Providence Journal, "Mrs. Sanger Hits New Deal Attitude on Birth Control," 8 Apr. 1935.

Published Speech. Source: Providence Journal 9 Apr. 1935 p. 3-4 .

This newspaper report is the most complete version of Margaret Sanger's speech at the Plantations Club in Providence, RI, on April 8, 1935. For draft notes prepared for Sanger by Stella Hanau, see "Providence Speech Notes," Apr. 8 1935 (Margaret Sanger Microfilm S71:744).

Mrs. Sanger Hits New Deal Attitude on Birth Control

Says Relief Agences Even Encourage Motherhood in Jobless Families; Calls Regulation Only Way to Lead Civilization Out of Chaos

Margaret Sanger last night told an audience of about 700 persons at the Plantations Club that the United States in its gigantic program of relief is ignoring birth control, which, she declared, is the one factor in human development that can lead civilization out of chaos, assuring international peace and human development on a par with industrial development. Instead of recognizing the vital need for population control, Mrs. Sanger said, those charged with administration of the fabulous funds for relief in some instances actually are suggesting to mothers applying for relief that they would stand a better chance of obtaining it if they could be presented as expectant of motherhood.

The noted pioneer of the birth control movement in the United States declared that with such methods employed in administering relief, it were better to "throw open doors of the insane asylums and let the inmates run our country."

In the face of the present chaotic conditions in this country, she said, due largely to the fact that human development has not kept abreast of the industrial development, surveys in Wisconsin, Philadelphia, and New York showed that the birth rate was rising 45 to 60 per cent in families on the relief rolls over families of the employed.

"Another survey in Philadelphia," Mrs. Sanger said, "showed the birth rate was higher among unskilled unemployed that among the skilled employed."

Quotes H.G. Wells

"Some years ago," she said, "H.G. Wells stated we were about to come into an age of confusion, because the fertility of mankind can far outrun the intelligence of man. He said this chaos would come unless we showed a growth in intellect through an elective birth rate.

"In February, the Federal Reserve gave an industrial report that indicated production had risen within 90 per cent of the normal average. At the same time the National Emergency Council announced that more than 10,000,000 people were unemployed, and two weeks later, the FERA said more than 22,000,000 persons or over 5,000,000 families were on relief. And more than $150,000,000 had to be spent every month--out of the taxpayers' pockets--to provide for the relief rolls."

After citing figures to show that the birth rate was increasing rapidly among those on relief rolls, as compared with figures for those not on relief, Mrs. Sanger asked:

"If we have come almost back to normal industrial production with 22,000,000 on relief what is the matter? I believe it will not be solved by turning out one set of politicians and putting in another set.

"I believe we will see a great percentage of these unemployed carried for some time--probrably for 20 years or more. This condition has been coming on steadily for years, with the differential birth rate and the advance of machinery.

No Voice Said "Stop!"

"Machinery has taken the place of human labor. Organized labor has seen this situation coming. Social agencies have seen in coming. Yet not one voice was raised to say, "Stop! It is not necessary to have a high birth rate among unskilled labor groups"

"The birth rate has gone up and up. We today have 125 millions of people in this country, a population increase of 20,000,000 since 1920. The population has actually increased nearly 5,000,000 during the depression years since 1930."

Mrs. Sanger said it was idle to talk of balancing the national budget until the United States balanced its birth rate with its industrial needs. She declared that in every town there is a group of families that have spaced their children, giving consideration to the mother's health, the father's earning power, and the ability of both to assume responsibility for the children's welfare.

"They haven't had to send their children to the factory or the farm to labor when they should be in school," she said. "They have had as large families as they could have, consistent with family welfare, and it is to this group that we must look for most of the things that mean civilization.

"I refuse to quarrel with this group for not increasing the number of their children--at least until we take that other and rapidly growing group off their back."

Mrs. Sanger asserted that it was the group with an uncontrollable birth rate and an unplanned scheme of life that in the last quarter of a century had given the nation great numbers of children unequipped to carry the responsibilities of life.

"What to Do?" She Asks

"What are we to do with these defectives?" she asked. "Is there any nation that will take them off our backs? No. They wouldn't even take them as conscripts of war."

"Even the Catholic church, which opposes a reduction of the birth rate--even the church will not take care of its own mental defectives, but puts them back on the State or nation."

The birth control advocate declared that greater than the financial debts which future generations would inherit from this age will be the terrific debt of the mental and physical defectives now permitted to reproduce their kind.

"Future generations may repudiate the monetary debts passed along but they cannot refuse to pay for the inferior quality of life which they inherit because of the uncontrolled reproduction of those not able to assume life's responsibilities," Mrs. Sanger said.

"Business men will look close when making investments in securities, particularly if they are to be given to their children, but at the same time will pay no attention to the biological problems and blunders that must be solved by the next generations out of their other investments for their children. I tell you the investments are very inconsistent."

Mrs. Sanger berated the fact that while billions were being spent on diseased, defective and delinquent members of the national family, not one thing has been done to halt social retrogression, with defectives allowed to reproduce their kind in unlimited number.

The Finger of Scorn

"I hold those religious and social organizations responsible on which we came to depend to look after these conditions." Mrs. Sanger said. "The finger of scorn must be pointed at them by those who have contributed to their coffers. And now the time has come to demand something be done to curb the increase of those who have transmissable diseases."

Mrs. Sanger said the medical profession, the schools, parents, teachers, and the courts should be held responsible to see that insanity, epilepsy and other human curses should not be promoted through reproduction. She would control births among: Those with transmissible diseases or the feeble-minded. Women who have temporary diseases such as heart disease or tuberculosis. Parents who already have produced children of subnormal type. Normal healthy mothers, who should have periods of spacing with at least three years between children. Among the adolescents so that persons would not become parents until after their 22nd or 23rd year. Parents who have more children than they are able to care for economically and morally. Among married couples, who, for the first two or there years of their married life should have no children, but should devote themselves to adjusting their personalities, one to the other.

"We've never given marriage a real chance." Mrs. Sanger said. "First, our married women have been unmarried girls, and next they have been mothers."

"Any Typical Couple"

"Take any typical couple. They go on a honeymoon for three weeks, then, when they return, the girl already is thinking of motherhood. That marriage hasn't been given its real chance. It is unfair to the girl and the man, both. He never has known her as a woman. And he never will know her as the woman she might have been.

"A period of two or three years of marriage without children would make a great difference in the future lives of the man and woman. Take the fear of pregnancy out of the equation, and there would be more marriages and more children."

Mrs. Sanger said birth control embraced continence, sterilization and contraceptives. She said continence was not considered ideal, according to the psychiatrists. Sterilization she said, was no legal in 24 States and was the best plan for halting reproduction among defectives. The third method, she said, has been satisfactorily practiced in New York, where a record of nearly 50,000 cases show that it is not injurious to women's health.

She said that while birth control advocates want all married women to have the information concerning birth control, they want the information given by those properly qualified to instruct--"this means the medical profession."

The outmoded Federal law, which prohibits transmission of birth control informations or materials from one State to another, works against mothers of the poorer classes because they usually ask for information of a physician at a public house or dispensary, she said. She said that doctors, who in their own offices give birth control information to private patients, will not give the same information when it is requested of them in a public institution.

Enacted in 1873

"Here's where the Federal law begins to work," she said. She said that law, section 211 of the U. S. Penal Code, was enacted in 1873 at the behest of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and that during the intervening years, through placing birth control in the category of the obscene it had "been responsible for the death of a million women and 15,000,000 children, many doomed before they were born."

It has required 60 years, Mrs. Sanger said, to bring the question to the point where it might be discussed openly by intelligent people without the cry of obscenity being raised.

"All this despite the fact that birth control has been practiced through the years by a group of citizens that has stood for the decent things of the community," Mrs. Sanger said.

"Today, in nearly all States it is legal for physicians to tell--for any reason they may see fit--how to control birth. The Federal law interferes here with State rights.

"In California, for instance, there are 28 birth control clinics. But physicians, fearing the Federal law, which provides punishment of $5000 fine or five years in prison, must have laymen bootleg their supplies from the East.

"You have a perfectly legal thing, yet the Federal law interferes with the physician's right to save lives."

Turns to War

Mrs. Sanger spoke of uncontrolled population and its part in war. Concerning the Biblical injunction to multiply, Mrs. Sanger pointed out that at the time it was given, there were five persons in the world.

"Population, its growth and distribution, are tied up with birth control," she said. "Ignore birth control and it affects international relations. Look at Japan, Italy, and Germany, if you do not think the international problem is tied up with population.

"Japan has a population of 64,000,000, with an area not as large as California, and two-thirds of that area untillable. She cannot produce food for that population. Yet over a million new babies are born there each year--not to mention the million babies that die each year.

"When population expands in a country such as Japan, something has to happen. The population grows and burst forth, either in revolution or expansion. Japan, like a chicken in an eggshell, broke through. Germany's birthrate today is higher than in 1914, when she started bursting out.

"In Providence, in Rhode Island and the nation, we have problems of population, but as we solve our own problems, we will be helping to solve our national and international problems.

Wants New Type of Beings

"We want to consider environment and quality of life--a new type of human beings, sound in body and sound in mind. We want young people to look on marriage as a preparation for parenthood, something by which they will prepare for parenthood."

Those in the birth control movement in Rhode Island, Mrs. Sanger said, were building beyond themselves, for a new type of civilization in the United States. Mrs. Sanger appeared here under the auspices of the Rhode Island Birth Control League. She was introduced by Dr. Eric Stone, president of the league. Mrs. Thomas Hepburn of Hartford appeared on the platform with Mrs. Sanger, and made a brief address.

She said, "nothing ever happens about anything until some one gets to work." She declared money was needed in the fight at Washington to amend the law of 1873.

Mrs. Sanger, in opening her address, said she was glad to be in Providence, "glad in fact to come anywhere from Washington."

Mrs. Sanger later invited questions from the floor. In response to one, she said that India today had the largest body of women interested in birth control of any country in the world. Another question was whether in the wide range of relief today, any recognition was taken of the population problem. Mrs. Sanger said that none was taken so far as she knew.

For Good or Bad

Asked whether she believed birth control promoted immorality, Mrs. Sanger said she did not. She conceded that birth control knowledge might be used for good or bad, the same as automobiles, firearms, alcohol. She pointed out, however, that when she first took up the study of birth-control in Holland, the authorities challenged her to find any native woman engaged in prostitution. None ever was found by her, she said. She answered another question by saying that birth control knowledge was most easily taught those who most needed it, once they were desirous of learning. Asked how pressure might be brought to bear on Washington, in behalf of amending the 62-year-old Federal law, Mrs. Sanger suggested individual letters to members of both Houses of Congress. In conclusion, Mrs. Sanger read a letter from a woman in Tokyo seeking knowledge of birth control.

Subject Terms:

Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project