Margaret Sanger, "The Birth Control Movement in 1923," Apr 1924.
Published Article . Source: The Thinker, Apr. 1924, pp. 49-51. , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:219 .
This is the last in a six part series. For preceeding articles, see " Highlights in the History of Birth Control ," October 1923; " A Better Race Through Birth Control ," November 1923; " Woman and Birth Control ," December 1923; " Birth Control in China and Japan ," February 1924. One article has not been found.
In the case of every great movement for the betterment of the human race there are four steps to the goal. These are: Agitation, Education, Organization, Legislation. The Birth Control movement began in this country only a few years ago with agitation. The attention of the people had to be arrested and so the law was challenged, through the publication of my little paper “The Woman Rebel,” and through the opening of a Birth Control Clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Since those days it has passed through much of the second and third stages. Tremendous efforts have been made to educate the people to the idea of Birth Control. Education has been carried on by means of Birth Control Conferences, held in various cities of the United States, and also in London, where the Fifth International Conference in July, 1922, was attended by a large American delegation. Organization has been going on hand in hand with the work of Education. The American Birth Control League was formed in October, 1921, and since then branches have come into being in almost all the cities where conferences and large Birth Control meetings have been held. We now face the work of securing legislation. Bills were introduced in the early part of 1923 in the legislatures of New York and Connecticut, and important and impressive hearings were held by the committees in charge of these bills. No success attended these bills, but the first step has been taken and this step will be followed up by vigorous work in succeeding sessions.
But the work of the advocates of Birth Control has been by no means easy. With every step forward there are renewed efforts on the part of our arch-enemies to hinder the progress of enlightenment. The seat of most of the opposition is to be found in the Roman Catholic Church. This enemy is ceaselessly active and openly determined to exterminate the Birth Control movement in America. In 1921 it illegally broke up a meeting planned to be held in the New York Town Hall--a meeting that was peaceably held afterwards in the Park Theater. It opposed the holding of meetings in Cincinnati, in Albany, in Milwaukee, in Hagerstown, Md., and in numerous other cities. In some places, as in Albany, the municipal authorities lent themselves to the design of the Catholic Church; in others, as in Cincinnati, the mayor and managers of the hotel or hall where the meeting was to be held, stood firm. They upheld the law and the Constitution. They refused to be intimidated by a blustering mob directed by the wily leaders in Church politics.
In the press the opposition also is vigorous and unceasing. Through the reports of sermons and speeches, through interviews and letters to the Editor, the opponents of Birth Control are continually endeavoring to reach the public ear and to poison the mind of the people against Birth Control. But opposition has had no effect in stopping the progress of the movement, and the idea of Birth Control is gradually penetrating and permeating the consciousness of the nation.
What the Birth Control movement stands for cannot be better summarized and explained than by quoting the manifesto of the American Birth Control League, as adopted at the time of its formation in October, 1921. The League then subscribed to the following Principles:
The complex principles now confronting America as the result of the practice of reckless procreation are fast threatening to grow beyond human control.
Everywhere we see poverty and large families going hand in hand. Those least fit to carry on the race are increasing most rapidly. People who cannot support their own offspring are encouraged by Church and State to produce large families. Many of the children thus begotten are diseased or feeble-minded; many become criminals. The burden of supporting these unwanted types has to be borne by the healthy elements of the nation. Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilization are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born.
In addition to this great evil we witness too appalling waste of women’s health and women’s lives by too frequent pregnancies. These unwanted pregnancies often provoke the crime of abortion, or alternatively multiply the number of child workers and lower the standard of living.
To create a race of well-born children it is essential that the function of motherhood should be elevated to a position of dignity, and this is impossible as long as conception remains a matter of chance.
We hold that children should be
1. Conceived in love;
2. Born of the mother’s conscious desire;
3. And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health. Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.
Every mother must realize her basic position in human society. She must be conscious of her responsibility to the race in bringing children into the world.
Instead of being a blind and haphazard consequence of uncontrolled instinct, motherhood must be made the responsible and self-directed means of human expression and regeneration.
These purposes, which are of fundamental importance to the whole of our nation and to the future of mankind, can only be attained if women first receive practical scientific education in the means of Birth Control. That, therefore, is the first object to which the efforts of this League will be directed.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project