Praised as a pioneer, Margaret Sanger– who funded the first birth control clinic in the United States, from which the Planned Parenthood Federation emerged– is frequently championed as a hero to women everywhere. Why? Her mentors cannot be separated from her contribution to a world-wide movement any more than her worldview. Her calculated strategies were shaped by her beliefs and attitude toward Humankind, which were influenced by like-minded proponents of population control through selective breeding to produce a genetically superior race. Beyond the implications for both personal healthcare and voting decisions, the legacy of the Women’s Liberation movement has staggering ramifications for scientific and medical research, as I explained in a series of posts on the elitist Flexner Report of 1910. Please find below the mission behind promoting birth control in Sanger’s own words.
Excerpts from Woman and the New Race by Margaret Sanger (1920):
From “Preface” by Havelock Ellis: It is the deliberate restraint and measurement of human production that the fundamental problems of the family, the nation, the whole brotherhood of mankind find their solution… It is not the few who rule the world. It is the masses—the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses—who rule the world. It is they who choose the few supreme persons who manage or mismanage the world’s affairs. Even the most stupid of us must be able to see how it is done now, for during recent years the whole process has been displayed before us on the very largest scale. The lesson has not been altogether in vain. It is furnishing a new stimulus to those who are working for the increase of knowledge, and of practical action based on knowledge, among the masses, the masses who alone possess the power the change the force of the world for good or for evil, and by growth in wisdom to raise the human race on to a higher level… to the millions who rule the world it is not familiar, and still less to the handful of superior persons whom the masses elect to supreme positions.
The creators of over-population are the women, who, while wringing their hands over each fresh horror, submit anew to their task of producing the multitudes who will bring about the next tragedy of civilization.
While unknowingly laying the foundations of tyrannies and providing the human tinder for racial conflagrations, woman was also unknowingly creating slums, filling asylums with insane, and institutions with other defectives. She was replenishing the ranks of the prostitutes, furnishing grist for the criminal courts and inmates for prisons. Had she planned deliberately to achieve this tragic total of human waste and misery, she could hardly have done it more effectively.
Woman’s passivity under the burden of her disastrous task was almost altogether that of ignorant resignation. She knew virtually nothing about her reproductive nature and less about the consequences of her excessive childbearing… Even as birth control is the means by which woman attains basic freedom, so it is the means by which she must and will uproot the veil she has wrought through her submission. As she has unconsciously and ignorantly brought about social disaster, so much and will she consciously and intelligently undo that disaster and create a new and better order… By her failure to withhold the multitudes of children who have made inevitable the most flagrant of our social evils, she incurred a debt to society. Regardless of her own wrongs, regardless of her lack of opportunity and regardless of all other considerations, she must pay that debt.
Society, in dealing with the feminine spirit, has its choice of clearly defined alternatives. It can continue to resort to violence in an effort to enslave the elemental urge of womanhood, making of woman a mere instrument of reproduction and punishing her when she revolts. Or, it can permit her to choose whether she shall become a mother and how many children she will have. It can go on trying to crush that which is uncrushable, or it can recognize woman’s claim to freedom, and cease to impose diverting and destructive barriers. If we choose the latter course, we must not only remove all restrictions upon the use of scientific contraceptives, but we must legalize and encourage their use.
This problem comes home with peculiar force to the people of America. Do we want the millions of abortions performed annually to be multiplied? Do we want the precious, tender qualities of womanhood, so much needed for our racial development, to perish in these sordid abnormal experiences? Or do we wish to permit woman to find her way to fundamental freedom through safe, unobjectionable, scientific means? We have our choice. Upon our answer to these questions depends in tremendous degree the character and the capabilities of the future American race.
Each of us has an ideal of what the American of the future should be. We have been told times without number that out of the mixture of stocks, the intermingling of ideas and aspirations, there is to come a race greater than any which has contributed to the population of the United States. What is the basis for this hope that is so generally indulged in? If the hope is founded upon realities, how may it be realized? To understand the difficulties and the obstacles to be overcome before the dream of a greater race in America can be attained, is to understand something of the task before the women who shall give birth to that race.
…What is the effect of the “melting pot” upon the foreigner, once he beings to “melt”? Are we now producing a freer, juster, more intelligent, more idealistic, creative people out of the varied ingredients here?
If we are to develop in America a new race with a racial soul, we must keep the birth rate within the scope of our ability to understand as well as to educate. We must not encourage reproduction beyond our capacity to assimilate our numbers so as to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy. The intelligence of a people is of slow evolutional development—it lags far behind the reproductive ability. It is far too slow to cope with conditions created by an increasing population, unless that increase is carefully regulated.
We must, therefore, no permit an increase in population that we are not prepared to care for to the best advantage—that we are not prepared to do justice to, educationally and economically. We must popularize birth control thinking… We know that in each of these submerged and semisubmerged elements of the population there are rich factors of racial culture. Motherhood is the channel through which these cultures flow. Motherhood, when free to choose the father, free to choose the time and the number of children who shall result from the union, automatically works in wonderous ways. It refuses to bring forth weaklings; refuses to bring forth slaves; refuses to bear children who must live under the conditions described. It withholds the unfit, brings forth the fit; brings few children into homes where there is not sufficient to provide for them. Instinctively it avoids all those things which multiply racial handicaps. Under such circumstances we can hope that the “melting pot” will refine. We shall see that it will save the precious metals of racial culture, fused into an amalgam of physical perfection, mental strength and spiritual progress. Such an American race, containing all the best of racial elements, could give to the world a vision and a leadership beyond our present imagination.
The immorality of large families lies not only in their injury to the members of those families but in their injury to society… Yet the poverty and neglect which drives a girl into prostitution usually has its source in a family too large to be properly cared for by the mother, if the girl is not actually subnormal because her mother bore too many children, and, therefore, the more likely to become a prostitute. Labor is oppressed because it is too plentiful; wages go up and conditions improve when labor is scare. Large families make plentiful labor and they also provide the workers for the child-labor factories as well as the armies of unemployed. That population, swelled by overbreeding, is a basic cause of war…
“Every physician,” writes Dr. Wm. J. Robinson in Birth Control or The Limitation of Offspring, knows that too frequent childbirth, nursing and the sleepless nights that are required in bringing up a child exhaust the vitality of thousands of mothers, make them prematurely old, or turn them into chronic invalids.”
The effect of the large family upon the father is only less disastrous than it is upon the mother… If he finds that the children come one after another at short intervals—so fast indeed that no matter how hard we works, nor how many hours, he cannot keep pace with their needs—the lover whom all the world loves will have been converted into a disheartened, threadbare incompetent, whom all the world pities or despises…
Many, perhaps, will think it idles to go farther in demonstrating the immorality of large families, but since there is still an abundance of proof at hand, it may be offered for the sake of those who find difficulty in adjusting old-fashioned ideas to the facts. The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it…
The probability of a child handicapped by a weak constitution, an overcrowded home, inadequate food and care, and possibly a deficient mental equipment, winding up in a prison or an almshouse, is too evident for comment. Every jail, hospital for the insane, reformatory and institution for the feebleminded cries out against the evils of too prolific breeding among wage-workers.
We shall see when we come to consider the relation of voluntary motherhood to the rights of labor and to the prevention of war that the large family of the worker makes possible his oppression, and that it is also the chief cause of such human holocausts as the one just closed after the four and half bloodiest years in history… The immorality of bringing large families into the world is recognized by those who are combatting the child-labor evil… The home becomes a mere rendezvous for the nightly gather of bodies numb with weariness and minds drunk with sleep. And if they survive the factory, they marry to perpetuate and multiply their ignorance, weakness and diseases.
…In every woman’s ovaries are embedded millions of ovules or eggs. They are in every female at birth, and as the girl develops into womanhood, these ovules develop also. At a certain age, varying slightly with the individual, the ripest ovule leaves the nest or ovary and comes down one of the tubes connecting with the womb and passes out of the body. When this takes place, it is said that the girl is at the age of puberty. When it reaches the womb the ovule is ready for the process of conception—that is, fertilization by the male sperm.
At the time the ovule is ripening, the womb is preparing to receive it. This preparation consists of a reinforced blood supply brought to its lining. If fertilization takes place, the fertilized ovule or ovum will cling to the lining of the womb and there gather its nourishment. If fertilization does not take place, the ovum passes out of the body and the uterus throw off its surplus blood supply. This is called the menstrual period. It occurs about once a month or every twenty-eight days.
In the male organs there are glands called testes. The secrete a fluid called the semen. In the semen is the life-giving principle called the sperm.
When intercourse takes place, if no preventive is employed, the semen is deposited in the woman’s vagina. The ovule is not in the vagina, but is in the womb, farther up, or perhaps in the tube on its way to the womb. As steel is attracted to the magnet, the sperm of the male starts on its way to seek the ovum. Several of these sperm cells start, but only one enters the ovum and is absorbed into it. This process is called fertilization, conception or impregnation…
“He who would combat abortion,” says Dr. Hirsch, “and at the same time combat contraceptive measures may be likened to the person who would fight contagious diseases and forbid disinfection. For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion…” …There is the case in a nutshell. Family limitation will always be practices as it is now being practiced—either by birth control or by abortion. We know that. The one means health and happiness—a stronger, better race. The other means disease, suffering, death.
The woman who goes to the abortionist’s table is not a criminal but a martyr—a martyr to the bitter, unthinkable conditions brought about by the blindness of society at large. These conditions give her the choice between the surgeon’s instruments and the sacrificing of what is highest and holiest in her—her aspiration to freedom, her desire to protect the children already hers…
Excerpts from Margaret Sanger; an Autobiography by Margaret Sanger (1938):
Often when my brothers and sisters and I meet we remind each other of funny or exciting adventures we used to have, but I never desire to live that early part of my life again. Childhood is supposed to be a happy time. Mine was difficult, though I did not then think of it as a disadvantage nor do I now…
Corning was not on the whole a pleasant town. Along the river flats live the factory workers, chiefly Irish; on the heights above the rolling clouds of smoke that belched from the chimneys lived the owners and executives. The tiny hard of the former were a-sprawl with children; in the gardens on the hills only two or three played. This contrast made a track in my mind. Large families were associated with poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty, fighting, jails; the small ones with cleanliness, leisure, freedom, light, space, sunshine… To me the distinction between happiness and unhappiness in childhood was one of small families and of large families rather than of wealth and poverty.
In our home, too, we felt the economic pressure directly ascribable to size. I was always apprehensive that we might some day be like the families on the flats, because we always had another baby coming, another baby coming. A new litter of puppies was interesting but not out of the ordinary; so, likewise, the cry of a new infant never seemed unexpected. Neither excited any more curiosity than breakfast or dinner. No one ever tole me how they were born. I just knew.
I was little more than eight when I first helped wash the fourteen-and-a-half pound baby after one of mother’s deliveries. She had had a “terrible hard time,” but her father had pulled her through, and, in a few week, tired and coughing, she was going about her work, believing as usual that her latest was the prize of perfect babies. Mother’s eleven children were all ten-pounders or more, and both she and father had a eugenic pride of race. I used to hear her say that not one of hers had a mark or blemish, although she had the utmost compassion for those who might have cleft palates, crossed eyes for be “born sick.”
…Mother’s grief over her lost child increased father’s. Because in part he blamed himself, he was desperate to assuage her sorrow. The day after the burial he was constantly occupied in his studio, and when evening fell he took me affectionately by the hand asking me to stay up and help him on a piece of work he was about to do. I agreed willingly…
Just beyond the gateway father hid the lighted lantern in the nearby bushes over a grave and told me to wait there unless I heard somebody coming. He expected me to be grown up at the age of ten. Nerves meant sickness; if any child cried out in the night it was merely considered “delicate.” …Father had taken it as a matter of course that I should understand and had not explained what he was about to do. But I never questioned his actions. I did not know there was a law against a man’s digging up his own dead child but, even had I known, I would have believed that the law was wrong. …For two evenings I worked with father, helping him break the death mask, mold and shape the cast… On the third day, just after supper, father said to us all, “Will you come into the studio?” With tender eyes on mother he uncovered and presented to her the bust of the dead little boy.
She was extraordinarily comforted… Not one of us dared to utter a word of criticism about mother’s adored and adoring husband; nevertheless her soul was harassed at times by his philosophy of live and let live, by his principles against locked doors and private property. She was merely selfless…
The Rutgers method for establishing new clinics had resulted in a sound system for dealing with the birth rate. The men and women who acted as his councilors understood that a rising birth rate, no matter where in the country, would soon be followed by a high infant mortality rate. Accordingly, they reported this quickly to the society, which sent a midwife or practical nurse, trained in the technique standardized by Dr. Rutgers, into the congested sector to set up a demonstration clinic…
Her duty was to go into the home where a child had died, inquire into the cause, and give friendly advice regarding the mother’s own health. She also encouraged her not to have another baby until the condition of ignorance, poverty, or disease, whichever it might be, had either been bettered or eliminated. Whenever four had been born into such a family this advice was made more emphatic.
As soon as Dr. Rutgers had explained his policy to me I had that most important answer to the puzzling and bothersome problem of the increasing population in the Netherlands brought about by birth control. It was proper spacing. The numbers in a family or the numbers in a nation might be increased just as long as the arrival of children was not too rapid to permit those already born to be assured of livelihood and to become assimilated into the community.
Dr. Rutgers suggested I come to his clinic the next day and learn his technique. He was at the moment training two midwives preparatory to starting a new center… I used to bombard the little man with questions concerning each case. I took issue with him over his autocratic system of dictating without explanation. Merely saying, “This is what you do. Do this always,” had to my mind no educational value.
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to tell your patients what you’re aiming at and why?” I asked.
“No, can’t take time. They must do as they’re told.”
…After my morning’s work with Dr. Rutgers I usually repaired to the Central Bureau of Statistics with my three-in-one translator, interpreter, and guide. My findings were that in all cities and districts where clinics had been established the figures showed improvement… From the eugenic standpoint there had been a rapid increase in the stature of the Dutch conscript as shown by army records. The data proved conclusively that a controlled birth rate was beneficial as I had imagined it might be, growing out of the first clinic initiated by the enterprise of Dr. Aletta Jacobs…
For two months I wandered about the Netherlands, visiting clinics and independent nurses in the Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. In spite of the League propaganda against commercialization I found many shops in which a woman, if she so desired, could purchase contraceptive supplies as casually as you might buy a toothbrush. Unfortunately in some of them she could be examined and fitted by saleswomen who had but little training in technique and scant knowledge of anatomy. Although the Dutch League had several thousand members—each one active, writing to papers, talking to friends, attending meetings—and although fifty-four clinics were in operation, many well-informed people did not know anything about them. More surprising still, the medical profession as a whole appeared to be utterly ignorant of the directed birth control work that was going on. It did not, therefore, seem extraordinary that no inkling of all this—either clinics or contraceptive methods—had ever reached the United States, and practically no attempt to copy it been made in England.
…the poorer classes were more influenced by the sufferings of the thousands and thousands of Belgians who had flocked to Dutch firesides for food and shelter. Nowhere else was I so impressed with the tragedies of war… I was introduced to five German delegates who had come to attend the Women’s Peace Conference. They found it difficult to forgive the stories of German atrocities which England had been allowed to circulate. I ventured to inquire how they could disprove them, especially in view of the report of the Bryce Commission. “Was not war cruel and savage, and might not these things have happened?”
“Yes, yes,” one said, “but hundreds of our German boys are brought back to us, dead and alive, whose noses and ears have been cut off, put in packages, and taken to headquarters for reward. However, we would not dream of accusing the French or the English soldiers of such barbarisms. We know that because their code forbids them to do these things themselves they have called in the Moors and the Gurkas and the savages from Africa.”
…When I reached London it was spring… through the kindness of Dr. Alice Vickery, was soon lodged in a private home… Dr. Vickery was so full of the living side of Neo-Malthusianism* that I could ill afford to forego one possible hour with her. Often when we found ourselves alone in her drawing room I sat at her feet and heard the story of the pioneer Malthusians, what they had to undergo, and what they had accomplished…
*abstract from Neo-Malthusian Theory: In the late 18th century, Thomas Malthus, an English political economist, advanced a theory of crisis in his Essay on the Principle of Population, based on a posited relation of disproportion between the rate of demographic growth and the rate of growth of food supply. According to this thesis, population naturally increases in geometric ratio but the means of subsistence, or agricultural production increases only in an arithmetic ratio making it impossible for agricultural production to sustain growing populations indefinitely. These two opposing natural tendencies generate periodic crises of food supply corrected by reduction of population size. Malthus describes two distinct forms of checks on population size: ‘positive’ checks such as war, epidemics, famine, and ‘preventive’ checks such as various forms of birth control, including abortion, and infanticide. Since food scarcity, however, is the condition for the operation of these checks, it is the ultimate check on population increase.
She had been one of the first to welcome to militant suffragettes, and she never missed a suffrage meeting, nor, for that matter, any other significant one on infant or maternal welfare, eugenics, or public health. She always went with the definite purpose of getting the audience down to fundamentals. In time she became a familiar figure. As soon she entered a hall you could feel those present aligning themselves against her. They knew she was going to bring up a controversial subject that no one wanted discussed, such as birth control. It was like casting a boulder into a nice quiet lake, but, with an unruffled exterior and grim determination, she invariably rose just the same, asked the chairman to recognize her, and said her say on the Feminist side of the question. From the lips of this Victorian old lady it sounded strange to hear frank remarks about the importance of limited offspring. Dr. Dunlop, with Scotch determination, was also bent on setting people straight; he followed her and expounded the medical aspects of population.
In June Dr. Vickery asked me to tell my story to a group of her friends. Among them was Edith How-Martyn, who had recently graduated from the London School of Economics… In a few days the time and place were set. I was to appear in Fabian Hall the following month under my own name… The audience was quite different form the little Socialist gatherings of working women I had addressed at home. The atrocious and hideous English hats have it an intellectual and highly respectable air. These representatives of nearly every social and civic organization in London, had the rationalist attitude and preferred to listen to principles and theories… I explained my private and personal conception of what Feminism should mean; that is, women should first free themselves from biological slavery, which could best be accomplished through birth control…
Many came up and talked to me afterwards, among them Marie Stopes, a paleontologist who had made a reputation with work on coal. Would I come to her home and discuss the book she was writing?
Over the teacups I found her to have an open, frank, manner that quite won me. She took me into her confidence at once, stating her marriage had been unconsummated, and for that reason she was securing an annulment. Her book, Married Love, was based largely on her own experiences and the unhappiness that came to people from ignorance and lack of understanding in wedlock, and she hoped it would help others. She was extremely interested in the correlation of marital success to birth control knowledge, although she admitted she knew nothing about the latter. Could I tell her exactly what methods were used and how? In spite of my belief that the Netherlands clinics should be improved upon, I was fired with fervor for the idea as such, and described them as I had seen them.
Later when I came back to the United States, I brought with me the manuscript of Married Love, and tried every established publisher in New York, receiving a rejection from each. Finally, I induced Dr. William J. Robinson to publish it under the auspices of his Critic and Guide, a monthly magazine which took up many subjects the Journal of the American Medical Association would not touch. Unfortunately even here it had to be expurgated. When I cabled Dr. Stopes I had a publisher in New York, her new husband H. V. Roe, financed an unabridged English edition which appeared simultaneously.
No can underestimate the work Marie Stopes has done. Though her other books, Radiant Motherhood and Wise Parenthood, were limited in value because they were based on limited personal experience, she has handled sex knowledge with delicacy and wisdom, placing it in a modern, practical category. She started the first birth control clinic in England…
Many people went out of their way to be kind to me in those days. I was often asked to the home of E. P. C. Haynes, solicitor, writer on freedom of the press, and a fine advisor. Around his table, one of the grandest set anywhere in England, could usually be found a large group of distinguished people. Among them was the American Civil War veteran, Major G. P. Putnam… Thus I was enabled to pave the way for having G. P. Putnam’s Sons eventually take over the publication of Married Love in this country, although not until 1931, through the Major’s efforts, was the ban lifted which prohibited the importation of the complete edition into the United States.
…The strain to finance the Review was so great that after June no more issues came out until December—the printer trusted us as far as he was able from month to month. Often the bank account was down to the last hundred dollars, just enough to hold it open. Yet it might be necessary to mail letters; the call might be urgent. I was hesitant to spend that last amount, but I believed faith could bring anything to realization. Invariably when I operated on that principle and did what I was impelled to do, money poured in perhaps ten times over… I kept going, conscious that with every act I was progressing in accord with a universal law of evolution—moral evolution but evolution just the same.
…In 1920 Anne Kennedy came to help boost the circulation of the Review and gain further financial aid for it. She was a Californian with wide club experience, and had two children. Fair, in her thirties, cheerful, and a good mixer, she was most maternal-looking with her soft gray hair and sweet face; you felt you could lay your head on her bosom and tell her the story of your life…
…I used to ask possible contributors, “Don’t you agree that these poor mothers should have no more babies?”
“Of course, but where’s there any article in that?”
Then I had to suggest ideas, show them how to link these up with larger sociological aspects, until they began to cast into the arena legal, medical eugenic compositions. The material on free speech continued to come in, but we did not need to print it any longer.
Incidentally, we now secured second-class mailing privileges. Soon afterwards I happened to be talking to a cousin who worked in the Post Office, a very young boy in his early twenties, who kept assailing me with questions about the Review. I could not understand his unprecedented interest, and asked, “Why are you so curious?”
“Well, I’m the official reader. It’ll save my having to wade through every issue if you’ll tell me ahead of time just what your policy’s going to be.”
“Do you make the decisions?”
“That’s my job. If any seem objectionable I send them on to Washington.”
I was horrified to find this adolescent in a position which permitted him to pass judgment on such serious matters, but I was able to reassure him; the course we had adopted would in no way interfere with retaining our second-class mailing privileges.
It was high time clinics were started in the United States as well… I had anticipated that hospitals were going to give contraceptive advice. But in 1919, under Dr. Mary Halton’s direction, two women, the first with tuberculosis, the other with syphilis, had been taken from one to another institution on Manhattan Island. All had refused such information, although most had agreed that the patients, if pregnant, could be aborted. The officers in charge had said they were obligated to project their charters, and the staff physicians their licenses and reputations.
Anything depending on the organized medicine is hard to put over; though individual doctors may break away, in the long run most medical progress proceeds by group action.
Since the hospitals were laggard in this matter, I decided to open a second clinic of my own. It was to be in effect a laboratory dealing in human beings instead of mice, with every consideration for environment, personality and background. I was going to suggest to women that in the Twentieth Century they give themselves to science as they had in the past given their lives to religion.
In addition to the usual rooms I planned to have a day nursery where children could be kept amused and happy while the mothers were being instructed. A properly chose staff could enable us to have weekly sessions on prenatal care and marital adjustment. Gynecologists were to refer patients to hospitals if pregnancy jeopardized life; a specialist was to advise women in overcoming sterility; a consultant was to deal with eugenics; and finally, since anxiety and fear of pregnancy were often the psychological causes of ill health, a psychiatrist was to be added. I intended, furthermore, that it should be a nucleus for research on scientific methods of contraception; domestically manufactured supplies of tested efficacy could not, at that time, be procured.
…The legislative activities and planning for a clinic had taken much of my attention during the year, but the central theme was the determination to hold the First National Birth Control Conference… I timed it purposely to coincide with a meeting of the American Public Health Association, hoping that if we could only convince these officials of the need for birth control, they would use it in their own work.
In addition to the health aspect, we planned to treat of population and also have a doctors’ meeting on methods and technique… Opponents were constantly hurling the statement that immorality among young people was to be the inevitable fruit of our efforts. This I did not believe. I knew that neither morality nor immorality was an external factor in human behavior; essentially these qualities grew and emerged from within. If the youth of the post-War era were slipping away from sanctioned codes, it was no the fault of birth control knowledge any more than it was the fault of the automobile, which made transportation to the bright lights of the city quick and easy. Immorality as a result should not be placed at the door of Messrs, Ford or Chrysler.
…My object in England having been attained, I went on to Switzerland with a definite aim… To make our Conference a success it had to be under the auspices of an organization. I had always had a dread of them. I knew their weaknesses and the stifling effect they could have. They seemed heavy and ponderous, rigid, lifeless, and soulless, often caught in their own mechanism to become dead wood, thus defeated the very purposes for which they had initially be established. Even the women who were able and clever at systematizing such bodies terrified me with their rule-and-rote minds, their weight-and-measure tactics; they appeared so sure, so positive that I felt as if I were in the way of a giant tractor which destroyed mercilessly as it went.
In spite of this dread I had reasoned out the necessity for an organization to tie up the loose ends. Although it might be limited and inhibited to the individual, it had other advantages of strength and solidity which would enable it to function when the individual was gone.
…Even the letterhead on our stationary was significant. You could tell such a lot about an organization—quality, standards, tone—from the names, often more informative than the body of the letter. My intention was to make people stand in public for what they believed in private, and at least our list of sponsors was impressive enough—a brilliant and distinguished array… With some temerity I dwelt upon the possibility of Lord Buckmaster, the former Stanley Owen, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Asquith Coalition of 1915, who had become one of the most finished orators in the House of Lords. He had just returned from Scotland and telephoned me to suggest we exchange views. He was about to present a resolution that, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, restrictions on birth control instruction be removed for married women who attended welfare centers… For H.G. to entertain in behalf of a cause set the seal of approval on it. Jane had invited literary luminaries and their wives: George Bernard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, Sir Arbuthnot Lane, Professor E. W. MacBride of the Eugenics Education Society, Walter Salter of the League of Nations, and Lord Buckmaster.
I was back in New York by the end of October, and soon came a letter from Shaw cheering me with his point of view:
Birth control should be advocated for its own sake, on the general ground that the difference between voluntary, irrational, uncontrolled activity is the difference between an amoeba and a man; and if we really believe that the more highly evolved creature is the better we may as well act accordingly. As the amoeba does not understand birth control, it cannot abuse it, and therefore its state may be the more gracious; but it is also true that as the amoeba cannot write, it cannot commit forgery: yet we teach everybody to write unhesitatingly, knowing that if we refuse to teach anything that could be abused we should never teach anything at all.
…At every meeting Dr. Ferdinand Goldstein of Berlin, who was hard of hearing, sat in the front row. The mention of any phase of population, on which he was an expert, brought him promptly to his feet. Standing directly in front of the speaker, he cupped his ear in order not to miss a single word. The one discordant note occurred on the last day when the committee declined to embody in its program any endorsement of abortion. He not only left the Conference but went back to Germany without saying good-by to anyone…
Dr. Aletta Jacobs walked along with me after one of the sessions. She said the fact she had refused to see me in 1915 had been on her mind ever since, and she had refused to clear up the matter now; she had always been against lay people taking part in the movement, and for that reason had opposed the Rutgers method of training practical nurses and allowing them to go out in the field after only two months’ introduction…
The eugenists were given their opportunity to speak at the Conference. Eugenics, which had started long before my time, had once been defined as including free love and prevention of conception. Moses Harman of Chicago, one of its chief early adherents, had run a magazine and gone to jail for it under the Comstock regime. Recently it had cropped up again in the form of selective breeding, and biologists and geneticists such as Clarence C. Little, President of the University of Maine, and C. B. Davenport, Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Station for Experimental Evolution, had popularized their findings under this heading. Protoplasm was the substance then supposed to carry on hereditary traits—genes and chromosomes were a later discovery. Professor Davenport used to lift his eyes reverently and, with his hand upraised as though in supplication, quiver emotionally as he breathed, “Protoplasm. We want more protoplasm.”
I accepted one branch of his philosophy, but eugenics without birth control seemed to me a house built upon sands. It could not stand against the furious winds of economic pressure which had buffeted into partial or total helplessness a tremendous proportion of the human race. The eugenists wanted to shift the birth control emphasis from less children for the poor to more children for the rich. We went back of that and sought first to stop the multiplication of the unfit. This appeared the most important and greatest step towards race betterment… Handling everything had been something of an undertaking, but after all the delegates had been sent off we still had money in the bank. My faith had been justified that, if you started something worth while, means for its realization would be forthcoming.
…Dr. John Whitridge Williams, obstetrician in chief of Johns Hopkins, summed up the medical evidence for birth control. “A doctor who has this information (prevention of conception) and does not give it cannot help feeling he is taking a responsibility for the lives and welfare of large numbers of people.” The Reverend Charles Francis Potter, founder of the Humanist Society of New York, discussed the moral phase. “The bird of war is not the eagle but the stork.” Professor Roswel H. Johnson, then at the University of Pittsburgh, stressed eugenics. “Most intelligent, well-informed people… are so determined in this (spacing children) that no laws yet devised succeeded in forcing a natural family, which is about eighteen children, upon them.” Rabbi Sidney Goldstein dealt with religious aspects. “The population is not made up of those who are born but is made up of those who survive.” Professor of Sociology Henry Pratt Fairchild spoke from the economic point of view. “We human individuals cannot break laws of nature. We can, however, choose which of her laws we sit fit to obey.” Mrs. Douglas Moffatt announced that the twenty-seven hundred members of the New York City Junior League were overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.
The next morning the opposition began by trying to prove that we who advocated birth control, a Russian innovation, were seeking to pull down motherhood and the family as had been done in Russia… It was difficult to gauge the impression that was being made; you could only sense that the response was one of feeling. These dogmatists, harking back to the Dark Ages, summoned to their aid the same arguments that had been used to hinder every advance in our civilization—that it was against nature, against God, against the Bible, against the country’s best interests, and against morality. Even though you proved your case by statistics and reason and every known device of the human mind, the opponents parroted the line of attack over and over again; in the end you realized that the appeal to intelligence was futile.
…Sir John’s report calling upon the British Government to make some plan for population growth, increase, and distribution for India was one of the most intelligent issued by any health officer in this age. Although entirely in sympathy with my project, yet he doubted whether it would be possible for me to do anything. That I was an American, however, he thought might obviate the antagonism which would inevitably follow the mention of birth control by anybody from the British Isles.
Almost as soon as the Viceroy of India sailed, we seemed much nearer the East. Indian deck hands moved about, distinguishable by their slim bodies, brown faces, and turbans, but the English were in full command of all departments. It must have been a source of resentment to the Indian passengers to be ignored or treated as inferiors by the English Civil Service going to rule them in their own land…
Bombay from the distance was a city of tall buildings. Not until very close could you see the sizzling heat on the water; the hot sun and heavy air made it unpleasant to stand on deck. The wharf was filled, the British easily recognizable by their sola topees, the ugliest headgear in the world. All were waving with great excitement, and many carried flower garlands for visitors or those coming home. Amid scrambling and confusion coolies swarmed aboard for luggage. A delegation of about fifty welcomed us, including Edith How-Martyn, who had been sounding out popular and religious sentiment and Dr. A. P. Pillay, editor of the magazine, Marriage Hygiene, the man most active in the eugenics and birth control in India.
I had written to Gandhi and a reply from him greeted me at the boat, “Do by all means come whenever you can, and you shall stay with me, if you would not mind what must appear to you to be our extreme simplicity; we have no masters and no servants here.” The evening was hot and oppressive indoors but mild and balmy outside, and I sauntered under a lovely, deep sky… Men and boys were stretched out on the walks, their only belongings the mats on which they lay. It was revolting to see something stir in the dust, and watch rags change into a human being sleeping there…
It had been predicted also that only Eurasians and the lower classes would listen to me on birth control, but the question turned out to be not, “Shall it be given?” but “What to give?” and it came from all strata. The Mayor of Bombay invited me to address a gathering of city officials. Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, the famous poetess, outstanding for her loyalty to India and next to Gandhi the most beloved person in the country, talked with me about holding a meeting in Hyderabad, where her husband was head of the medical profession. Lady Braybourne during luncheon at Government House told me that she and the Governor were anxious to prevent the fifteen hundred people on their own compound from doubling their numbers within a few years. What would I suggest?
The answer was complicated by many factors. First and foremost was the unspeakable poverty which prevailed… I soon learned that when traveling through the country we had to have a servant, or bearer… we acquired Joseph, an extraordinary character, dressed always in a black alpaca cot and colorful turban. We paid him about a dollar a day, considered a very good salary. However, since he spoke not only Hindustani, but also Bengali, Tamil, and English, we thought him an excellent find. He waited on us, brought us tea in the morning, went with us on calls… Joseph’s respect for us was enormously increased when he heard we were going to visit Gandhi. He became our devoted advisor, sleeping outside the door at night. Because of his position it was beneath his dignity to carry anything. Consequently we were obliged to hire a coolie for his luggage as well as several for our own. India was undoubtedly the place for the white man to lose in inferiority complex, should he have one; the serving class was obsequious, and the educated, aloof and superior.
…From tiffin on we inspected the cotton-growing, the paper-making, the oil press, and the irrigation by means of old-fashioned turn wheels. I was not enthusiastic. It seemed so pitiable an effort, like going backward instead of forward, and trying to keep millions laboring on petty hand processes merely in order to give them work to do by which they might exist.
…Gandhi and I walked with his other two women guests; they deemed sacred every moment they spent with him. Men, women, and children waited for him as he passed, several prostrating themselves as to a holy person. Stepping over the debris we traversed narrow byways through the open fields… He spoke fluent English in a low voice with accurate intonations, never lacking for a word, and could apparently discuss any subject near or far. Nevertheless, I felt his registering of impressions was blunted; while you were answering a question of his, he held to an idea or a train of thought of his own, and, as soon as you stopped, continued it as though he had not heard you. Time and again I believed he was going along with me, and them came to the stone wall of religion or emotion or experience, and I could not dynamite him over this obstacle. In fact, despite his claim to open-mindedness, he was proud of not altering his opinions.
…He accused himself of being a brute by having desired his wife when he was younger, and classed all sex relations as debasing acts, although sometimes necessary for procreation. He agreed that no more than three of four children should be born to a family, but insisted that intercourse, therefore, should be restricted for the entire married life of the couple to three or four occasions.
…India was a land of dramatic contrasts—the highest mountains, the hottest plains, the densest jungles, the most violent rains. The loveliest architecture in the world was set against a background of nauseating squalor. Wealth beyond calculation existed alongside poverty that was living death, dazzling mental attainments beside an ignorance utterly abysmal… A terrific change in temperature froze me at Hong Kong; the poor huddled around little fires in the streets. Dr. Arthur Woo, a Rockefeller Foundation protégé, enthusiastic, full of energy, like magic procured quarters for me in one of the crowded hotels on the top floor, quiet and restful but, oh, how cold!
…In Hong Kong I heard rumors of a practical scholar in eugenics in which the Chinese were very much interested. He was said to have, in addition to a wife, thirty concubines, by each of whom he had had three children. One of the Negro offspring—tall, kinky-haired, and oblique-eyed—was a most extraordinary-looking youth; he did not appear to belong anywhere. The daughters were much larger of stature than the average Chinese; all were educated and doing excellent work. Not only the features of the cultured types on the Island, but even those of the coolies, the longshoremen, struck me as growing less Oriental and more Anglo-Saxon, the foreheads fuller, the eyes less slanting.
When I reached Japan I found that Westernization had leaped ahead. Toyko was not the same city I had seen in 1922—automobiles and wide-paved streets, many bicycles, many men and small children in European dress.
…The Greeks, with their innate genius for dramatizing basic truths in images of telling beauty, established of old the relay torch race, or Lampadephoria, in honor of the Titan Prometheus, who had bestowed the divine gift of fire upon humanity. The contest was held at night, the great flambeaux being appropriately kindled at the altar of Eros. Participation was not a distinction indiscriminately conferred; those elect were fitted by discipline to hand on the vital flame, just as parents need training before becoming eligible for their grave responsibilities. The figures speeding around the course symbolize the passing on of the spark of life from generation to generation. Each runner must deliver his torch undimmed to his successor.
“Build thou beyond thyself,” said Nietzche, and this the birth control movement is doing. All peoples will in the future have greater regard for the quality of the bodies and brains which must be equipped for the task of building the future civilization; birth control will be the cornerstone of that great structure.