Margaret Sanger , " [Address on Return from Europe] ," 15 Mar 1928.
Published Speech. Source: Support for Birth Control, Birth Control Review Apr. 1928, p. 107-8; Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series or C16:288; , Engineer's Auditorium Speech Opening notes, Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S71:122. .
On returning from an extended trip in Europe, Sanger spoke at a mass meeting organized by the American Birth Control League at New York's Engineer's Auditorium. The League joined with the Junior League, New York League of Women Voters, Woman's City Club, Society for Political Study, the Hopewell Society of Brooklyn, and the Grand Street Settlement to protest the failure of the New York Birth Control Bill to be reported out of Committee. The other speakers at the meeting included Eleanor Dwight Jones, Dr. Ira S. Wile, and Rev. Karl Reiland. No complete version of Sanger's speech exists; the text below was compiled from three sources: an excerpt from a summary of the event published in the Birth Control Review, partial typed speech notes, and handwritten draft notes for opening.
Mrs. Sanger, the last speaker, whose appearance after her long absence was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience which filled every seat in the large hall, took occasion to thank the Board of Directors of the American Birth Control League, and especially the acting president, Mrs. F. Robertson Jones, for their faithful work and practical accomplishments both in finances and increase of membership during her absence. In her address she summarized the progress of Birth Control in England and Germany and sketched the international situation in its bearings on America and the other countries now throwing up barriers against immigration. She asked "if certain classes are undesireable as immigrants from the outside why is not the same logic used by the United States to prevent them from being added to the population on the inside?"
"This morning's press" she continued, "gave an estimate that the population of this country is now 120 millions. In the glory of increasing population, we must recognize that numbers are not the only thing to consider. Individuals are not mere statistical units who are born, marry and die, and, while these functions cannot be entirely ignored, there is a value depending on the quality of the material with which they are endowed through inheritance. This is of infinitely greater importance to society and to the progress of the race than mere numbers.
Science is now bordering on the infinite and the most powerful brain seems feeble in the face of tasks which are glimpsed. If one is to judge by the present predicament of the world, we may assume that there is no individual nor group whose intelligence is equal to the tasks that the international situation demands. It seems almost as if the knowledge required exceeds our capacity for understanding.
It is to the science of population that we must now look for future guidance. It must point the way for population regulation which in this country, in particular, could soon deliver society from more than half of its terrific burdens. It could soon help us to eliminate the possibility of increasing dysgenic stocks, such as those with inherited or transmissible diseases. It could soon lessen the burden of philanthropic demands which are fast growing beyond the cultural needs of this generation. Sane legislation would indirectly direct reproduction towards adaptation to future conditions by raising the mean level of brain power. The importance of numbers belongs to the past rather than to the future.
The needs of manual labor in the future will be greatly reduced by the progress of chemistry, physics and the possession of unlimited sources of heat and force at a minimum of expenditure. On the other hand, we shall need brains highly resistant to work and capable of a degree of education surpassing that of the most intelligent skilled artisan today. Vaster memories must be forged, sharper insight must be gained and with the discovery of the laws of inheritance men can choose whether we shall evolve to the expression of the highest within us, or revert to the stage of the barbarian. It is for man to decide.
With all the knowledge that we today posses, it is obvious that it is a crime for generations to come, it is a crime against our civilization to encourage the reproduction of mediocre, diseased or inferior types of groups. Such offspring can only be a burden to the future and retard the progress of the present generation.
It has become clear that the population of the earth is fast arriving at its possible maximum; that its density is badly distributed; that redistribution of space can only be rectified by displacements; and that Birth Control in overpopulated countries is the first and surest method whereby the balance may be peacefully restored.
To receive so warm a welcome on one's return, makes me glad to go away, so as to want the pleasure of coming back.
The ABCL. during the past two years has faced a test ↑of↓ which any organization can be proud--to exist, to function, to carry on in the prolonged absence of its Pres. The League, I am happy to say, has met this Emergency bravely, cheerfully, and to its credit & my delight has averted the usual annual financial crisis
I find the various departments strengthened through effort. New ties have been formed; New friendships gained; [bring?] anda new vitality & sturdiness which ensures a ↑almost↓ certain victorious future.
For this we are indebted to the loyalty & devotion of our Board of Directors and also to the hard work &capables direction & management of our Presiding officer Miss R.J --
To Europe to get [rust?] out of brain
Ailments of Europe laid at the door of USA
Women have the vote but--not equality --
Like to see emblazened in letters of gold over the doors of every legislature in this country-- She notes words of J.S. Mill. The triumph of Science, once the forces of nature, can never become the means of improving and Elevating Mankind until--in addition to just institutions, the increase of Population shall be judiciously controlled"
Englands acheivement--home of BC last ten years
Besant & B. trial 1878 theories advanced small groups idealists to educate--not the masses--educated--
Successful--differential birth rate--upper classes--aritisans but birth rate down to 16 per 1000 death rate [correspondingly] Mal League closed its doors in victory 50 years agitation. quality--now the watchword
22 B.C. Clinics--private companies
Infant--maternity welfare centers govt support over 1000
Here reach B.C. population health & Economic needs
Lord Buckmaster resolution House of Lords--
Commons turned it down--try again. Australia, Canada, first govt in world to endorse BC--
France looks to the past instead of future. 2 million 50 yrs. Germany 28, Italy 16,--birth rate higher than England. survivial lower--ignored hygeine & prophylaxis--driving up births [enormously?] -- less attention to deaths. Poland --70,000 in one year 1926--Russians--Greeks --
Germany--no laws--Drs problems--devil & deep sea
Marriage advice Bureaus, 98% govt support-- [panic?] extinction
Dr. Rieses solution Ins. Co. kissed her hands -- tears
Dr Grotjans claim--I've had my three, now to [buy them up?]
It has long been hoped by some of us that a sound international population program might be advanced. We have seen that manuala broader bird’s eye view of the problem was necessary if it was to fit international and modern conditions. It was quite natural that the militarist should look upon the subject only with a view of armies; the demographer with the number of births, deaths, marriages in a given city, country over a given period.
The anthropologist is concerned with the division into races within a population, especially in respect to their adaptability and the effect of social selection and colonization, while the economist, biologist and statistician--each expert in his own line--was bound to propose measures according to the limits of his inquiries; consequently, formidable errors were bound to arise when it came to practical issues.
It was with this in mind that I went to Europe for the objects of bringing together scientists from various countries of different departments to correlate their views, experiments and programs, and to establish, if possible, a permanent organization for further studies and research along population lies.
This Population Union has now been launched and it is hoped that there will be a recognition through their studies of the fact that there can be no solution to the population problem without the recognition of the human factors which make this problem. I refer to the parents who produce populations--and especially the mothers who bear and rear the children.
The intelligent thinkers in Europe, many with whom I had conversed, believe that the empty spaces on the globe are becoming rare; that populations are so increasing in every country that governments are at a loss to know how to deal with the problems arising therefrom; that Europe is today faced with a problem of having more men than bread, and this problem has become acute, because of the attitude of the United States, Australia and Canada in their recent immigration legislation.
It is now recognized that each country needs its own available food supply. Each country is guarding its own labor market, fearing unrest, unemployment and revolution. Soon every nation will reserve its potential resources for its own people, and already most of the European countries have overdrawn on their margin of self-sufficiency. Germany, Italy, Poland and all the central European countries should be encouraged to limit their population to their natural resources, but they are all dreaming of colonization, for colonization over seas was the solution of overpopulated Europe since the conquest of the Atlantic.
There is no doubt that this has made civilization almost worldwide, and yet, there are doubts that this solution was of permanent value, for we now see that economic greed caused nations to overlook fundamental principles, and the future potentialities of nations have been sacrificed for immediate gain.
Colonial expansion is still the dream of those militarists who clamor for big battalions of babies, and we see from the past that colonization has aroused a hatred of peaceful nations against the white race, and everywhere in Asia is the growing determination to free themselves from their political domination.
Immigration legislation in the United States has caused much bitterness in Europe, for there is current a feeling that various nations have expended through generations much of their most valuable human material in order to furnish America with ready-made workmen--skilled in the arts and crafts--thereby impoverishing herself of valuable stocks, with the obvious results of creating a rival, today more powerful than all of Europe combined.
America, on the other hand, considers that she has been overstocked with undesirable elements; that her dream of the melting-pot of assimilating the various races, colors, grades of mentalities through education by an American type of intelligence, has not succeeded. She now regrets her mistake, and has established a rigid system of immigration barriers for her own national and racial protection; and one can assume that from the Immigration Act of 1924, the United States Government recognizes that there is a population problem in this country; that the resources of the land are limited; that unrestricted population increase through unrestricted immigration is bound to invite disaster to the social and racial life of the country. Consequently, a bar is raised to the free entrance of aliens into the United States, and even, when by the quota such aliens are given permission to enter the country, there are still social considerations to be grappled with.
The government claims the right to exclude immigrants whose condition is likely to be a source of danger to the well-being and happiness of the country. Thus there are excluded all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons, persons of psychopathic inferiority, persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form, or with any loathsome, dangerous or contagious disease, paupers, professional beggars, vagabonds, persons likely to become a public charge, polygamists, anarchists, criminals, prostitutes, or persons coming to U.S. for purposes of prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose. There are also provisions for the exclusion of illiterates, or of persons 16 years of age, physically capable of reading, but who cannot read English or some other language. All are refused admission into U.S.A. The procedure for the enforcement of these restrictive and selective measures is mandatory. Detailed regulations are laid down for the examination of these immigrants before entry, and for their deportation in case of exclusion.
The government goes even further than this, for even after entrance the government reserves the right to pursue the policy of selection in such cases of criminals or those who have become a public charge--even five years after entry--are liable to deportation at any time.
In no other immigration country is the restrictive policy carried out so far as in U.S.A. This rigid policy of the U.S. Government is the result of its short-sightedness in the past, for while this government never openly encouraged immigration, she took up a neutral attitude toward the question until 1914. She was much like the parents who--not really knowing what shall happen if their family continues to grow--nevertheless do nothing to prevent it. She now has had to adopt a negative, selective quota where she might have in the past adopted a positive, selective quota, and this country would today have been in a position to deal intelligently with some of the intricate problems that she is today unable to face.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project