Margaret Sanger, "Tomorrow's Children," [May 1944] .
Typed Article. Source: Records of PPFA, Sophia Smith Collection , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:387 .
No published version has been found.
“An award of $500 will be given in 1944 to the scientist who has made the most significant contribution to research in human fertility--either in the control of conception or the correction of sterility.”
This announcement of the Mary Woodard Lasker Award made recently by Dr. J. H. J. Upham, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America brought a long forgotten picture to my mind. I was back in the year 1912 in a Brooklyn tenement where I had just watched a young woman die needlessly. She had three young children, whom she and her husband supported with difficulty. The advent of another child would mean deeper poverty, worse circumstances for the half starved youngsters she had already born. Twice she had taken the situation into her own hands. After the first self-induced abortion she had begged me for knowledge I was unable then to give her--how to space her babies, how to gain a little respite to restore her health, to save a little money, so that the next baby wouldn’t be a dreadful burden to all of them. The doctor’s advice had been that still given cruelly by too many backwoods doctors, “Have Jake sleep on the roof”. It was no joke to this poor woman. As I folded her hands cross her breast, still hearing her pleading voice in my ears, I made a solemn vow. I was resolved to seek out the root of the evil that had destroyed this woman, and so many others, to do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were vast as the sky.
That was the beginning of the “birth control movement”. The announcement by Dr. Upham of the award gave me a quick glimpse of how that movement has widened its scope, how far-reaching it has become. Primarily of course it is still concerned with helping others mothers to space their babies healthfully, to make this service part of public health in all states of the union. But beyond that the planned parenthood movement, whose very name indicates its broader range, means better complete maternity cure. It is a part of social welfare, an aid to the minister and the psychiatrist in marriage counseling; it is education for doctors young and old in contraceptive techniques. Also it offers aid to the childless couples who want children to obtain the assistance of medical experts. Some of the more than 800 child spacing services in the country, not only give sterility referral service, but advice concerning the adoption of children. This is planned parenthood in its fullest sense. No one knows better than I the long slow struggle to achieve this recognition in the worlds of medicine, of sociology, of psychiatry, of religion.
Less than thirty years ago, the first birth control clinic in America was opened by my sister, Miss Fannie Mindell and myself in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and immediately closed, with all three of us arrested for “Maintaining a public nuisance”. Today seven states have made child spacing part of their state health program with several other states considering this move.
Not until 1937 did the American Medical Association officially accept birth control as an integral part of medical practice and education. Since that time however, medical acceptance has increased so much that more than 100,000 physicians, nurses and medical schools have received copies of Dr. R. L. Dickinson’s “Techniques of Conception Control” at their own request, Although courses in medical schools were cut sharply since the war began, 45% of the Grade A medical schools were beginning to give students some instruction in methods of child spacing.
The Federation has also become an associate member of the National Health Council, taking its place with the organizations for the control of tuberculosis, cancer and heart disease in the field of preventive medicine.
One of the most significant advances planned parenthood has made in recognition by physicians is a report issued by the Council of Pharmacy and Chemistry, the first of its kind for the medical profession in the A.M.A. Journal, establishing standards for reliable and effective contraceptives. A study ↑of mechanical devices↓ by the Council on Physical Therapy has also been begun. This is a significant beginning of intelligent regulation for what Fortune once designated as “a 250,000,000 legitimate and semi-legitimate industry.
One of the most important functions of the Federation is now a widespread educational program. It is amazing how many people still speak of planned parenthood scornfully as “killing babies”, “keeping babies from being born”, as negative “prevention”. To bring the truth to people the Federation has available for distribution more than 100 pamphlets and reprints, directed toward physicians, social workers, toward minister, toward women in industry, toward the average mother. One of the most interesting of the pamphlets is called “Better Health for Thirteen Million” including the results of a two year experiment to demonstrate the need of child spacing for Negro mothers to help reduce pitifully high death rates of mothers and newborn babies, to help raise health and living standards of depressed members of this race.
There are psychiatric pamphlets written for lay use to demonstrate the emotional harm to an individual and through him to society of the status of being “unwanted.”
Requests for aid and literature from professional groups in 1943 alone came from 1,959 clergymen, from 3,216 social workers, from almost 50,000 doctors, and 19,295 nurses.
Results of a recent Fortune Poll have been publicized to show the ever increasing recognition of and desire for planned parenthood among American women. Of the women in child bearing ages questioned, 84% ↑84.9%↓ wanted child spacing made part of public health and of the Roman Catholic women questioned 69% declared themselves favoring planned parenthood.
Increasing stress is being laid on that very positive phase of planned parenthood, help for the one in ten childless couples who believe themselves to be sterile. The Margaret Sanger Bureau, oldest in the country, which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, has been giving sterility referral service since it opened, estimating that an average of two women a day have asked for this advice. The women are referred to doctors or clinics within their means and the bureau keeps a record of successes and failures. Almost all the happy women who ultimately bear babies telephone the Bureau and report the joyous event, for mutual congratulations.
Dr. Abraham Stone, Medical Director of the Bureau and author, with his late wife, Hannah Stone of the Perennial best-seller, “A Marriage Manual” had a recent request which he believes tops everything in unique requests from childless couples. A young woman whose husband is fighting in Italy wrote asking if it would be scientifically and medically possible for her to be artificially inseminated by her husband, so that she could bear a baby in his absence and be sure of having a child by him in the event he never returned to her. Unfortunately science and public opinion have not advanced sufficiently to help the young woman and her soldier husband.
There was another incident at the annual meeting of the Federation last January at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. During the impressive luncheon meeting one of the doctors was paged and called from the dining room. Reporters were eager to know if she was called for the birth of an infant. Later she said it was even more planned parenthood than that. A sterility patient believed the ovulation was occurring and wanted to be artificially inseminated immediately, feeling that she couldn’t even wait for the doctor to finish her luncheon.
It has been estimated that in spite of the difficulties, the expanse and frequent failures of this last resort in the case of a fertile wife and sterile but acquiescent husband, there are many more than 10,000 babies in this country, carefully guarded in secrecy who owe their much wanted existances to artificial insemination.
Dr. Stone who is receiving registrations for the contestants for the Lasker award said that among those who have applied are many outstanding scientists who have worked in the field of sterility as well as contraception. The idea of the award is to recognize with a prize any important scientific contribution to our understanding of the physiology or control of reproduction. He doesn’t expect an improved contraceptive, although that would be welcome indeed, but primarily an increase of our understanding of the processes involved in reproduction, which might aid us in controlling human fertility, either through prevention of conception or cure of sterility.
An example of the type of knowledge that might come to light through the contest, is the recent application of the temperature curve to determine the exact period of ovulation. Knowledge of the exact time of ovulation can be helpful both for those who wish to control conception and also for those who want to become pregnant. The contest should also help further research in a subject which has always lagged behind other major branches of preventive medicine in research. This has been due to pressures, to misunderstanding of motives, to the general hush hush attitude of anything pertaining to sex.
The date for the award has been extended to December 31st, 1944. Any scientist anywhere in the world will be eligible. In addition, a number of plaques will be granted to others who have done important work in this field, to signalize their achievements. A distinguished panel of medical men who will judge the works submitted, include, besides Dr. Stone, Dr. Richard N. Pierson, Dr. Robert L. Dickinson, Dr. Nicholson J. Eastman, and Dr. S. Bernard Portis.
Another contest closing June 15th, and sponsored by the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood emphasizes a very important function of planned parenthood, the need for it as part of our world post-war planning, the need to bring it to those fast-producing countries which are continually threatening to bursting their borders and being brought back in check by famine, disaster and war. The subject of this essay contest is “Planned Parenthood: its Contribution to Lasting Peace”.
It will avail us nothing in the end if we bring help to mothers and fathers in America, if we maintain a favorable balance between population and resources here, and allow other countries, particularly those in the far east to go on breeding indiscriminately. The men who dictate the peace terms will have to remember this, to compel Japan, Germany and Italy to control their birthrates, to prevent the three nations from throwing the world into war again in another twenty years with the cry of “lebensraum”.
The Japanese militarists as far back as 1921 were fighting dissemination of birth control information, fearful that a lowered birth rate would block their plans for war.
Help must be given to China, to India, to prevent the horror of famine and suffering. The need for such effort will be even greater once industrialization and subsequent improvement in sanitation reduce the high mortality and morbidity rates and in turn contribute to excessive population increases.
It is true that some contraceptive supplies are being sent even now to stricken lands for the relief of war-weary mothers there. And all indices point to the fact that among thoughtful leaders of the postwar era there will be increasing awareness of the need of making birth control available through national and international health programs directed toward safeguarding the health and lives of the children to be born into the next world generation.
The 1943 annual meeting of the Federation stressed this fact, with the dinner theme “Is Overpopulation a Threat to Permanent Peace”, the discussion including America’s leasing demographers, among them, Dr. Henry Pratt Fairchild, of New York University, Dr. Warren S. Thompson of the Scripps Foundation of Research in Population Problems, Dr. Frank Notestein of Princeton University.
Dr. Fairchild called attention to the graphic example of what havoc uncontrolled human reproduction can create. “The recent horror in India shows all too clearly what can happen in a country where an uncontrolled birth rate is out of proportion to the country’s resources. In ten years India has added 52,000,000 people to its population. The best developed and resourceful country in the world could not experience such an increase as that without facing extreme disaster whenever an emergency situation such as that created by the present war, arose.”
It was further pointed out that Soviet Russia enjoyed the highest white birth rate in the world, despite the fact that contraceptive information has never been denied to any of its people, and in fact that the people of Russia are encouraged to plan their families intelligently. Holland and Sweden and other forward-looking countries were demonstrating the advantages of freely given contraceptive advice when war descended on them.
The vision which began that day at dawn in a tenement, with the needless sacrifice of a young woman who had begged for the knowledge that was her right, won’t be fully realized until every mother in the world is given the right to plan her children intelligently and healthfully.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project