Margaret Sanger, "Problems of Population and Parenthood: A Review by Margaret Sanger," [1920] .

Typed draft review. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress , LCM 128:0637 .

Corrections made by hand by Margaret Sanger. Sanger may have submitted this review to the New York Tribune; Published version not found. For an earlier draft of the review see LCM 128:634.


Problems of Population and Parenthood: A Review by Margaret Sanger

The "Problems of Population and Parenthood" is the second report of the British National Birth-rate Commission, 1918-1920. It is an exhaustive tome consisting of many hundreds of pages and is divided into two parts: the evidence taken for and against the control of Parenthood; and the findings of the Commission. To the cursory reader this is a splendid-looking effort toward a (solution) or one of the fundamental problems of the human race. Upon closer examination, however, we find two interesting facts that rather take away some of the value. In the first place, this Commission is self-appointed. One would imagine that ifthis Commission had not been appointed by the British Government, [at least it?] and operated and functioned under some indirect ↑direct↓ sanction of official interest. But such is not the case. The people involved gathered together under this distinctly Anglo-Saxontitle on their own initiative. Even if there ↑this↓ were so, we might not object were it not for the second weakness: among the forty-one members of the Commission ten are clergymen; eight are medical men; only two are biologists; thirteen andtwelve are women ↑whose interests are social-reform work;↓ the balance being laymen of varying import. Naturally the findings of such a self-appointed group of enthusiastsmust be retrograde and reactionary. It is a curious example of the credibility of mankind that it accepts the opinions of unscientific minds upon purely scientific subjects!

The deeper we go into this massive book, the more amazed we become. The witnesses called before the Commission represent some of the most vital levels of thought in England, and America. Among the host we find Sidney Webb, ↑Judge Neil and↓ , Judge Lindsey ↑of U.S.A↓ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir William Osler, Dr. Marie Stopes, Sir Rider Haggard, Mr. Harold Cox the editor of the Edinburgh Review, ↑Mrs. Booth Salvation Army↓ , W.L. George, and many, many others.What a hodge-podge of individuals. The list of witnesses almost reads as though the Commission had put alot of names in a hat and chosen them blindfolded, not and again luckily finding a significant individual.

Yet even with this, the hopeful student might seek to find real good in any effort to solve the problem. Unfortunately, every page but adds to the conclusions already listed. Many problems are taken up, but the essential one concerning the population question and the fall of the birth rate and its effect upon the country was not convincing ↑neither thorough nor convincing↓ Having proved ↑what is already known↓ that the birth rate had fallen in England they next proceed to reluctantlydiscuss the causes. These are classified under infant mortality, venereal diseases and birth control. Much of the evidence taken deals with the classification of the causes of infant mortality, and a large proportion is found to be due to the infection of infants by parents with venereal diseases! On this subject much valuable evidence was given by Sir William Osler and Sir Bryan Donkin. They pointed out that if these diseases are to be checked they must be dealt with as diseases and the moral consideration entirely eliminated. If everyone could be persuaded to live clean lives the problem would be solved, but in the meanwhile as this conduct seems impossible for all people we cannot adopt measures to prevent the disease and at the same time retain the risk of incurring them as a deterrent to immorality. And the findings of the Commission resulted in a whitewashing of the prevalent system which permits the cure of venereal diseases, but provides no adequate method to prevent them!

The evidence taken on birth control was particularly interesting. It was pointed out that the conscious use of artificial methods to prevent conception were employed by the better classes, upper middle and artisan classes, while the population is recruited from the lower or unfit! The question of the use of these methods, and how far they are injurious to health seemed to be the bone of contention. Dr. Marie Stopes made an excellent report and as she is one of the greatest living ↑an able↓ biologist ↑having made a special study of birth control↓ her testimony and experiences are valuable. Harold Cox's testimony was also intelligent and far-reaching. The only suggestion given by various other witnesses was such as to invite the production of still greater hords hordes of the unfit ↑unwanted progeny↓ . No suggestions were given to stop the production of the unfit or diseased, or feeble minded. There was some talk of the motherhood pension system--in other words the placing of a premium on motherhood, rather than the control of the unfit. One suggestion was immigration to the Colonies, as if these parts of the world desired their ranks to be recruited by the feeble minded, the physical and mentally unfit, etc. One witness carried on the idea, or maybe more, that the Empire should have a greater volume of population in order to hold its preeminent position in the sun. In other words, as someone recently said: ↑The Commission asked the women of England to↓ enter into a "cradle competition to save the Empire."

Need it be said that the conclusions of this Commission are worthless? They merely carry on ↑sanction↓ what is in existence to-day and put the seal of approval on the unscientic control of birth and population. The interested reader will do well to read the various resolutions made by different groups on the subject of voluntary restriction of the birth rate. (See pages clxii-clxvi). It is unfortunate that we are unable to treat this section at length because of the limits of space. The Commission condemned ↑the practice of↓ birth control.

Dr. Marie Stopes objected to the grounds upon which this decision was predicated and addressed a letter to each signer of the Reservation against birth control: "As possibly you are aware, I consider that the question of the right use of sound hygienic methods of Birth Control as one of the very greatest importance." She goes on to say that she noticed that this particular member had signed the reservation against birth control:"Had the grounds of your objection been stated to be a religious or moral conviction, I should, have ↑of↓ course, have had ↑no↓ more to say, but you state above you signature that you base your condemnation of all scientific methods of control on 'medical evidence."

Dr. Stopes inclosed a self-addressed and stamped envelope for reply and a ready-prepared slip. In their replies not one quoted a page of the report containing medical evidence. In fact, there is not a line of reliable evidence throughout the report which would substantiate the decision against birth control. It is only one of the glaring weaknesses and ill-devised work of this self-appointed body of enthusiasts ↑non-experts↓ .

One sentence in the report seems to me to give the key to the Commission's entire state of mind: "It is for the women of the Empire to save the Empire by securing its continuance for the fulfilment of its beneficient mission in the world."


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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