Margaret Sanger, " [Fabian Hall Speech] ," 5 July 1915.
Autograph draft speech. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress , Library of Congress Microfilm 129:167 .
Sanger gave this address at the Fabian Society Hall in London. No final version found.
By the title of the subject to be discussed tonight, I would not have you think that I have originated a special propaganda of which I have a special monopoly nor would I have you think I have cornered the market as Americans say but I simply wish to show that there is a special side of our present day propaganda which should receive more of our attention as propagandists and there is always room in a field like the Socialist or Anarchist philosophy for some of us to lay special stress on & concentrate our work on special parts of the whole-- My work on the nursing field in U.S.A. gave me my first introduction to the physical ignorance of the working women [concerning?] the physical care of their own bodies, or its physiological function.
Tho I was rocked in the cradle of Socialism--for my father was one of the early pioneers of Socialist thought in USA yet with my nursing experience among women--I could see the [great] undermining & weakening of that class both physically & mentally [through] ignorance of the care of their own bodies & especially the physiological functioning of the sex ↑generative↓ organs.
In USA, you are all aware of our world famous Puritanism which has made any mention of sex a prison offense & always reminds me of that story of which you are no doubt familiar but which bears repeating here. The story of the queen of Spain travelling [one word illegible] through the rural districts to one of the provinces had need to pass through a manufacturing town made famous for its excellent production of hosiery & gloves.
The inhabitants of the town being simple & loving people desired to please the lady & show honor to her by presenting to her some of their best & choicest productions. The magistrate of the town assembled the people together to receive the queen & presented her with the gifts.
The Escort bowed low & graciously over the gloves & thanked the people for the gift, but declined to accept the stockings by saying "never forget that a queen of Spain has no legs."
This is quite on a par with our Puritanism in America & it is this barrier that must be broken down around the American working girl before you can proceed a step in reaching her--
As you already know there has been throughout the world within the last ten years a tremendous awakening in all civilized countries among women. Every where women have shown tendencies to overthrow some of the old regulations of society & throw off some of the fetters which have held them down so long--
This awakening has definitely shown itself in two forms--or groups, one the most universal the desire for political freedom & recognition or the votes for women groups.
The other & more advanced & more recent is perhaps more psychological in its effects but have likewise formed themselves into the Feminist groups.
I shall not go into detail about the votes for women--woman--for she concerns me little & fortunately the working girl has not been greatly enthused in this propaganda.
But sufficient is it to say that as far as I have been able to gather their vision of life goes as high as obtaining political positions for women now today & aspiring to the lofty attitude of police women, detectives, police [commissioners?] etc. The women of Chicago have been able to elect some of their sex as police and when the great cloak makers Strike was in progress--the working girls found to their great surprise that the policewoman club hurt just as much swung from the fair hands of her own sex, as it did from that of the policemans-- Again--in N.Y. we have C.B.D. the Police [Commissioner] --for years Police Matron in the Bedford Home for girls. If one could describe the hope which sprang into the hearts of the women of the underworld when they knew that at last a woman was to be over the Institution wherein they suffered so bitterly and what a keen disappointment awaited them-- She went at her work for public applause-- Prison was prison and was no joy house--& accordingly she went to her job to make prison sentence so hard & cruel that no one would return. She refused to allow the inmates to receive outside meals until they were weak & ill & unless there was someone outside to help them they were usually fit for a hospital-- This & a few such cruelties K.B.D. brought into the Prison--& today there is little hope for the hands of a woman--
In San California it is the same. A letter from a friend tells me at the last election that the women had gone mad on prohibition that they were going to tie the state up so dry, that a working man would have to pay five shillings for a [prescription?] to keep a pint of cider vinegar in the house.
So much for votes for women. Its not that I deplore votes for women for certainly if votes are good for men they are good for women too, but the vision of these women is too narrow & voting women as policeman matrons etc are the same tools in the system as the men are so long as this system [remains?] .
The other group of awakened women are the feminists--the basis of which is one of the first steps toward woman's emancipation & future development--the ownership & control over her own body--
This movement like all other big vital thoughts, has been cut up & narrowed down to such a degree that it is scarcely recognized as Feminism--for instance last year in N.Y.C. there was the Feminist Movement launched upon the unsuspecting Puritans--but it was Feminism in name only--& ignoring the basis of the whole movement, lest it should shock the morals of the people, it began to treat of superficial results of its development. For instance--these women--wanted the right to work; the right to ignore fashions: the right to keep her own name, & such poor longings of a bourgeois class suffering from loss of vitality. I issued a working woman's paper called the Woman Rebelwhich viewed feminism from the working woman's point of view & demanded not the right to work, but the right to be lazy, & guaranteed to find seven millions of women--laundresses, cloak makers, suit makers, cap--kimona makers scrub women, domestics, telephone girls, shop workers, etc etc who would gladly change places with these women who wanted the right to work.
The working girl had never troubled herself about ignoring fashions-- It was compulsory on her part.-- She had to--
The right to keep her own name was a most revolutionary demand for these women to make. Instead of Mrs Ma Frank Brown, she wanted the right to be Mrs Mary Brown-- Why she must loose her identity in Brown when her own name was Jones--was a step too far for them to explain--& why she should tag herself with "Mrs" or a wedding ring was too shocking for these blue stocking prudes to think of & when I suggested that the basis of feminism was a womans right to be an unmarried mother--a stony silence surrounded them & they drew aside their skirts less they be defiled by such thoughts.
So much for the feminists whose program had no place for the working womans development, or no thought of her emancipation but fundamentally has a basis for her to use of which I shall refer later on.
If the votes for women & Feminist movements as well as nearly all other movements I know of have ignored the working women there has been one kind & ever loving friend who has grasped the opportunity to assist her. This friend is the master class or the boss--who has subtly & silently instituted in most all the large shops & stores where many women work--a Welfare Society, which so far has been a wonderful tool in the hands of the boss to blind the workers of their slavery. Heres how it works--two thousand women pay into a welfare fund $10 weekly out of their wages--for this they receive medical attention when they are ill etc, this amount, makes $200 a week, or 50£. out of which they pay 5£. for one nurse & less than that to another nurse a week, who binds up hurt fingers etc at once, so they do not lose time & get back to work again quickly-- She also tells them that they need milk eggs etc, but does not tell the boss that to see that they get an increase in wages so as to get them oh no. One nurse attends to the hospital while the other one dresses up poorly like the girls themselves & goes among them--she dances with them plays the piano in the lunch room, gets them to confide in her, walks home with them, and as one of them said to me feels keeps her fingers on the pulse of the shop to see there will be no strikes. This is not all. This same Welfare League aims to educate these girls & authorizes & pays well good prices women to come twice a week to lecture to them-- The lectures consist of all kinds of subjects but the tone of all these lectures the key note of all is to inject into these girls a slave morality which is the most detrimental teaching of today & is not being combated sufficiently to offset the treachery of it.
Here is some of it--"obedience"--"courtesy" "punctuality" "loyalty"--"honesty" "duty" etc. Implicit obedience--ask no questions but obey when you are told, "courtesy" rise & bow to your master & show deference to his authority over you--"punctuality" to always be on time--not a minute after 8, but better a minute before so as to give the full days labor for the pay you receive. "loyalty"--stand up for the man who gives your daily bread--"honesty" to come & tell when you spoil your work, & not accept full pay for poor work, making these girls a tame, lifeless spiritless mass, without personality or life--and as Nietzsche says a gently-grunting domestic animal-- My propaganda to offset this was the working girl agrees only to sell her labor to the boss--not her morality-- Its none of his business if she's courteous, loyal, honest dutiful obedient. She's never to forget that there is a war constantly going on--between her class & the boss class--& its up to her to get the largest wage for the least amount of toil & to keep in mind a blow at his profits is a useful weapon to her class.
Just as the working woman must fight for this right to retain her own morality & psychology--so must she fight for the right to own & control her own body, for the ownership of her own body to do with it as she desires--& its no ones business what those desires may be.
This right naturally involves a high standard of idealism as well as a knowledge of the prevention of disease & conception. It is none of Societys business what a woman shall do with her body, unless she shall inflict upon Society the consequences of her acts, like venereal disease or offspring--then Society is concerned & it is its right to be concerned. This then involves knowledge on these subjects both are important, but I wish to dwell upon only one the knowledge of the means to prevent conception for the working woman (both sexes).
With this she should be concerned not only as an individual but also as a member of that class, who produce all the ↑wage↓ slaves of the world.
lst Because the wages of the average man are scarcely sufficient to keep more than one child as it is.
2nd That the cost of living is constantly increasing while wages are practically at a stand still.
3. No matter what increase a strike will bring--one baby added to the family will more than [reduce the?] increase even in its first year--which is the year it needs the least expenditure.
[4th] The uncertainty of employment & [the] far reaching effect of abortions [when] resorted to.
[5th] The terrible loss of infant mortality [among?] the working people today--Something like 85,000 death of infants under one year old in one state [alone] . A little army slaughtered by the carelessness of an indifferent Society.
6th [While] child labor exists she should not add a child slave to its perpetuation.
7th That it is 9 out of ten girls living the life of the underworld who come from parents who had large families & whose fathers belonged to the unskilled & unorganized laborers.
8th Societys attitude toward the workers offspring is entirely an alleviation of present day misery & ignorance. Rather than go to the root of the question [& can?] refuse to have more children while Society is in this chaotic condition & here is the means to prevent it. It allows ↑forces↓ them to remain in ignorance & institutes out of their sentimental minds better baby funds, Little Mother leagues, milk Stations for babies, child nurseries for the children while the mother slaves in factories. As these are almost all charitable affairs--it goes to it is usually the factory owners money which supports the child nurseries while the mother heaps up profits for him. These & hundreds of other reasons why the working woman should have this knowledge & use it. In England you have the Mothers Pensions & I should think it would be a slap in the face to a self respecting woman to have offered to her the small miserable sum to keep her child the few weeks after it is born. These are growing popular in USA too, & no doubt they will soon be an established thing there soon too, & I have no doubt but that the working class will rise & bow, with hat in hand with a 'thank you sir' attitude & accept another crumb from the table & be content still a little longer.
Out of this agitation in the Woman Rebel (which issue as it came out was successively confiscated by the P.O. & our moral guardian Anthony Comstock), came the organization of the Birth Control Leagues throughout the U.S. So far there are five reaching from coast to coast & promise an agitation among the workers on this subject which should have marked results in the next four or five years. The propaganda is not a one-sided neo malthusian doctrine--it is one rounded out with the workers economic moral & psychological attitude. It is full of vitality & intense with indignation anger & contempt. The object is to inject into the working woman a class independence which says to the masters produce your own slaves--keep your religion your ethics & your morality for yourselves-- Ill have none of it & we refuse to be longer enslaved by it for we are creating our own & are building up a new Society through the process of which we are creating our own morality & individuality.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project