Margaret Sanger, "Clinics the Solution," Jul 1920.
Published article. Source: Birth Control Review, July 1920, pp. 6-8 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith Collehe Collections, S70:843 .
This article was introduced by a short recap of Sanger's trip to England by the editor.
Clinics -- Clinics in which women can be given direct and individual instruction in contraceptive methods, are the solution of the problem of getting the Birth Control message to those who most need it. Theories and philosophies are quite all right for the educators. Printed matter will carry the message to those who have been educated. But the woman who has been denied such advantages, and whose toil so thoroughly saps her energies that she cannot absorb what is written in the simplest fashion, needs personal instruction. She must be told by word of mouth and shown by demonstration what to do and how to do it. Otherwise much of our labor, so far as direct results go, is in vain. The answer is clinics.
I had these facts deeply impressed upon me once more, when on May 28th here in London, I delivered one of a series of lectures before a branch of the Woman's Co-operative Guild. This organization is much interested in Birth Control. Its membership is by far the most intelligent and wide-awake of any body of women workers here. Despite the fact that the Malthusian League has distributed many thousands of leaflets carefully setting forth practical information regarding contraceptives, and Marie Carmichael Stopes has distributed other thousands of similar pamphlets from her own pen, these women were not satisfied. They demanded the information from the platform and it was given.
If pamphlets could have met their needs fully, those needs would have been met by the leaflets of the Malthusians and these by Dr. Stopes, herself an advocate of clinics. But, weary from their day's work, these women found even pamphlets unsatisfactory. They wanted to be told by word of mouth. More, they need direct instruction at the hands of persons competent to give such instruction. They need clinics.
Clear-sighted individuals in England are quick to see the necessity of Birth Control clinics when the subject is presented to them. When I spoke at the university town of Cambridge, Mr. Noel Porter, a friend of the movement, opened his home for the meeting when it was discovered that there was no hall vacant for the date. This gave him an opportunity to invite specially many persons of influence and importance, including many who had never heard of Birth Control as a solution for social problems. The meeting was highly enthusiastic and successful. When it was suggested that a clinic be opened at once in one of the midland towns where women are killing themselves and their unborn children with poisonous drugs, in order to prevent the birth of unwanted babies, the audience responded eagerly. Contributions amounting to ℒ60, or $300, were made on the spot, as the nucleus of a fund to establish the first Birth Control clinic in England.
Several factors have operated to prevent the principle of England and especially the working people, who need family limitations most, from getting the full benefit of the efforts of the Malthusian League, and had it not been for the powerful deterring influence of some of these factors, there would not only be plenty of Birth Control clinics in England today, but there would certainly also be a far different state of society. Some of these factors are worth considering for the light they will shed upon problems encountered by the movement elsewhere.
The Malthusian League which was founded in 1879, has definite aims and principles which, if they had been applied, would have long since brought about a better order of society. Its program, however, is in opposition to that of the Labor Movement, and as a consequence, the working people, to whom the League's message is addressed, and who need it most, have been reluctant to accept the Malthusian principles.
The attempt of Marx to refute the theory of Malthus has also interfered with the beneficial effects of the work of the League. There seems to have been a bitter quarrel among the economists, especially in Germany and England, growing out of the attitude of Marx toward the Malthusian principle. Judging the matter now, it seems safe to say that but for the apparent refutation by Marx, the doctrine of family limitation applied to social problems would have ere this produced a new order of society.
Happily, a change is apparent now.
Many of the old Marxians who, ten years ago, believed absolutely that Marx had refuted Malthus and that "supply" was not so important if sufficient attention were given to "distribution," have changed their views. They are cautiously but courageously admitting part, at least, of the Malthusian principles.
The state has not stood in the way of the advance of the Birth Control movement in England as it has in America, but the church has exercised a powerful opposing influence.
There have been no vicious laws in England to brand the communication of information regarding contraceptives as a crime. On the other hand, the influence of the church, which still has its tentacles deeply imbedded in the psychology of the English working people, has been so strong that it is only within the past few years that such information has been given openly.
There is a certain religious attitude of mind among the workers which those in power well understand and make use of. They have taken advantage of it to sway the English worker as they could not have swayed a body of people of like intelligence in any other country in the world. An example of what is happening is afforded by George Lansbury, editor of the London Herald, one of the most powerful of all labor papers. He lectures and debates upon such subjects as "The Church and the Social Crisis," hoping to influence the church to take part in the Labor Movement. Naturally when those of influence in the Labor Movement are anxious for the support of the church, they are not going to antagonize churchmen who oppose Birth Control by pushing that idea forward. This is particularly true since the Labor Movement has not apparently awakened to Birth Control while the church, as a whole, has opposed it.
The suffragists have not yet given the cause of Birth Control the support that they might have given. These women who have created world-wide fame for themselves and their cause are mostly mothers of small families or have no children at all. They have not as yet made it their task to share with their sisters who toil, the information by which they have limited their own families. The men workers, like the suffragists, have fought their own battles, but they have overlooked the basic problems of their wives. Thus, in England as in America, the women workers and wives of workers have been forced to bear children as fast as the children could arrive. Church, state, the Labor Movement and their own more fortunate sisters have alike left them to the doom of enforced and excessive maternity.
It is true that they have been afforded hundreds of palliative measures to help them bear this burden cheerfully. Society must not hear their groans. Most of the working women are figuratively enfolded in these agencies and the guardians in charge have developed the instinct of warding off anything not pleasing to the delicate ears of the upper classes. The result is a "moral protection" that has robbed the working woman of the knowledge that would have given her freedom from poverty and unwilling motherhood.
In spite of all this, the natural intelligence of the English women workers is making itself felt. The economic pressure, is helping to make workmen's wives think. As they begin to think, they begin to ask insistently what they can do to prevent bringing to birth children who are not wanted and who die in infancy.
These women are the hope of England. They want to help themselves. They want to be free to love the children they have. They want to take some part in life other than as slaves. And it is among such women that I have been working.
The English people need a stirring up of interest in fundamentals,--particularly in Brith Control. The church, however, stands porter at the door of light and it is hard to open that door and let the light through without conflict. Moreover, the retrograde report of the Birth Rate Commission and the fact that the war has been over but a short while are made excuses for the plea that this is not the best time to put forward the issue of Birth Control.
The press wails that "only the poor are having children, while the middle classes are remaining stationary in numbers." Recommendations of emigration and other reactionary remedies for overcrowding among the poor have aroused no enthusiasm among the workers, but the subject of Birth Control remains taboo among the workers themselves. The Malthusian League has had as its subject, mainly, the education of the legislative and professional classes, and of the thinkers. Considering these facts, in addition to the opposition of the church, and the indifference and opposition of Socialist and Labor leaders, it is remarkable that the Malthusian movement has attained its present stage.
Every day, however, brings fresh proof to the advocates of Birth Control that they are right. Every day brings evidence that the clearest thinkers are coming to agree with them.
The suffragists are still tinkering with politics or the League of Nations, but could these women, the most courageous and fearless of the earth, be aroused for Birth Control, they would make short work of the obstacles in the path of woman's freedom. They are cautious and slow going, but they, too, are thinking this way, and when once the political habit of thought has been cast off and a fundamental human interest is taken up, there is no doubt that Birth Control is the idea that they will set themselves to put into the social fabric.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project