Margaret Sanger, "Editorial," June 1926.

Source: " Birth Control Review, June 1926, pp. 185-86."

This unsigned editorial may have been written by Margaret Sanger.


Our co-workers in England in the cause of Birth Control are indeed to be congratulated that on April 28th, the House of Lords passed Lord Buckmaster's motion, and voted for liberty for public health officers and clinic doctors to give contraceptive advice at welfare centers. What this would mean to the spread of Birth Control knowledge may be realized when it is remembered that, after long years of work, and with great difficulty as regards funds, there have been established in England only ten or twelve Birth Control clinics, while there already exist 2,122 health centers, and of these 641 are especially devoted to pre-natal and post-natal infant care. These centers are supported out of public funds, part of the expense being defrayed by the local authorities and part by the National Treasury. There is no law against Birth Control information being given at them. The obstacle is a regulation drawn up by the Ministry of Health, the breach of which would entail the loss of the money received from the central government. No law is necessary for the alteration of this regulation. It would be entirely sufficient if the House of Commons would pass a similar resolution to that passed by the Lords.

THE opposition to Lord Buckmaster's motion was voiced by the Marquess of Salisbury, who apparently represented the Conservative Government, and Lord Fitz-Alan, a Roman Catholic peer. The Archbishop of Canterbury made an indecisive speech. He objected to the duty of giving Birth Control advice being laid upon the Welfare Centers, but did not condemn Birth Control entirely. Speaking of his church, he said "The question now divides us" "I have never been able," he added, "to take the stern and uncompromising view of some people who think that the thing per se is wrong and evil, although I discourage it by every means in my power." His opinion was that women who wanted such advice should obtain it from private physicians. The difficulties in the way for the poorer women did not seem visible to His Grace. Among those who spoke in favor of Birth Control were Earl Russell, elder brother of Bertrand Russell, who made a strong plea for the right of the woman to settle with her own conscience whether she would bear a child or not, Earl Balfour of Burleigh, Earl de la Warr and Lord Rathcreedan.

The world is the poorer for the loss of Ellen Key, who died on April 25th, at her home in Sweden. She was born in 1849, and the three quarters of a century, over which her life extended, saw greater changes in the position, and especially in the outlook of women than any similar period since the world began. And in this changed outlook Ellen Key had her part. Perhaps it would be a misnomer to call her a leader, for she headed no popular movement, she identified herself with no organized agitation for change or progress. She raised her voice against the suffrage fight. She warned the eager feminists of the early twentieth century that they were on the wrong path when they sought equal rights with men in education and in industrial and professional opportunity. It was her fate to shock the sensibilities and the moral ideals of her contemporaries, and yet to be considered a conservative and even a reactionary by the women who were pushing out so earnestly into the life of the great world. Yet it may be that in some respects her vision was clearer and more far-seeing than that of the women who had thrown themselves into the struggle for education, for the vote, for the right to a career and to freedom to control their own lives. It may be that when all these lesser rights have been secured, women will find that the greatest right of all is the right to their own special function-the right to responsible, freely-chosen maternity.

The great service rendered by Ellen Key was that she sounded a clarion cry-a cry that was harsh and discordant in the ears of many who heard it first, but a cry that woke up the womanhood of the world and forced women everywhere to think and to revalue their accepted ideas and traditions. When "The Century of the Child" appeared in 1909, it marked the beginning of a new era, an era which is slow in being fully realized, for it required an upheaval of the thoughts of men which cannot be accomplished in less than a generation. Towards its accomplishment there is no movement which is doing more effectual work than ours for Birth Control. Ellen Key herself never seemed fully conscious of the importance of Birth Control for the accomplishment of her aim of true motherhood, but Birth Control is the necessary corollary to her insistence on the right of every woman to choose motherhood. The essence of her teaching was that women must develop themselves as women-as mothers. They could not reach their full stature by forcing themselves into the molds of life created by men. It was not desirable for the world that they should follow the example of men in education, in industry, in business, in the professions, in government, if the world were to be made fit for little children. The men had not succeeded in doing this. The world, from the point of view of the child, was a failure. It remained for the women to recreate it, and they must do this through the development of their own unique qualities as mothers-through freely chosen, responsible motherhood.

A remarkable object lesson in the relation of over-population to lower standards of civilization was presented to the world early in May when the great general strike broke out in England. It will be recalled that the cause of the strike was the effort of the mine-owners to reduce the wages and increase the hours of the miners. The miners strenuously objected, and trade unions in other lines of industry joined in the fight. It was generally acknowledged that the condition of the miners was considerably worse than it had been in 1914 before the war. It was also conceded that mining was worse paid in England than other lines of work requiring equal skill and fewer privations. But the fact remained that there were 130,000 more miners than could be employed profitably in the industry, and that markets were lacking for English coal-markets that had been available before the war. The birth-rate of miners is higher than that in any other group in England, and it has been the habit of the miners to put their sons into their own industry. Whether England as a whole is over-populated or not, it is plain that the mining industry suffers from over-population and it is a problem beyond the wits of the wisest statesman to find a way out of the difficulty which will not cause wide suffering, and probably a very general lowering of the level of living for hundreds of thousands of English men, women and children.

What is clearly discernible on a large scale for nations and industries is also equally true for families. Dr. C. O. Sauer, head of the Geography Department of the University of California, recently declared that a lower standard of living would help to solve the problem of finding food and shelter for the ever growing population of the world. It does not take a university professor to find out that too many children in the family of a working man means a lowering of standards for the whole family. The mother soon finds that it is impossible to give the large family as good food as she could easily supply to a smaller number. The house becomes congested. We read of "two rooms for a family of six," "man and wife and five children crowded into three rooms," and even of worse housing conditions-conditions which would not be tolerated in a public institution for our dependent poor. Educational standards have to be lowered. The children must leave school just as soon as they can get their working papers and the dream of a high school course fades away. Books, lectures, music, cultural possibilities become an almost absurd impossibility for the over-burdened mother and the hard-driven father of too large a family, while any continued sickness-so probably a contingency when people are underfed-breaks down their independence and lays a burden on the whole community. Does unrestrained reproduction destroy civilization? Ask mother, she knows!

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