mothers, due to overwork and too frequent maternity, she said.
With a large percentage of children coming from families least able to care for and educate them, the public health problem of the United States is growing by leaps and bounds, Mrs. Sanger said. The latest demand is for $85,000,000 for increased services under the national health program.
These tremendous national burdens could be avoided if the information were available to the poor through clinics and health centers that the well-to-do receive through other sources.
"We are breeding now from the 25 per cent of our population that has an intelligence level of 15 years of age or less," she said. "If we could deal with this subject as a public health problem in 25 years we would see a great change in the intelligence ratio of our country, and we could build for quality among our people and for peace."
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project