Margaret Sanger on “human weeds” — “Real Facts About Birth Control”

Margaret Sanger, “Apostle of Birth Control Sees Cause Gaining Here,” 8 Apr 1923.

Source.  Which asserts it comes from from the  “New York Times, Apr. 8, 1923, XII..” and also says:  “This article was reprinted by the American Birth Control League in a flyer with two other newspaper articles as “Real Facts About Birth Control,” ca. April 1923 (Library of Congress Microfilm 129:580).”


After ten years of incessant agitation and activity the much-discussed question of Birth Control has invaded the legislative halls of Albany. A bill intended to amend existing laws so that New York physicians may be authorized to disseminate contraceptive advice has been introduced. There will be a hearing on the matter in the Assembly Chamber on April 10. If enacted, we may hope for the beginning of a new era of social welfare and racial hygiene. But whatever the outcome, this bill means that Birth Control is no longer looked upon, even in the judicial and legislative field, as a topic “obscene and indecent,” worthy only of ribald jest and suggestive leer.

No other great problem affecting the welfare of nation and race has been more misinterpreted and misunderstood, even by Americans who consider themselves well informed. Advocates of this doctrine do not beg for mere assent or approval. They ask for investigation and understanding, as the initial step toward support and adherence to their doctrines.

Much of the opposition to Birth Control has had its source among clergymen and other professional moralists. This ecclesiastic opposition is amazing in view of the fact that the “onlie true begetter” of the whole Birth Control movement, Robert Malthus, was himself a clergyman of the Church of England. He advocated ” prudential checks” on the grounds of austere morality. Our clerical opponents also ignore the fact that many of the most noted champions of Birth Control today are clergymen. The most noteworthy example is that of the distinguished Dean of St. Paul’s, London, William Ralph Inge.

There is a confusion in the public mind concerning the origin of the present movement, which must be distinguished from the so-called Neo-Malthusian movement of Great Britain and the Continent. The Neo-Malthusian League was the direct outcome of the celebrated trial in London in 1877 of Charles Bradlaugh and Mrs. Annie Besant, who had frankly admitted distributing among the English poor thousands upon thousands of copies of the pamphlet of a Boston physician, Dr. Knowlton, entitled “Fruits of Philosophy,” originally published in this country in 1833. The Neo-Malthusian League, sponsored by those valiant pioneers, Charles and George Drysdale and Dr. Alice Vickery, soon spread to all countries of the Continent, and its doctrines were put into practice in Holland, where fifty-three Birth Control clinics, approved by the Dutch Government, have been conducted with great success for forty years.

The Birth Control movement, which has now absorbed the earlier Neo-Malthusian movement, originated right here in New York just a decade ago. While the Neo-Malthusians based their propaganda on the broad general basis of Malthus’s theory of population, the expression “Birth Control” was devised in my little paper of advance feminism, The Woman Rebel, as one of the fundamental rights of the emancipation of working women. The response to this idea of Birth Control was so immediate and so overwhelming that a league was formed–the first Birth Control league in the world.

Why She Took Up Task.

With all the flame-like ardor of pioneers we did not at first realize the full scope of this fundamental discovery. At that time I knew nothing of Malthus, nothing of the courageous and desperate battle waged by the Drysdales in England, Rutgers in Holland, of G. Hardy and Paul Robin in France, for this century-old doctrine. I was merely thinking of the poor mothers of congested districts of the East Side who had so poignantly begged me for relief, in order that the children they had already brought into the world might have a chance to grow into strong and stalwart Americans. It was almost impossible to believe that the dissemination of knowledge easily available to the intelligent and thoughtful parents of the well-to-do classes was actually a criminal act, proscribed not only by State laws but by Federal as well.

My paper was suppressed. I was arrested and indicted by the Federal authorities. But owing to the vigorous protests of the public and an appeal sent by a number of distinguished English writers and thinkers, the case against me was finally abandoned. Meanwhile “Birth Control” became the slogan of the idea and not only spread through the American press from coast to coast, but immediately gained currency in Great Britain. Succinctly and with telling brevity and precision “Birth Control” summed up our whole philosophy. Birth Control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks–those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.

In our efforts to effect the repeal of the existing laws which declare the use of contraceptive methods indecent and obscene, Birth Control advocates have been forced to battle every inch of the way. To get the matter before the Legislature of New York my path has led completely around the earth. Our effort has been to enlist the support of the best minds of every country, an object we have achieved even beyond our fondest expectations.

The backbone of the Birth Control movement has been from the time Malthus first published his epoch-making “Principles of Population” essentially Anglo-Saxon. John Stuart Mill, Francis Place, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Huxley and our own Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert G. Ingersoll spoke openly in favor of control of the population. Today such thinkers and writers as H. G. Wells, Harold Cox (editor of The Edinburgh Review), Arnold Bennett, Dean Inge, William Archer, Havelock Ellis, Gilbert Murray, Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes (editor of Nation and Athenaeum The Nation), and Lord Dawson, one of the King’s physicians, and innumerable others in Great Britain speak openly and valiantly for Birth Control.

It is not without significance that since the inauguration of our agitation in 1913 there has been an immense recrudescence of interest in the persistent problem of population; and a number of new efforts, notably that of A. M. Carr-Saunders, to reinterpret the thesis so brilliantly advanced by that obscure clergyman, Malthus.

Most gratifying to the battle-scarred propagandist for Birth Control has been the awakening of the Orient. China and Japan for ages have been the notoriously overpopulated countries of the earth, the high birth rate, as always, accompanied by a high death rate, a high infant mortality rate and even acceptance of the widespread practice of infanticide. Famine, pestilence and flood have been the only checks to overpopulation in China, and these have been regarded even as a blessing by the yellow races. “Yang to meng ping” is a well-known exclamation in China–“Many men, life cheap!”

Following my sojourn in China last year, the Ladies’ Journal of China, the most influential women’s publication there, devoted a special edition of more than one hundred pages to the problem of Birth Control. In this paper Tzi Sang wrote: ” Since Mrs. Sanger’s visit, public opinion has been greatly influenced, and I understand that some educators are planning to propagate the doctrine in the interior so that our women will no longer be mere machines for breeding children. When the majority of our people know the benefits of Birth Control and believe that it is the remedy for plague, famine and war in China, then we can adopt the method of asking doctors to pass on their knowledge to women poor in health.”

Set Lu, another writer in the same paper, points out that ” If we study the actual situation in China we find that unconsciously the Chinese have attempted to practice Birth Control in a different way. Do we not throw away our babies?” frankly asks this writer of his compatriots. His answer is interesting: “Savages practice infanticide, but civilized people use scientific methods of prevention. Herein lies the difference between a barbarous and a civilized people. No wonder that our civilization fails to make any noticeable advance.”

Both in Japan and China, as a result of my visit, and especially as the effect of the attempt upon the part of the Imperial Japanese Government to suppress Birth Control and to shut its door in my face, the subject of birth control has aroused the deepest and most widespread interest among all classes. In both these great Oriental empires the roots of a permanent Birth Control movement have struck deep in popular interest, and undoubtedly will exert a great influence toward bringing down the alarmingly high birth rates to the level of those of Western civilization. The importance, the immediate necessity of an autonomous control of the birth rate by the races of the Orient is by no one more emphatically stated than by that eloquent and picturesque writer and traveler, J. O. P. Bland.

Since the first Birth Control clinic established in this country was raided by the New York police in Brownsville some years ago, and its founders sentenced to jail as petty miscreants, the whole current of opinion has advanced, not merely in this country but throughout the world. The results of the intelligence tests, the menace of indiscriminate immigration, the fertility of the unfit and the increasing burden upon the healthful and vigorous members of American society of the delinquent and dependent classes, together with the growing danger of the abnormal fecundity of the feeble-minded, all emphasize the necessity of clear-sightedness and courageously facing the problem and the possibilities of Birth Control as a practical and feasible weapon against national and racial decadence.

With the invasion of the New York Legislature exponents of this challenging doctrine may well congratulate themselves that they have won another victory against their opponents. Whatever the outcome of the hearing on April 10, Birth Control in any event will have compelled serious attention from our legislators. If we can convince the Assemblymen and State Senators that this is a matter which concerns not merely a group of “well-meaning” feminists, but is organically bound up with the biological welfare of the whole community, we shall consider that our efforts have not been entirely in vain.

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