Margaret Sanger, " [Lasker Award Address] ," 25 Oct 1950.
Published Speech. Source: Supplement to the Malthusian, Jan. 1951 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0607 .
Sanger gave this speech at the annual meeting lunch of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America meeting at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York. She was presented with the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation's Award in Planned Parenthood.For draft versions see Library of Congress Microfilm 128:0258, 130:0028, Margareat Sanger Microfilm S72:0598, 0601, and C19:0424.
Reunited here to-day among so many co-workers, friends old and new, the conviction springs full grown into my mind that the most deserving of any award for courage, initiative, vision, and keeping alive the torch of our cause, are our friends, Mary and Albert Lasker. I cannot begin to tell you how much we and numerous other national health associations owe to Mary and Albert Lasker. Such progress as we have made in Planned Parenthood Movement, which more than once has been denied and crushed to earth, has been due to those with the vision and courage of the Laskers. Thanks to them, this truth has managed to rise again and march on. In humbly accepting this award, I do so in the hope and trust that I may apply this generous cheque to help women, especially the women of Japan, to control and guide their own biological destiny.
The interest of the Lasker family in birth control goes quite far back. Even before Albert had demonstrated his special interest, his two sisters, having been the executors for a bequest from their mother, came to look into our work. They told me that it was the request of their mother that a part of a special fund was to go to a cause that was helping women. And so our cause in those early days received a generous contribution which helped us to go out into the field and be heard. It seems to me that a new and special award of honor from national health and peace organisations could appropriately be given to Albert and Mary Lasker.
It is difficult for me to look into the future without being reminded of my good, dear friend, H. G. Wells. Doubtless you know how completely discouraged and disillusioned he was in his last unhappy years. He said to me upon one occasion:
"Mankind is not the privileged favourite of mother nature and in spite of all my lifelong optimism it now seems to me that the Universe is utterly bored by the whole species of mankind. I can see the human race sweeping along the stream of fate to defeat, degradation and final extinction. Mankind is likely to breed itself clean out of existence."
He pointed out further there were pre-historic monsters which were too powerful for their environment and became extinct. He further expressed the belief that any pattern for the future without birth control would be absolutely lost. I would not have you think that I have become such a pessimist as H. G., even in my maturity, but H. G. was not the only one who predicted the destruction of our civilization. Many other historians and philosophers are frank to say that, if civilisation is destroyed, it will come by the release of man's destructive fury, and the first thing to be destroyed will be the creative vision of the future. Without this basic creative vision, the whole birth control movement would lose its meaning. The basic truth that we insist upon, despite the prejudices and the ethereal promises of our beknighted enemies, is that there is a population problem and we know that this problem involves the whole human race, both living and potential.
I do not intend to torture your ears with statistics, but it is well to repeat one point, one fact: that according to the latest available statistics, the human race now numbers 2,344,727,000 living creatures who must be fed. Let us not forget that these billions, millions, thousands of people are increasing, expanding, exploding at a terrific rate every year. Africa, Asia, South America are made up of more than a billion human beings, miserable, poor, illiterate labor slaves, whether they are called that or not; a billion hungry men and women always in the famine zone yet repoducing themselves in the blind struggle for survival and perpetuation.
I will not attempt to point out to you the wastefulness of the resources of our plundered planet but I would rather refer you to the books by Fairfield Osborn andWilliam Vogt, both masterful studies of our resources and our population needs. Our mass production via machinery has meant the production of masses for wars. We prize and boast of our civilization because it is characterized by ever-increasing mass populations. The brains, initiative, thrift and progress of the self-supportig, creative human being are called upon to support the ever-increasing and numerous dependent delinquent and unbalanced masses.
There is an old saying that a hungry man is an angry man and this is no less true of famished populations. These masses, too, are victims of the demagogues and the agitators whether it be the Soviets or a Hitler or a Mussolini. Everything is promised in the way of security with never a suggestion of a corresponding self-reliance, respect and spacing of the progeny. Professor Walter Prescott Webb of Texas has pointed out that in our twentieth century for the first time in 500 years the amount of land available to man's use per capita is decreasing. This condition deprives the ambitious, blod, pioneering individual of one main corridor to freedom. If freedom is gone, the institutions which were designed to preserve and ensure freedom cannot long survive.
"If a society becomes crowded," says Professor Webb, "it will become more and more collective."
It seems to me that this unpleasant prospect should demand immediate and serious thought. Back in my childhood days we talked in terms of cents (even common cents), later on in terms of thousands of dollars, then millions. Now we talk of billions. You see the inflation of money, the inflation of words and the inflationary number of human beings. Inflation means devaluation, and we witness the widespread devaluation of human lives. Human beings are herded into concentration camps, into vast slave labour prisons. Whole nations are made homeless and displaced. These manifestations are symptoms of a complete lack of population policies and of political foresight as to the value and meaning of dignified human living on this earth.
We pride ourselves upon our high standards of living, ignoring the low standards of dying that prevail in other teeming continents. Our government by its maudlin, benevolent extravagences tries to solve the problem of world war by throwing billions of dollars away. Population pressure will prevail against this generosity.
Some of you may think that I am given to exaggerating this question of over-population and its result on the condition of the world to-day. I wonder how many of you realize that the population of the British Isles in Shakespeare's time was scarcely more than six millions, yet out of these few millions came the explorers, the pioneers, the poets, the pilgrims and the courageous founders of these United States of America. What is England producing to-day with her hungry fifty million human beings struggling for survival? She had then a race of quality, now it's merely quantity. One forgets that the Italy of the Renaissance, of the painters, the sculptors, the architects, was a loose collection of small towns -- a tiny population that was yet the nursery of geniuses. There again quality rises supreme above quantity.
This twentieth century of ours has seen the most rapid multiplication of human beings in our history, quantity without quality, however. And it is significant as well as profoundly symptomatic that parents are no longer held responsible for the birth, the development or the survival of their children
In closing there are two suggestions I would like the Planned Parenthood Federation to consider. First, stress quality as a prime essential in the birth and survival of our population. Birth? Yes. In the recently added project of helping couple to have children, I am convinved that seven out of ten of these couple would not pass muster by an adoption agency. Were these would-be parents to apply to any adoption organisation in this State, their qualifications as parents-to-be, would be sieved and classified for the protection of the child. High protection standards prevail in these agencies. Doctors directing our infertility projects could well apply a few of these standards for the sake of the children's security and happiness. Parenthood can be an emotional, temporary, superficial desire as well as an accidental event. Children's welfare should be our first consideration.
The second suggestion I would offer as one worthy of national consideration is that of decreasing the progeny of those human beings affiliated with transmissable diseases and dysgnic qualities of body and mind. While our present Federal Governmental Santa Clauses have their hands in the taxpayer's pockets, why not in their generous giving mood be constructive and provide for sterilizing as well as giving a pension, dole -- call it what you may -- to the feeble-minded and the victims of transmissible, congenital diseases? Such a programme would be a sound future investment as well as a kindness to the couples themselves by preventing the birth of dozens of their progeny to become burdens, even criminals of another generation. It would save innocent children from the cruelty of being born to such parents.
It is reported of Ignace Semmel Weis, the great pioneer of preventative medicine, that he cried to the doctors in the hospitals of Vienna, "Wash your hands, just wash your hands." So I would cry in our modern confusion and chaos, "Cleanse your minds of cant and hypocrisy." Recognize the source of this vast conflict that threatens the survival of the human race. We have gone far in the field of preventative medicine, let us no have a little preventative politics and a system of thinking that will probe to the roots and heart of this human problem. We must induce men and women to strive for a better civilisation for themselves and their children's children. We cannot give them freedom on a silver platter but we can awaken in them the demand for a free, self-disciplined life and consciously controlled birth rate and population.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project