Margaret Sanger, "Morality and Bigotry," Summer 1937.
Published Article. Source: Champion of Youth (Summer 1937), Vol. II, no. 11, p. 114 .
For an earlier, typewritten draft see Library of Congress Microfilm 128:652.
As I write, thousands upon thousands of young people throughout the country are urging the passage of the American Youth Act. This modern Crusade is asking that youth be given a chance, that it be granted at least the same opportunity for success as existed for the older generations.
With the closing of the Western frontier, with the overcrowding of industries and the professions, young people (it is pointed out) must be helped to gain a foothold if they are to find their place in the sun.
Youth asks for training, for education, for work. Beneath these demands is the wish to exercise the most fundamental of human rights. Youth wants some measure of security, it wants the right to marry, to establish homes, to rear children.
In one respect American youth is starting with a far greater chance for happiness than did its parents and grandparents. It is less hemmed in by ancient taboos, by fear and reticence, by false modesty and all the tragedy that comes from refusing to face facts.
Love in the finest meaning of the term is the foundation stone of successful marriage. It should not be thought of as synonymous with the sexual impulse, though that is a necessary part of love. There must be sexual attraction, but it must be firmly rooted in mutual understanding. Upon this are built respect, self control, sympathy, unity of purpose, many common tastes and desires, a building up and up, until love in its fullest expression has flowered to unite two individual personalities. Marriage thus developed becomes the strongest, purest, most valuable and unique relationship which we human beings are capable of building.
I believe that a couple entering marriage should start with the idea of taking at least two years to get acquainted, to foster a cultural, physical and spiritual understanding, a joint way of life. Nothing so certainly dooms marriage--the greatest of adventures--to failure as to undertake the trials and complications of parenthood too soon. It is unfair to the young bride, because she never knows herself as a wife, a joyful companion, but only as a mother. And the young husband cannot learn to know his wife as a comrade and helpmate if her whole physical and psychic being is too soon turned towards maternity.
And so, despite the increasing complexity of our present day world, despite its ever present threat of war, its economic upheavals, I believe youth has a greater chance for happiness than those who entered upon marriage in what may seem to have been a time of more ample opportunity.
Young people today can plan their lives. They can decide when and how often to undertake parenthood. Modern methods of birth control permit them to consciously plan their future. No longer need they start out on their honeymoon, outwardly rejoicing, but inwardly filled with fear of the unknown.
The young couple about to be married should go for advice to some sympathetic and fully informed physician. (Doctors young in years but with a mature outlook and themselves married are preferable for this advice.) They should understand the wonderful and beautiful facts about sex and their own bodies. The truth about sex, as about all other things in life, when frankly and clearly taught, cannot injure healthy, normal young minds. Concealment and suppression are what do harm. I have full confidence in the clean mindedness, the courage and promise of young people, and to them I say, as has been said of old: “Know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Let them remember the command: “Build thou beyond thyself, but first be sure that thou thyself art strong and wholesome in body and mind.”
Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken, president of Vassar College, said recently: “Of all hated things, youth hates most to be betrayed. Hamlet’s question to Ophelia is the question which youth is ever asking education: ‘Art thou honest?’ In this whole question of social hygiene, of which birth control is a part, youth wants to trust and to be trusted.”
That the president of one of our leading colleges for women can come out in public and thus fearlessly advocate giving birth control instruction to youth, is in itself a sign of progress. This wise and experienced educator closed his address by saying that he believed that, above all, American youth is democratic and demands equality of privilege. “When youth learns,” he said, “that those who are privileged have access to the facts, while the underprivileged have not, it is first angered and then cynical.”
All honor to American youth, say I, that it has so deep rooted a sense of justice.
It is doubtless hard for young people who read about birth control in magazines and newspapers, who hear it discussed from lecture platforms and pulpits, to realize the bigotry which blocked the movement in its early days. The first birth control clinic in America, which I opened in the crowded slums of Brooklyn twenty-one years ago, was closed by the police as a “public nuisance,” and I and my co-workers were arrested. As the patrol wagon carried us away to the police station, one young women, who had come too late to get advice, ran after us crying and sobbing: “Save me, save me, come back and save me.”
She wanted to be saved from the fear of unwanted pregnancies, from the torture and black despair of bringing into the world children which she could not feed or care for, from the hell of having her life ruled by blind chance.
How splendid if I could write that no such fear exists today that everyone wh wants birth control information can get it. But this is still far from the case. Birth control clinics are no longer closed as public nuisances. More and more are being established with the help of doctors and social workers and public spirited citizens, and with the blessings of the liberal clergy. Birth Control methods are safe, easy to use, and reasonably cheap and reliable. Women who happen to live near one of the 350 clinics now functioning throughout the country, and women who can afford to go to private physicians, can get information. A recent Court decision has removed the legal barriers which have retarded birth control work, and has established the right of American physicians in this field of medicine. But thousands upon thousands of people are still in ignorance, and the women who most need this advice are still vainly crying “save me, save me.”
But I do not despair, for youth will take a hand, and as Dr. MacCracken says, youth will not tolerate hypocrisy. What is the privilege of the comparative few, is the right of the many.
I believe young people should look forward to marriage and parenthood. To this end, I acclaim their struggle for education and economic security. I believe they should enter marriage with full knowledge of how to postpone parenthood for at least two years, so that they may work and play and learn to know each other, and strengthen the bonds which have brought them together. Then and then only should they undertake parenthood. I also believe that young people should be better prepared and trained for a full, useful life. Girls in particular, before going into shops and factories, should be given training in hospitals. They should learn about diet, hygiene, care of the body and the home. I should like to see every girl enrolled for such training before she is allowed to enter the world of business, or before she is given a license to marry. For homemaking in the fullest meaning of the term is an exacting career and needs the best preparation that can be secured.
With such a program, we would have more permanent marriages, happier homes, greater love and respect, and in the end, more children.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project