Margaret Sanger, "Opinions of American Women in Europe," [Apr-Sept 1915] , p. 145 .

Autograph draft article. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress , LCM 130:427 .


Opinions of American Women in Europe

It was four oclock on ↑of↓ an April morning on as the train from Paris pulled into Sebere in the south that station in the south of France where the French Police view with caution & mistrust all passengers going over the border into Spain. "Sebere" shouted the guard--"Passaportes--show all passports" shouted an official following closely behind him!

If any of you who read these words & hear that word "passport" have been ↑traveled↓ in Europe since this war began--you will ↑sympathize &↓ understand with me and the confusion & hysterical emotions that word "passport" caused ↑aroused↓ in me. I had been asleep since I had left Perpiginnon where I had had to go to get my passport vized by the Prefecture of Police before I could leave French soil. I had arrived at this same station Sebere at this same time the preceding morning at four oclock & not having the required documents I was made to descend & after a confused & excited discussion in a language neither French or Spanish--the train moved out of the station leaving me & my baggage a very desolate but wiser person.

After great difficulty of several interviews with various officials I made it out that my passport had to have another signature and Perpignon was the nearest station where this could be done. I therefore took my bags & baggage & wandered my weary & sleepy way back to Perpignon at 5 am just in time to see the beauty of the Pyrennese in early dawn & with the rising sun my first glimpse of the Mediterrenean with its wonderful magic waters of blue repaid me in pleasure for all the trouble I had been put to my the stupidity of the French police.

Nevertheless I had no intention to repeat the operation and I had telegraphed my friends in Spain "live or die sink or swim Ill be in Barcelona the next day".

I had finally after a days delay secured the necessary signatures & paid the exorbitant prices for same, had boarded the train with a light heart and my passports--three of them clutched tightly in my hand. There were four other people in the compartment, but I managed to squeeze out enough room to curl up myself up and go to sleep.

I awakened with a start to ↑on↓ hearing the word "Sebere passports" & found the police in the compartment already examining those of my fellow passengers. I looked in my bag where I had always carried the passport for mine but it was not there--the knowledge of this & the shock threw me into such a state of confusion. I began to turn everything upside down-- It was only a minute when my turn had come & the officer stood waiting for me to present the document which would allow me to leave enter Spain.

I spoke to him & said "I have a passport all signed but I can not find it go on to the others & when you return Ill have it."

He did so but as they have several officers at the work he was back in no time & demanded my passport so the order could be given for the train to move on.

I looked in my small hand bag--it was not there, I looked in my valise--not there--I looked in my hat box-- I knew it was not there--and the officer stood sarcastically smiling down on me & said "Have you a trunk madam perhaps its in there". This remark only confused me more & I began turning things out in ↑on↓ the seat, papers, books & pamphlets of all description & kinds were scattered over the compartment while my the passengers gazed on with great sympathy.

At last another officer appeared & consulted together then said "madam we can not wait any longer for you, you will please get off the train so we can get move on."

"No Ill not" I answered "Ill not get off this train. Move on your train & Ill have my passport before the train reaches Por Boa and if I do not find it by that time Ill of course get off but not now."

At this defiance of his plea he blew a whistle shrill & loud, at which five great big men came running to the car. He spoke to these in Catalan & the biggest of the five--stepped up in the car & threw open the door to make me understand I must get off.

I kept right on talking to them in English, which I knew they did not understand so finally they called one of the passengers in another car to translate their decision to me--that I must get off at once. The train was already late on my account & these people wanted to catch the Barcelona Express at Par Bou "So do I" I exclaimed. "Why don't they move on Ill find the passport in a few minutes but Ill not get off this train alive--and it won't be well for any one to put a hand on me to put me off." I stood up facing the big burly one with his long black cape thrown across his shoulders & I saw him make an attempt forward as if to touch me--when the translator who was a young Spanish student stepped in front of me & said to the officer.

"Theres no use in doing that. She'll do as she says, she's an American woman & she'll never come down. You had better ↑best↓ move on."

The officers all ↑silently↓ left the car & the train moved slowly out of Sebere & ↑while↓ I began to look for my passport, which I found immediately to the great joy of all the sympathetic passengers who shook hands with me saying "Its only ↑the↓ American woman who can act like that--they're always right." I was greatly amused at this, but found there was a general opinion among European men that American women are "fearless & have a mind of their own." In most of the Latin countries all English speaking women are spoken of as "English ladies" and if even when you stop to explain that you are not English but an American. The Latin shrugs his shoulder as much as to say--whats the difference?

In Holland while waiting in Amsterdam for the blockade to cease across the channel I spent several evenings with Dutch, English & German [illegible?] men playing billiards conversing on the usual topic, the war. One evening I was invited to play a ↑game↓ billiards & accepted the invitation as naturally as I would accept an invitation to enter a game of whist. After the game a conversation followed in which several views were expressed on women of all countries, & the ↑American↓ woman question in particular.

The Dutch man said that in Holland an American woman can do anything & be respected. She minds her own business & pays her bills-- If she is seen on the streets late at night alone everyone thinks ↑knows↓ she has business which keeps her out & her action is not misunderstood. It is not the same with a Dutch woman--no respectable Dutch woman is seen alone on the streets at night. No ↑Dutch↓ woman in Holland could play billiards in that room tonight without being molested or insulted later on--while the fact that an American woman does it makes it all right.

Then the Englishman spoke and said that that is just what the American woman has done for the women of Europe. She has pioneered a way on the continent quite alone. She has come over here in her summer vacation, travelling either one woman alone or two or three together, you find her in all kinds of out of the way & often questionable places but you need only look into her face to find your an answer to what she is doing there.

She has done a great deal for Europe in the last twenty years. In France especialy is this noticeable. While in England it is a most common sight to see the most respectable women smoke cigarettes in all fashionable restaurants & Hotels just like America-- "America"? I gasped ""Do you think women smoke in fashionable restaurants & hotels in America? Your quite mistaken gentlemen. It's only a few of the very bravest who dare defy conventions to such a degree-- Someone tries it occasionally & is requested by the waiter to stop-- 'ladies' are not supposed to smoke in America! So they have that freedom which they are credited with giving to others, to gain for themselves."

This seemed to be a "shocking" surprise to them all but the German, who considered it "not nice" for women to smoke, and said he found the American woman "too bossy"--"Why you can always tell an American couple in Europe--the woman leads the way, she does all the talking & ordering while the man trails on behind her & ↑silently↓ pays the bills."

"I must have seen him when he was on his good behaviour" I suggested. "For at home he is not so silent about paying the bills."

"Nevertheless" said the Dutchman "she is the best dressed woman in the world." "What" said I "What about the Parisian woman?"

"I except none" said the Dutchman decidedly.

"I have been over half the globe I have paid particular attention to foreigners, their news, their customs their education their tastes and I have long been convinced that today the Parisian woman has had to take a back seat with the American woman in regard to clothes & fashions."

"It is true the Americans may buy their gowns in Paris, but the American women wear them while the French woman designs & makes them for her to wear. Why look The French woman is neat & trim & jaunty but it takes a woman of wealth in France to be in fashion while in New York the same ultra fashion is copied & reproduced in cheaper qualities so that every shop girl in New York wears what only the wealthiest lady of fashion in Paris can afford."

The German was deep in thought all during this with his chin resting on his hand he became aroused by the striking of the clock & said-- "my brother who has long lived in America says the woman there is the head of the house, that she manages all, her word is law. Is this true"? He seemed greatly disturbed over this and I was about to answer but the Englishman answered instead.

"Of course she is" he said "because she's far superior, why the American men have ↑man has↓ nothing in common with the women there. They are coarse, blunt, rude, while the woman is finely sensitive, decided, exquisite & courteous. The man has nothing to give her but his money, he comes home at night & talks business, introduces into his home only friends who will help him in his business & when his wife talks of music, art or literature, he falls asleep & snores."

At this we all laughed & arose to part, but the Englishman had not finished.

"The American woman is quite a different species to the American man, thats why she brings her fortune into Europe for a husband. She finds her equal in the French, the Italian the Spanish but particularly in the English, for every Englishman is a gentleman while every American woman is a 'lady'."

Later that nightIt was past midnight that night as I sat looking down from my window down into the lighted streets below that I renewed in my thoughts the various opinions expressed by the three men of ↑on↓ American women. My thoughts travelled back again to Sebere--to the Spaniards opinion who said "She means what she says she's an American woman, she'll never come down." It was strange that in Spain where she has traveled less their opinion of her is the strongest. And I think I like it best of all.


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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