Margaret Sanger, " [Massachusetts and the Birth Control Movement] ," 2 Sep 1940.

Typed Draft Speech. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0147 .

The following outline was likely used by Sanger on her Massachusetts speaking tour from October 13 to 18, 1940.Handwritten notes made by unknown secretary.



One hundred and eight years ago a little book was published in Boston that was destined to become an historic document in the fight for birth control -- Dr. Charles Knowlton’s “The Fruits of Philosophy.” For more than forty years that little book circulated throughout the world quietly, steadily. It was translated into several languages; reprinted many time ↑s↓ . Finally through its circulation in England, Mrs. Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were brought to trial, an historic event in the history of the birth control movement out of which grew the first Neo-Malthusian League in England. So Boston, as it [was?] can for many movements for human welfare, can lay claim to be one of the birth-places of the whole movement for planned parenthood.

In that period of more than a hundred years the Commonwealth of Massachusetts developed, progressed, contributed mightily to the progress of the nation. Her great institutions of learning turned forth scholars who have left their impress upon the life of the Nation; promoted the cause of learning; developed research which has resulted in inestimable benefits to humanity.

There is one thing in which this city of Boston pioneered that I will always remember -- a movement which is linked closely to the ↑movement↓ for which I am speaking now. Here at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1905 was established the first attempt to link medicine with the social problems of the ↑patient↓ founded on the belief that adequate medical care [one or two words ] attention must consider the social needs of the patient. Out of that ↑attempt -- now called medical social work --↓ has developed a greater feeling of social responsibility on the part of physicians in many sections of the country; ↑has brought medicine into its own as a great social force.↓

With that background of progressive development, with that record of achievement in human welfare, it seems well-nigh incredible that this Commonwealth should be one of the only two in the United States which forbids physicians to prescribe scientific means of contraception where the imperative health and welfare needs of their patients demand it. That, to me, seems a challenge to the citizens of this State; a challenge for them to demand that minority pressure groups of personal prejudice will not stand in the way of right of a physician to utilize the full force of scientific discovery and technique for the health and welfare of his patients; nor stand in the way of the right of every mother to determine for herself when and how often she shall undertake the heavy and far-reaching responsibility of motherhood.

But before I talk further about your problem here in Massachusetts, I want to discuss the real, intrinsic meaning of birth control; what it means to individuals and to the nation; and in its broadest aspects, the whole problem of planned parenthood.


Great misunderstanding exists as to the true nature of birth control and planned parenthood. Opponents of the movement, with characteristic disregard for facts, link it to race suicide or to abortion. These are ugly words to apply to a movement that Dr. Henry Pratt Fairchild has described as “one of those achievements of science and rational public sentiment upon which the human race laboriously builds its progress toward a more satisfactory individual life and a more orderly and stable social organization.”

Simply birth control is the scientific means, administered by the medical profession, by which parents undertake the responsibility of parenthood consciously and with due regard for the health of the mother, the economic circumstance of the family and the right of the ↑a↓ child to be wanted and to be cared for properly.

It is a means by which parenthood is no longer treated as a punishment for shiftlessness or carlessness; by which parenthood is taken out of the sphere of accident. Thus, for the individual parent, parenthood becomes a matter of conscious knowledge; of deeper satisfaction; of ready and eager acceptance of responsibility.

Far beyond the implications of birth control for individual parents, in its meaning to this democratic nation. Now, in this time of crisis, we are arming; preparing with the full vigor of the nation to defend the rights and freedoms so deeply imbeded in our way of living.

With all its emphasis on the materials of defense, this great national effort is proceeding, and must proceed, on the belief that a nation is no stronger than its people. Only a few months ago, Surgeon General Thomas Parran of the United States, spoke these significant words. He said: “The people of this nation must be physically tough, mentally sound and moreally strong. If they are not, we can leave our planes on paper, our battleships unbuild. We shall not be able to use them.”

What does all this mean to planned parenthood? Simply this. The words “one third of a nation, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed” are real, tragic words today in America. Yet more tragic is the inescapable fact that this under-priveleged part of our American people is forced to bear the majority of the children born each year. More than one million children are born each year into families with annual incomes of less than $1,000. These families are American families, sturdy, independent, capable of bearing the kind of children we need to maintain a strong, vital people. Yet they are forced, through ignorance, to bear more children than they can care for properly; forced to lower their already low living standards; forced to perpetuate their condition of poverty because they cannot plan their families.

Is it any wonder so many children in America today are undernourished; so many mothers die in child-birth; so many babies are born dead!

I say in all seriousness that this nation cannot afford to permit such a condition to exist for long, if it has any regard for its national strength.

Fifteen years ago, following the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York, I urged that President ↑Coolidge and later Pres Hoover↓ appoint a Population Commission to consider such population problems as this and to initiate a program to remedy them. Apparently the time then was not ripe for such a move. ↑such proposals were ignored but↓ It is more than ripe today. If the present Administration in Washington wishes to make truly effective its drive for national defense, it will take immediate steps to begin a coordinated program to strengthen our human resources. It will integrate efforts already made for the welfare of our people; it will provide the scientific means of family planning for all mothers who wish it; it will seek means of making the economic burden of bearing children less heavy. And when it does these things, it will truly be seeking to strengthen the nation for defense of its freedom.

I’ve attempted to discuss the meaning of planned parenthood for individuals and for the nation. Now to discuss with you your problem here in Massachusetts.


In the name of morality in Massachusetts, an old law was resurected and seven clinics were closed. Since this was done in the name of morality, it seems appropriate to discuss that aspect first. How better can I tell you of the true, deep morality of planned parenthood than by reciting to you the words of the leader of this great Church, the Reverend Dr. John Haynes Holmes. ↑Only↓ a few years ago he said: “If imparting knowledge of how to space births -- how to safeguard mothers -- and to help married people produce normal, vigorous children; if that be encouraging morality -- then I’m immoral. In true fact, birth control education is an expression of the highest form of morality -- morality dedicated to the great end of preventing human suffering -- saving the lives of mothers and children -- fostering community health and welfare. this is what I mean by morality; the service of mankind.

What better way can I demonstrate the essential morality of birth control than by reciting to you the names of those who believe in it and sponsor it -- Harry Emerson Fosdick; Dean Arthur B. Kinsolving; Karl Compton; Reverend Frederick M. Elliot; Dr. John Rock; Bishop H. P. Almon Abbott of Kentucky -- and hundreds of other men and women whose daily lives are testimony to that true morality: the service of mankind.

Morality isn’t static; it deepens with the growth of knowledge. Once in human history, quinine was refused to malaria sufferers in the name of morality. Vaccination against smallpox, immunization, the germ theory of disease, the use of anesthesia, the cell theory of lifee -- all these were opposed once in the name of morality. These instances seem incredible to us now; yet once again today we are faced with the same distortion of fundamental morals to impede the progress of human welfare.


As the late Hans Zinsser said: “What can be more immoral than to put children into the world that are unwanted, that cannot be properly nourished, cared for, educated, and otherwise inducted into a life with a reasonable expectation of happiness and usefulness.”

And I should add to that: what can be more immoral than that scientific knowledge should be distributed on the basis of ability to pay? Contraception under medical supervision is available to those who can pay for it -- here in Massachusetts just as much as anywhere else in the country. That is why here in Massachusetts the mothers least able to bear healthy children into healthy, happy surroundings are having the most children. That is why the invocation of that ancient blue law bears most heavily upon the poor, the ignorant -- the portion of the population that really needs scientific knowledge of contraception.

This to me is immoral. this to me is a violation of the fundamental meaning of democratic ↑Christian↓ living.

The birth control movement is well aware of the problems involved in this unbalanced birth-rate. It recognizes the need to balance births -- to bring about those conditions that will encourage childbearing by those most fitted to undertake the responsibility of parenthood. But it ↑is↓ also aware that this can never be done by denying mothers the right to plan their families.

Hitler and Mussolini have tried it. There, in those totalitarian countries, we see motherhood prostituted before the altar of war; we see mothers urged, forced, to bear more and more babies because the state needs cannon fodder. The dictators have failed, as any authority will testify. But whether they had succeeded, such a debasing of parenthood has no place in a democratic nation.

Yet here in Massachusetts, in the name of morality and religion, you are forcing mothers to bear children they do not want and cannot care for by denying them the right to medical contraception.


This situation in Massachusetts today is not the fault of the people. By political pressure a minority group has forced action which is contrary to the wished of the majority of the citizens of this Commonwealth. Only recently a scientific poll of opinion in the state proved that. The poll, I am informed, showed that [one word ] per cent of the voting public in Massachusetts favored the right of physicians to prescribe contraception for the health and welfare of their patients. Even more convincing is the fact that the poll showed that, although the closing of the clinics has been laid to the door of a minority group within the Catholic Church, [one word ] per cent of Catholic voters cast their vote of approval for medical rights on this issue.

As you know an initiative petition, signed by 10 outstanding citizens in this state, has been presented at the State House. Before this petition can be presented as a bill and voted on by the 1941 Legislature, 20,000 registered voters must sign it. The signatures must be obtained from not less than 4 counties and not more than 5,000 of the signers can be residents of any one county.

To obtain these signatures before December 4, it is necessary to enlist a large force of volunteers. It is a big task that faces you in Massachusetts, but it is a task that can be accomplished easily if you who believe in this task will work whole-heartedly for it.

If the Legislature of this state then continues to flout the wishes of the majority of its citizens, you have the means at your disposal to bring the issue before the general public.

Let me remind you that the cause of human freedom, which is really what this cause is that faces you today, can never for long be stopped. That is the challenge you face today in Massachusetts. And much more rests upon your acceptance of that challenge than ↑simply↓ the repeal of an ancient blue law.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project