Margaret Sanger, "Debate on Birth Control: Second Speech," 12 Dec 1920.

Published Speech. Source: Fine Arts Guild, New York, Sept. 19, 1921, pp. 27-31 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S76:923 .

This is the second of two speeches Sanger made in a debate with New York lawyer John Winter Russell, held at the Parkview Palace under the auspices of the Fine Arts Guild on the topic: "Resolved" That the Spreading of birth control knowledge is injurious to the welfare of humanity." For Sanger's initial speech, see "First Speech."

Debate on Birth Control: Second Speech

Margaret Sanger


Mrs. Sanger: There is no doubt that there are many ways of race suicide, but Mr. Russell has not proven to me yet that birth control is causing it. He has shown us--given the number of inhabitants in a block which, according to his ideas, are dying out. Those who have had no children--there is no reason to claim or to know just what is the cause of those people not having children. Many barren women today might be desirous of having children, and because sometimes of an infection given to her by her husband, she is unable to have children.

Furthermore, for every block that Mr. Russell can produce in New York City, where they are controlling their numbers and where they are not having the numbers sufficient, to his satisfaction I can show you an equal number who are overdoing themselves. (Applause.) I can give him one block in New York City where there are 10,000 people, and in that same bloc, there are 10,000 homes, and but one airshaft between them. They are living cuddled together practically like animals and he will ask these people still to produce numbers to a greater extent than they have.

When we talk about race suicide it seems to me that there are other things that one must consider. Birth control will improve the quality of the race, and unless we do improve the quality of the race, it is better that we do have race suicide. (Applause.) Certainly all of us who have lived within the past five years and have seen what has gone on in the world--we have seen the destruction of life--we have seen it so mercilessly taken--certainly there are other ways that race suicide is being put out upon the world other than birth control. War certainly has done something to wipe out the inhabitants of the earth. And if you go to Europe where I have been the last six months or so and see the condition of misery and unhappiness that is going on there, particularly in Central Europe, you would say that death would be a blessing to those people, instead of the hand of peace that has come to them. When I saw more than 15,000 little children in Germany that were born since the war, friends, brought into being in the most terrible conditions that any country could be in--those children were brought to birth because they, too, did not believe in birth control. They believe in numbers, in expansion, in more and more children, and today, those hundreds and hundreds of children have not backbone. They are almost unable to hold up their heads. They will be absolutely useless for another generation. Are these the kind of children we want to bring into the world? Don't we want quality instead of quantity?

It seems to me it is time we used our intelligence and stopped the ranting phrases that we have been hearing so many of today. (Applause.)

Again I say, Mr. Russell tells us that he was quite sick when he heard me tell about women who had tuberculosis and heart disease and other ailments, and should have been prevented from becoming pregnant. He said the man who did not have self-control was not worth much. I wonder if Mr. Russell knows--he is a lawyer, and I wonder if he knows what the laws of this State are as far as you men are concerned. The Bible states "wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands." It is one of the things put into our laws, and the woman who does not submit to her husband--he does not have to support her. I wonder if Mr. Russell knows that. I have myself had cases where women have come to me and said: "What shall I do. I have left this man. I can't have more children." And when she comes to court, the judge has said: "Are you willing to live with this man or not?" And she said: "I can't have more children. I don't want more children." And the judge has said: "You must adjust this matter for yourselves." The man did not have to support her unless she submitted her body to him. That is the condition today.

We talk about self-control. I think none of us who look on the world know there is self-control. No one delves in self-control. That is one of the finest human instincts there is. When you see hungry people going around with plenty of food in front of them, I think there is self-control in the world. (Applause.)

And don't forget this, that self-control--and I would like to ask anyone to contradict it that a man and woman may be ever so self-controlled and if they are not married and live in a marriage relationship-that it only means one embrace or one union to have a baby every year. The most self-controlled man and woman in the world can still have a family that man can't take care of. That is something to remember.

On the other hand, if we mean, and if Mr. Russell would only talk so that we can understand him--plainly--I have to tell you what he means as a matter of fact. If Mr. Russell means that this relationship between man and woman should only be for procreation, then that is another matter. I wish he would say so. If it means you are going to have two children, then only two times in your life you should have union-that's another question. But our marriage laws are not based on that law. And it would have to be a strict understanding before a woman married, before that union or companionship or relationship could take place. I have no objection whatsoever to any individual who wish to live that way.

But I am speaking for the millions of women who are crushed with over child-bearing, whose lives are broken and who have become drudges in the family today. I am speaking for the mothers and the individual here, and there does not concern me in the least. They may be an exception, but I know there are millions and millions of women who are married, who are just as self-controlled as anyone Mr. Russell can show us, who are living in terror of pregnancy and they have men who are just as good to them. Men are not all beasts. These people give you an idea that men are a lustful, beastly creature, looking to violate some woman's virtue. I wonder why a man does not stand up against that. They never do. It takes a woman to stand up for them. I know that most of the women that I have lived with-their husbands are men who are just as considerate and decent as anyone you can find. They are trapped in this ignorance. That is what is the matter.

Our whole sexual education has been at fault. We have been kept in blinders. We have been taught that this relationship is a vital, terrible thing--put it out of your hearts. However, a marriage certificate is placed into your hands and Presto! everything is supposed to be made beautiful. (Applause and laughter.)

Our married life and happiness depends upon education and it depends upon an attitude and an ideal attitude towards our relation, and we are not going to get it by blindness and by ignorances. We are going to get it by adjusting our own interests and our own intelligence to life as it is today, and I claim that any man living on the average workingman's wage today is not able to support some two or three children decently. There may be exceptions to that, but we have more than--I think it is something like 40,000 or 50,000 people in this country who are living and dependent upon public charity, and every time a man and women does not have the conscious responsibility toward the children that they are going to bring into being, and have them according to Nature, as Mr. Russell would say, without regard to their protection, to preparing for their coming-that just as sure as we do that-the man's wage to do is unable to keep up with his reproductive power. That has been the history of labor; it has been the history of labor all the way down, and the man and women who brings to birth children that they can't take care of, it means you are going to pass that burden and the responsibility upon some one else. We have today in China this terrible poverty that is going on there. Thirty millions of people in China are starving to death. The Chinese have always lived according to Mr. Russell's theory, and they are appealing now to low birth rate countries, to those who have as a nation used birth control; they are appealing to them now to save some other millions of others in China and we have to do it.

The responsibility always comes back upon those who have protected themselves, those who have lived within their own means, and according to their own intelligence.

I am not going to take up all the time I have been allotted because I am quite through. I want to say in the first place birth control joins the fight against the transmission of venereal disease to the next generation. Birth control is the pivot around which every movement must swing making for race betterment. Birth control does not act as a substitute for any social scheme or other ideal system. But it must be the base and serve them as a foundation.

Birth control will free the mother from the trap of pregnancy. It will save the child from that procession of coffins, as well as from the toil of mill and factory.

Birth control will make parenthood a voluntary function instead of an accident as it is today. When motherhood and childhood is free, we then can go hand in hand with man, to remake the world, for the glorification as well as the emancipation of the human race. (Applause.)

Mr. Gould: Mr. Russell will conclude the debate with a rebuttal period of fifteen minutes.

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