Women Enslaved by Maternity




Lloyd's Sunday News, May 16, 1920
Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition, Collected Documents Series, C16:143


This article was introduced by a brief biographical sketch of Margaret Sanger.




Britain, like America, is now in a condition in which the wealthy people, and even those of moderate means, are practising the principles of birth control. Their birth-rate is practically stationary. It is the people living in poverty and disease, who, though less adapted for bringing into existence healthy, sturdy children, are having large families.

I believe that the time is ripe to make birth control a national issue in this country, first of all because woman is anxious to take her place in the social and political life of the nation. This she can never do while she is enslaved by the function of maternity.

She wants to have a share in social and political movements, but no woman who is bringing children into the world year after year can possibly take a real interest in matters outside the domestic circle.

It is a striking fact that the increase in the feeble-minded in Britain is even greater than in America. Whereas in America the feeble-minded mother gives birth to three times as many children as the normal mother, the disparity is four to one in this country.

If this continues, it is going to mean a very inferior race within the next generation.

Organised labour is very strong in Britain, and has a programme which should achieve success if birth control is included in its scope. But the labour movement cannot possibly attain the state of society which it is aiming at while those within it continue to bring hordes of human beings into the world which no system that man has so far devised can assimilate. On the other hand, if the workers will begin at once to bring forth only those children which are wanted by the women and can be maintained by the father's labour, the working class of this country may realise their dreams of a better state of society within a generation, and be the first among the nation to attain their goal. At present any work on social lines among the poor is simply a palliative. We have got to strike at the roots of our social evils, and birth control is the only automatic cure for all social problems.

Importance of Health Side.

But there is a health side as well as an economic side to this question. There is the important factor of a woman's self-development and her right to control her own body.

In a well-balanced society where we desire quality rather than quantity we shall not have the "unwanted child," whether the mother be a millionairess or a poor woman. The loved child, however, will be the greatest asset to any nation.

Perhaps it would be as well to explain how I came to take an interest in the question of birth control. For fourteen years I worked as a trained nurse in the slum areas of New York City. I came in daily contact with the terrific human waste of children and of mothers--children who died before they were a year old, 90 per cent. Through poverty and neglect, and mothers who died from causes due to ignorant maternity.

Our information is only given to married women, and preferably to those who are already mothers. And let objectors remember that fear and ignorance are not conducive to the highest morality. Just as knowledge or any useful implement might be used for destructive purposes, so the information we disseminate is open to abuse. The case of the razor may be cited as an illustration. This useful adjunct of civilised life was once violently objected to because it was claimed that if razors came into the possession of men who were not doctors they would be tempted to kill one another. But we have gradually taught the proper use of razors without any such disastrous consequences. So it is with birth control information.

We are endeavouring to stimulate and encourage the proper use of knowledge which we believe to be necessary to the highest happiness of humanity.