Margaret Sanger, " [Sterilization] ," [Feb 1951] .

Typed Speech. Source: Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0629 .

Sanger drafted this speech to be recorded and played for the Human Betterment Foundation meeting in February 1951 in Des Moines, IA.Handwritten corrections made by unknown author, have not been included. Those made by Sanger have been kept.For draft versions see Margaret Sanger Microfilm S72:0618, 0619, 0633, and C16:0431.


Dear Friends of the Human Betterment Federation of Des Moines:

It is with regret that I can not be present at your Annual Meeting to tell you how much I admire your efforts in your Educational Campaign to prevent parents or would-be parents from passing on to unborn generations the inheritable diseases they themselves are afflicted.

“Children should not be born to men or women who are insane, feebleminded or have other transmissable diseases. Such individuals, tragic as it may seem, should never become parents. Children born of such parents are likely to inherit the same or similar diseases and thus become a problem not only in schools as the parental guidance is lacking or nil, but create problems in each country. Such children form our army of delinquents and become social burdens, ending their lives in institutions, such as reform schools and Penitentiaries.

It is my firm belief that men and women of mental or physical maladjustment would not want to bring children into the world with their handicaps if they knew how to prevent it. There is no use expecting this group of people to practice contraception. The risk is too great. There should be permanent protection such as sterilization. This operation is so simple and uncomplicated the wonder is why we continue to allow feebleminded parents, morons, and insane persons to increase and multiply when the simple method of closing the fallopian tubes in the woman and the vas deferens or spermatic duct in the man to prevent the passage of the ova and the sperm cells may be used. When this operation is performed by a competent physician, the male tubes are closed by a slight operation in a few minutes. No hospitalization is necessary. The man usually returns to his work the same day. It does not call for the removal of any organ in either man or woman. Sex relations are in no way hampered. All the functions of the organs continue as usual except the exit of the ova or sperms. These are absorbed in the system without knowledge or consciousness of the person or patient.

There are 27 states in this U.S.A. whose legislators have been far sighted and fearless enough to provide the cost of sterilization at Government expense in such cases where there is a hereditary disease. Each case is reviewed by a Board of Experts, known as the State Eugenic Board. Patients welcome this helpful protection for themselves, not only feebleminded but men and women known as congenital criminals, apply for this protection before going out on Parole. Over 98% of the 1500 sterilization operations reported in 1949 were on file as both patient or inmate and members of the family had made the application for the operation.

It is a cruel and wasteful system in our National Economy to keep on generation after generation retaining in institutions insane, feebleminded, mental defectives. Often parents of these inmates were also institutionalized and generations following will follow the same path. All these Institutions are over-crowded and waiting lists of some who seriously need the care but are excluded for want of room. There are thousands of inmates in these institutions throughout the U.S.A. whose energies and abilities could be used outside the institutions were they rendered infertile by sterilization.

In the early days of my campaign for birth control education I listed sterilization as the one permanent, harmless and safe method which, once accepted and accomplished, the problem of ↑a contraceptive↓ method was solved.

As regarding new ideas, there was and still is much misunderstanding regarding sterilization. Men in particular are apt to shun the idea thinking it may render him less potent sexually. That idea is erroneous and false and should be corrected. Sterilization is not to be confused with castration, an operation in which sex glands are removed and the individual is definitely left impotent or sexless. But Sterilization does in no way interfere with sexual potency and in all cases recorded a fully satisfactory married life continues. It should be the responsibility of our Public Health officials to inform themselves regarding inmates of our institution and it should be their public duty to see that inmates applying for parole should be ↑voluntarily↓ sterilized before they leave the Institution. A proper sympathetic lecture to these inmates regarding the benefits of sterilization would bring their consent and acquiescence to the operation ↑as has been shown in reports in California. ↓ Mrs. Sanger ↑I want to↓ congratulate the Federation on its splendid educational campaigns awakening the public as to the danger to our civilization to allow the perpetuation of hereditary diseases to the innocent unborn children. The regular methods of contraception are used easily by parents whose intelligence and responsibility are adequate to its application but sterilization is a better method in cases where the persons mentality is not adequate for the usually technique necessary in regular birth control methods. It also should be used when inheritable defects of heart or damage to heart, lungs, or kidneys make motherhood dangerous. There is also an inheritable blindness and other diseases when parents-to-be should be informed of the dangers which may be passed on to innocent children. Sterilization would ↑should↓ be advised and recommended by the medical advisors. Society has the right to expect our Public Health officials to protect it from transmissable diseases just as it protects us today from contagious diseases like diphtheria, measles, small pox, etc.

We should work to extend this campaign to the entire country. Federal funds should be made available for such operations when needed. It would be the best ↑National↓ investment. It would be a better use of tax payers’ money to pension the sterilized couple rather than paying a dole to increase the size of the family as it is being done in various countries. “Our babies are dying, give us more babies,” is the illogical cry of the dark ages.

Again I want to say I regret not being with you today, but let’s say better luck next time.


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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project


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