Margaret Sanger, "The Real Meaning of Birth Control," 30 Mar 1937.

Typed Draft Speech. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Smith College , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, S71:915 .

Sanger gave this radio address in Reading, PA, as part of the Woman's Club half-hour radio program. Sanger's speech was opened with the following announcement: Margaret Sanger, who is recognized as the leader of the birth control movement both in America and abroad, will speak today on “The Real Meaning of Birth control.” It is fitting that her address should be part of the regular Woman’s Club program since women are so deeply concerned with the cause she advocates, and as individuals and organized groups have given her such effective support. Mrs. Margaret Sanger ....

Birth control means happier, more stable homes. It means better babies and healthier, happier mothers. No one can object to these aims, for it is by our common love for children and home that we ↑women↓ are all knit together. Birth control means no more -- and no less -- than the application of science and reason to the most important of all human undertakings -- the ↑bearing &↓ rearing of the next generation.

It seems to me that if people would keep in mind this simple idea, there would not and could not be any opposition to birth control. Medical science has taken this matter out of the realm of blind chance. We can assist nature, and control births as we control other great forces in life. The sum total of all control over the blind forces of nature is what we call civilization.

Birth control means giving mothers a chance to plan their families and space their children. It means giving them knowledge with which to make a success of the greatest career a woman can have...motherhood.

Mother love, in the very best sense of the word, is what prompts women ↑the world over↓ to plead for birth control information. During the ↑20↓ years of my activity in the birth control cause I have received thousands upon thousands of ↑over a million personal↓ letters from mothers. They ask for information for a wide variety of reasons...but the one common reason, that run like a golden thread through all the letters, is mother love!

ThisHere is a letter from a young wife who is lookingtowards [two words illegible] ↑forward to being a mother↓ : “I was married when I was eighteen,” She writes. I am not yet twenty and my husband doesn’t feel that we are financially able to care for a child properly yet. I am sure that [one word illegible] my children ↑when I have them↓ and I will be the better for it, if I can wait until I am twenty, at least, before I have a baby. But meantime what shall I do?

“I want the truth. I want to find out from someone who knows. I am so afraid, I might spoil my chances for motherhood later and I want children. Please help ↑me↓ .

Is ↑Do you think↓ this young wife entitled to the very best information that medical science can give her? I think you will feel with me that she is.

Here is a letter from a child wife who wants to give her ↑living↓ children a chance. Mother love impells her to write. As I read her letter ↑to you↓ bear in mind that this is an American woman who pleads ↑to me↓ for help, not a mother in some far distant land. “I married at 15,” she writes, “and my first baby came before I was 17! Now at 25 I have seven children. We are poor and aren’t able to buy clothes or even food at times. We started farming for ourselves last year, and I feel that if I could only keep from having any more babies, we could in a few years, give the ↑these dear↓ children a decent break.”

Should this young mother have a chance (to help herself) or should she be left in ignorance?

And one last letter which I am going to read tells a story that is all too typical. “My husband works on the WPA,” writes a mother 27 ↑years old.↓ “I have five children, the oldest is seven. I would surely be glad if you could help me.” ↑27 years 20 years more of child bearing↓

↑This↓ family on relief, five children and a mother and father dependent on the government for their subsistence. Shall we withold from them knowledge which is needed if they are ever to regain a foot hold in life? ↑Is it fair? I think you will agree with me that it is not.↓

President Roosevelt in one of his recent fireside talks said that one-third of the people of America are ill housed, ill clothed and ill nourished. I venture to state that one ↑two↓ thirds of America’s mothers are living in fear and darkness, that their love for their children born and unborn urges them constantly to ↑worry & to↓ seek, to learn how to plan their families ↑for knowledge to control the size of the family↓ .

Our national Children’s Bureau has studied maternal and infant mortality and has tried to discover how to reduce these tragic deaths. It has found out that children should not be born too close together, if they are to survive; that mothers should not be too old or too young; that there is a direct relation between adequate funds, ↑father’s wages,↓ economic security, and the chances of survival for mothers and infants.

If we are to take advantage of these findings, that is, if we are to allow mothers to see ↑to it↓ that their children do not come too close, we must give them information as to how to plan their pregnancies.. in other words, we must give them birth control information. Birth control for child spacing, birth control when the mother is too young, (or too old), birth control when no one ↑the father’s wages↓ will not provide proper care ↑for the children.↓ This seems to me to admit of no argument ↑in a country that calls itself [civilized?] .↓

I am sure that as I read the letters from mothers, each of you said: “Why, of course, SHE ought to be told what to do.” Multiply these letters by thousands and millions and you will get some picture of the women who should have birth control instruction ↑in this country of ours.↓

I hasten to add the phrase.. If they want it! Fort this information is not being forced upon anyone. It is only for those ↑mothers and fathers↓ who want it and need it.

I am happy to learn that here in Berks County you have a wide spread organization for giving birth control instruction to mothers. I am told that there are eleven centers in the county, all connected with the central office here in Reading. In all these centers doctors are able and willing to give mothers advice. Nurses and supplies are furnished by the central office at 408 Franklin Street, Reading. Social and Welfare agencies, ministers, and all who are in touch with mothers who need this advice are urged to find out about birth control service near their homes from the Berks County Office in Reading ↑Newer methods, safer, more reliable than “over the counter” methods are now employed. Your physician can give.↓

This is a fine set up and I am proud to be speaking in a community and a county which has so clearly seen the need for this service. I look forward to the time when every county in the entire United States will have such service.

Up to the present time we were working against terrible odds. The so-called Comstock law, passed by Congress at the behest of Anthony Comstock more than sixty years ago stood inthe way. This law classed the prevention of conception with obscenity, and made it a crime to send birth control information or supplied through the mail or by express. It also forbid the importation of such material and information. This law was a tragic stumbling block. It hindered physicians, it retarded research and scientific study, it confused and besmearched and tangled a matter which should rightfully have been ↑be↓ a part of medical practice.

Early in my fight to make birth control accessible to all mothers who need it, I saw that for real progress this law must be changed. With this in mind, I organized the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control and enlisted the aid of individuals and groups. We sought an amendment to the Comstock law, which would exempt physicians from its restrictions. Bills were introduced, hearings were held, the press gave its support. Organized women’s clubs were among our staunch supporters. Public opinion was aroused and made itself felt. ↑Organizations totaling over 22 million members endorsed our efforts to get the laws changed.↓

We fought a test case on the importation of birth control materials sent to a physician for research purposes. A wise and courageous court decision has brought this legal struggle to a victorious close. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals, for the second circuit ↑on Nov. 30, 1936↓ handed down a decision which is a Bill of Rights for the medical profession in the field of birth control on November 30th, 1936. This will be hailed as a red letter day when the final history of our movement is written. The judges interpreted the Comstock law in the light of modern science and modern thought, and said:

“We are satisfied that its design was not to prevent the importation, sale or carriage by mail of things which might intelligently be employed by conscientious and competent physicians for the purpose of saving life or promoting the well being of their patients.”

Birth control is now legal. The United States government decided not to carry the case to the Supreme Court, and thus, the decision I have just read in part, becomes, in effect, the law of the land. I urge you who are listening to me to read about this case and to get the full meaning of the judges decision.

It opens the way to a new and wider program for birth control. It means that mothers such as those who wrote to me pleading for help can ↑now↓ get it as their right and their due.

For birth control is a part of public health work and should be included in public health programs. It is a necessary part of all work with mothers and infants and children, and all agencies which deal with these problems should and soon will, I prophecy, include it as a regular part of their work. ↑Two ways you can help send mothers to the center for this help, and you can furnish the cost which these poor mothers cannot pay.↓

I am happy to be in Pennsylvania where so fine a start has been made, and I look to this state, and this county to point the way toward the larger fields into which we can now enter.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project