Margaret Sanger, "Tell Girls Things They Should Know: Mrs. Sanger," 09 June 1916.
Published article . Source: San Francisco Call & Post, June 9,1916. .
First article in a two part series. The second article was "Prolific Child-Breeding Scored by Mrs. Sanger," June 10, 1916
The great industrial changes which have taken place within the last half century have brought with them a great and urgent need for sex education.
In former days the women and girls were kept within the close confines of the home. Innocence was their charm, and ignorance was a virtue. There was no need that the girl should know anything of her body, of the marriage state, or of motherhood, until she was given over by her parents into the hands of her husband for instruction and care.
Today, however, this is no longer sufficient. The girl of today begins her life at 14 years to leave the home and the cloistered care of her parents to enter into the world's work. Never before has she worked so closely at the side of her brother, and never before has she had greater need for knowledge of her self, her physiology, her emotions and desires--in fact, a need to know herself throughout. Education is her only and principal weapon for her defense against downfall.
Thousands of young girls are being caught in the meshes of modern life because of their ignorance of themselves. Ignorance of a girl's body is one of the strongest forces that sends her into unclean living: and all the curfew bells, the legislation and the suppression in the world will only strengthen this force instead of lessening it.
From the fourteenth to the twenty-third year every girl passes through a budding period called the adolescent period. She finds herself suddenly changed from a little girl with her hair down her back, whose interests have been dolls and toys, into a different being, with new sensations, new dreams, new awakenings--all of which she does not understand.
We hear our moralists and well-intentioned people criticise severely the young girl because she likes pretty ribbons, perfumes, gay colors and pretty clothes, and scold her incessantly for having such desires. But if we once realized that all of these desires are just as much a part of her developing nature at this particular period, and as legitimate for her development as playing with dolls was part of her nature a few years before, we would accept these whims as a passing phase of her life and help her to understand their insignificance.
It is a well known fact that there are nearly 9,000,000 women in the United States today who are unable to marry. The cause of this is mainly that there are 9,000,000 men who do not receive a wage sufficient to support a family. This means that the majority of these 9,000,000 women are living lives of sexual purity, while perhaps not more than 10 per cent of the vast majority of the male population are denying themselves sexually, for it is a known fact that the double standard of sex exists and is actively in force with the male population of this country. It also means that a great part of these women are denying themselves the beauty of conscious voluntary motherhood, while a possible husband is driven to the professional prostitute.
One of the principal reasons that this condition exists is the lack of knowledge to control the size of one's family. If two young people had this knowledge they could live and work together until the time came to support a family. The birds in their mating prepare a nest for their little ones, and why should not young couples do the same?
Our puritanical ideas and prejudices have made us blind to the needs of sex instruction and have left us unable to face squarely the responsibilities toward our young people and toward the mothers of the race. In our public schools we are taught physiology, it is true. But the human body has been taught to us only in the terms of a neuter gender, and the vital and important department of the body--the sex department--has been left untouched.
We have been proud of erecting schools for the education of our children; we have erected lofty and magnificent churches for their religious instruction; but for their moral instruction, upon which depends their happiness and their welfare, we have erected nothing but the streets and the gutter.
The time has come for universal change in this respect. Today we have grown to realize that we are a social being, with social instincts and desires. We have found it necessary, in order to protect ourselves against polluted streams and poisonous milk, drugs, etc., that we can not protect ourselves alone without also giving the same protection to our neighbor. And so it is with sex instruction. It is not sufficient that our individual boy or girl shall be instructed; it is also necessary to see that the associates and companions at school are likewise instructed, if our work is to have permanent results. The question is, where shall he or she go for this instruction. The library shelves are closed to this subject. The mother, who should be the proper person for such instruction, is as ignorant as the girl herself and unprepared to advise her, with the result that only companions, ignorant and misinformed, give wrong information, which does more harm than if it were let alone.
Modern society's attitude toward the unmarried mother is a disgrace to civilization. We take upon ourselves the responsibility of keeping her in ignorance concerning motherhood, and then condemn her when, through ignorance, motherhood is thrust upon her. The great majority of young girls living in prostitution today tell us that their first step in this path was because they became unmarried mothers.
In the face of these facts the unthinking people will tell us that knowledge to control birth will cause young girls to become immoral. I emphatically deny such assertion, for not 1 per cent of all of these women living lives of degradation have ever had knowledge to control birth. Rather do I believe that knowledge would have saved them from this unfortunate following. Statistics today tell us that over 50 per cent of these girls have been found to be mentally defective, and though they have arrived at the age of 19 or 20 years with a matured physical development, we find them with the mind and the intelligence of a child of 9 or 10 years. Again we find that the great majority of the girls living in this life are members of large families, and have been early thrown upon the street as their playground, with ignorant companions as their moral instructors.
Our institutions for these feeble-minded, as well as the insane, are full and overcrowded. Ten thousand feeble-minded girls taken from the streets of New York City are clamoring at the doors of the charities to be taken in and protected from this degrading occupation. The reply comes that there is no room for them. Our modern institutions, homes for girls, insane asylums, feeble-minded homes, incurable hospitals, juvenile courts and foundling asylums are all monuments to reckless and careless breeding.
The question is, "What shall we do about it?"
The facts are that the development of the race has been unconscious. We have had no responsibility for its right course.
Now, in the twentieth century, in the fullness of time, let us be children no longer. Let us fashion the human race with an intelligent consciousness and stand squarely to meet our responsibilities.
Birth control leagues are being established throughout the United States for the purpose of educating the people on this subject. Reliable and prominent physicians will lecture, and have lectured, free of charge to those who desire to be informed here in San Francisco.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project