Reproduced with the permission of the Charlotte Observer.
Should a Wife Support Herself?
When Margaret Sanger sailed for Europe to escape an indictment in New York, a voice persistently startled her and left her agitated with fear that all was not well with the children she had left behind. Stewart was 13, Grant, 8, and Peggy, 6. And it seemed to be Peggy’s voice calling her. But she had felt the momentum and couldn’t stop. Surely those who loved her best preferred that she accomplish her task.
But by a strange coincidence she returned immediately anyway. She learned that Anthony Comstock personally had tricked her artist husband into releasing a pamphlet which was the first and only bit of literature on birth control he ever had given out. She heard that William Sanger was facing a term in jail.
Europe was at war then, the Lusitania had just been torpedoed, and she sailed in darkness on an interminable voyage home. She meant to defend her husband (she was separated from him then and later was divorced), pick up the children quietly and return to England. But Peggy wasn’t well, and died of pneumonia shortly after her arrival. “Some people criticize mothers while working for a cause or out of need to support themselves, send their children to a boarding school,” she said.
“But I say that it is a supreme sacrifice. It is the most unselfish act on a mother’s part. It shows a selfless consideration of the child’s good rather than an egotistical self-indulgence in sentimentality."
“Sometimes the maternal hunger got beyond control and I’d catch the first train to the school, only to find that the children were happy and content without me. At times, the utter loneliness of life seemed too much to bear. I’d come home to my apartment and find the same book where I had left it, and the glove where I had dropped it on the floor. But the children were happy and that mattered more than my loneliness."”
Turning toward her desk where she kept a copy of her reminiscences to which she gave the formidable title, “My Fight for Birth Control,” she opened the book to the photograph of her boys and asked us to judge if they looked any the worse for their mother’s outside activities. Stewart is a graduate of the Sheffield Scientific school at Yale; Grant studied at Princeton and now is attending Cornell Medical college.
A slender woman of medium height, one hardly imagines her strong enough to swerve people toward a cause which affects one of the most vital social problems. A child among 11 children in her own family but raised by lovable, intelligent parents who were very poor, she early associated large families with poverty, unemployment, illness, debts and jail. It was this theory which prompted her to study nursing, and later to nurse the sick in the slums.
“But, if a majority of mothers who weren’t pressed by the financial urge to earn money outside, went out nevertheless, might it interfere with their happiness? They would stave off child-bearing on that account.”
“If they don’t desire children,” she said, “it’s just as well that they don’t have them; apparently they haven’t the mother-urge."
“But among working wives you’ll find that a large majority of them are college-bred girls who had been sheltered and disciplined so long that the career or job is just an expression of freedom. But they tire of it after a year or two and settle down to a complete domestic life.”