Margaret Sanger, "A "Birth Control" Lecture Tour," 9 Aug 1916.
Published article. Source: Malthusian, Sept. 1916, 83-84 .
Sanger's letter to Charles and Bessie Drysdale was published as an article, with a brief introduction by the editor of the Malthusian.
I have been promising myself each day since my return from the West that I would write to tell you of the wonderful trip I had, and also of the great enthusiasm shown everywhere in this country on the subject of Birth Control.
I left New York on April 16th and delivered a trial lecture in New Rochelle before starting. I spoke in Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Racine, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, St. Paul and Minneapolis. Then I turned back a little and went down to Indianapolis to speak at the National Convention of Charities. I will tell you of it later. The next stop was in St. Louis, then Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. After two weeks in that glorious State, I went up to Portland (Oregon), by boat; spoke also in Seattle and Spokane (Washington), and thus ended my first and maiden tour in U.S.A.
The first two meetings in Pittsburgh and Washington were mild in numbers and enthusiasm compared with all the other meetings I had. In Cleveland I spoke in the Unitarian Church in the afternoon, under the auspices of some social workers, while in the evening there was an overflow meeting arranged by a radical group. Both meetings were splendid. Since then a strong Birth Control League has been formed in Cleveland of over four hundred members, and I enclose the little paper they have just issued--the first wee voice of Birth Control in the U.S.A.
In Akron, near Cleveland, I was not permitted by the authorities to speak at all. In Chicago, a young Jewish girl who has been for the last two years spreading the information to the women of the stock-yards in her own language, got up three large public meetings for me there. There were also several private meetings. There is the promise of a debate there this fall between a prominent woman physician and myself, which promises a good piece of propaganda if it can be arranged.
In Racine, the organizer of my meeting was the wife of a working man and the mother of seven children; nevertheless she was socially ostracized for having anything to do with "that woman" as I was called.
In Milwaukee I had an amusing experience. The women who arranged the meeting for me were very "respectable," and were allied with other lines of social work which they did not want to compromise by coming out too strong for anything which might be "obscene." They whispered to me that it was a most conservative city, and they hoped I'd put the soft pedal on too radical ideas, etc. (Milwaukee is the one city in the States which has had a Socialist Mayor!) At any rate I had no choice, for before the meeting the city physician with four detectives came up to me and demanded to be given a synopsis of the lecture before I was allowed to proceed. I would have made a fight for free speech then and there, but the friends interested preferred to let it go that way.
In Detroit over nine hundred pledges to form a League were given, and a very enthusiastic meeting was held. Several women doctors there expressed a wish for clinics to be formed, and it is to be looked for soon. The nurses in St. Paul were greatly interested. I addressed one of the nurses' societies, and a clinic is on its way there also. Minneapolis, as well as St. Paul, have two strong Leagues carrying on educational work on Birth Control.
The Ramsey County Medical Society of St. Paul refused to allow me to speak before them, though several members of the Society had requested me to do so; but in Indianapolis the interest was tremendous--all social workers--and all had been feeling the terrible need for this work for years. Nevertheless, the Catholic element was strong in the meeting, and when one woman rose to ask me "What about the order from the Divine book?--'suffer the little children to come unto Me,'" the house went into a rage with her. They--the social workers, always on the fence in any really vital issue--actually hissed the woman down, and also every other opponent who dared to raise his head against birth control that day. It was thrilling. Then after the conference the women living in the city formed a League there, and a very representative group was interested.
St. Louis was the best of all. Another Russian girl, a social settlement worker, arranged the meeting for me and engaged a theatre. When we arrived, however, the doors of the theatre were closed, and the manager said he was compelled to do it, as the Catholics in St. Louis had threatened to boycott him if he allowed me to speak there. They had offered to pay any loss he might be put to if I sued him for breach of contract. They also issued the same orders to all other managers of theatres and halls, and for two days friends hunted all over that city for a place to speak in. Two private meetings had been arranged, however, one at the City Club, where the business men dine each week, the other at a Women's Dinner Club. Both were filled to their utmost capacity, and it was said that neither Taft nor Roosevelt had had such a big attendance. Forty Catholic members of the men's club resigned that day. I am going back this winter to fight it out with St. Louis.
At Denver I had the pleasure of having Judge Lindsey act as chairman of the meeting. The women there were splendid, and took a very active interest in establishing a clinic at once.
At Los Angeles a league had been formed at the time of my trial. It was doing fairly good work, but needed a bit of a push. Five hundred women signed their willingness to join the league at one meeting. We had two public meetings, both overcrowded, and two private meetings at women's clubs. They are getting "Family Limitation" translated into Japanese and Mexican.
In San Francisco I had a collapse, and was three days in bed under medical care, but recovered sufficiently to hold six meetings. Two prominent medical men are at the head of the league there, and it is hoped there will soon be a clinic formed.
In Portland a Birth Control League has been established since the publication of "Family Limitation," and has been doing very splendid work. They reprinted the pamphlet, and have given away thousands of them. They have also held educational meetings each month, at which Mr. Uthoff and his wife conducted. They asked very specially about you, and are deeply interested in the subject from the theoretical point of view, and, I think, would like to carry on that side of the work rather than the actual giving of information. When I arrived there one of the men in the labor movement asked me if he could sell the revised pamphlet at my meeting. I said I had no objection, providing it did not interfere with the rules of the league. To make a long story short, it was sold, and three of the men were arrested. They were allowed out on bail, and a postponement of the trial was permitted so that I could deliver my lectures in Seattle and Spokane and return to be called as a special witness for them. On my return, I found that the City Council (the Mayor a Puritan) had met in secret and passed an ordinance against that special pamphlet. This action on the part of five men enraged all the women in Portland, and they issued leaflets, saying: "Shall five men legislate in secret against ten thousand women?" Then one of the women doctors revised the pamphlet on "Family Limitation," and at the protest meeting on the night before the men's trial, I asked for women volunteers to sell the pamphlet. Ten women came forward, and four of us were arrested -- the doctor, myself, and two English women living there. We spent the night in jail, all of us refusing to accept bail, saying: "Let those who put us in take us out."
The next day the trial of the seven of us took place, and I want to say that it was simply magnificent. Two lawyers came and offered their services, and took the case without anyone's consent. They were both men of the old democratic type, trying to keep a few of the old principles of democracy alive. We had nothing to say about consulting a lawyer: they just went ahead and were splendid. It would be impossible for me to give you the details of that trial, but one of the significant things was that no one took an oath. We all refused to swear, and by the afternoon session the officers in charge did not even ask us to. Both pamphlets were on trial, the first and the second. I enclose them both. Both were considered "obscene." We were all found "guilty" and the men fined ten dollars, which the judge said they need not pay, and the women were not fined at all. The interest was intense, the room packed. On the day before we had fifteen men with ten transparencies walking up and down the streets with such sentences as "Poverty and large families go hand in hand," "Poor women are denied what the rich possess." I don't remember them all, but each was good and to the point. It took the judge a week to decide the case, and in the meantime letters were pouring into the press, and thousands of requests for the pamphlets came to all of us.
In Seattle also a league had been formed since a year ago, and had been doing educational as well as practical work. The two lectures there were good in every way. In Spokane the lecture was given in the Unitarian Church, which was crowded, and a league was formed the next day.
I distributed over twenty thousand pamphlets on my trip, and had over one thousand letters from St. Louis alone. Women came to me in the hotels with babies in their arms; men ready for work, carrying their lunch baskets, came early to get a little private advice before I left. The farm women way down in Texas and Arizona who never got out to a lecture or meeting of any kind were the ones whom I cared most to reach; their letters were most touching and tragic.
On my way back, the Cleveland League gave a banquet for me, and the interest in the work was very earnest.
On my arrival in New York I found to my dismay another meeting before me. A young man named Van Kleick Allison, of Boston Mass., had been arrested and just received a three year sentence in the House of Correction for giving a detective a leaflet on Birth Control. I wired him to have the case appealed. He did so. Then they had a protest meeting in one of the theatres there, and I went to offer up my wee voice in that. It was one of the greatest meetings I ever attended. They now have a good Defence League, and I trust they will make things hum there in Boston. The Judge who sentenced Allison was a Roman Catholic, as was also the District Attorney and all those who were on the prosecution!
So this is a brief summary of the trip and the meetings. I consider we have a big movement started from coast to coast, and I hope to open a free clinic here in New York City in September, and also get out a regular monthly paper dealing with Birth Control from all points of view. I trust you are all well. There is a great interest in you both here, and when I mentioned to several Leaguers that we might get you both here this winter, or early in the spring, there was great enthusiasm. I am certain splendid meetings could be arranged for you as soon as the Leagues get into shape. I am anxious for the people here to get your ideas of population straight from you. There are three arrests here in New York pending trial in the fall. So it looks as though we should have another winter of fighting the ignorance which keeps every great movement backward.
The pamphlet "Family Limitation" has been pirated by many, and is being sold from house to house, as well as from shop to shop in the small towns, in factory and mill. Heaven only knows what the Churches will do in another generation if this keeps up!
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project