American Woman's Association Speech




Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm, Library of Congress, LCM 130:114


Draft of Sanger's acceptance of the American Woman's Asssociation medal. Handwritten additon and changes by Sanger. For the final version see Address at the American Women's Association, Apr. 20, 1932.





Miss Morgan or Chairman


My heart is too full to express my gratitude in words.

I have been sitting here listening to all these beautiful tributes, but I have had to ask myself: “Is this only a dream or am I fully awake?"

After nearly twenty years of Indictments, suppression, patrol wagons, raid, courts, jails, persecutions and ridicule, it is hard to believe that I would receive any reward beside except a warrant!

As I press this medal in my hand, I shall always prize this medal it seems to me much more than a reward. It is your action-- your gesture--that I value so much more than the recognition of my efforts because it symbolizes the public recognition by a representative group of the enlightened women of America this country of the basic importance of Birth Control as a necessary instrument in the making of our civilization.

You are In expressing your belief in me, and in you are joining the battle for Birth Control. That is the important thing! This medal will go with me into the thick of the fight! In moments of fatigue or discouragement, it will reassure me, whisper to me: “You are not alone in this fight. Intelligent and courageous women are standing behind you, standing with you in spirit!”

I am just back from five months on the firing line in Washington, five months,--if I dare say so without disrespect--in the Congressional trenches; five months at the head of a valiant little band of shock troops, trying to get a bill through Congress which will enable women of America to have free access to scientific knowledge of their own bodies.

These last, busy, hectic five months have taught me one thing: beliefs, convictions, ideas mean nothing unless they are brought out into the open, enunciated boldly, expressed challengingly, and courageously. Passive acceptance is not enough. It is just as unhealthy to hoard an idea as to hoard dollars--much more so, in fact. Put your ideals convictions into circulation, or they wither and die.

Just as the organs of our body atrophy if not exercised, so our belief in a right an ideal must be actively expressed, if it is to mean anything to ourselves or the world. If you are ashamed of your belief, if you are afraid to express it in public--it will fester and rot and die miserably --and so will your own spirit!

In presenting this medal to me, who less than twenty years ago was denounced and indicted and run out of this great free enlightened country as a representative of the devil himself, you are acting with courage and independence. You are championing a cause that is still unpopular, that is still denounced and blocked at every step by its bitter and fanatical enemies.

I am not Exaggerating.

While the intelligent and enlightened elements in this country content themselves with remarking casually: “Of course I’m for Birth Control--everybody is!” our opponents are active in blocking our every move. Don't think for a moment that their opposition is a Passive one.

Let me tell you something of our fight in Wasginton.

We arrive there to find the very air surcharged with the great problems of the day: war debts, moratoriums, reparations, unemployment relief, the peace conference, the war in Manchuria and China: new tariff walls: sales taxes, soaking the rich, the budget to be balanced, beer and Prohibition.

The mind of each Representative, each Senator, was like a busy telephone switch board with his or her secretary the telephone operator. All the wires are busy. How to plug in with a subject like Birth Control-- To the busy legislator, it comes like a message from Mars or some planet even more remote.

One morning I called upon forty Congressmen and succeeded in obtaining interviews with only two of them. But that was a good day’s work. But in the past five months, we have interviewed no less than two hundred and twenty representatives and forty-five Senators. These gentlemen for the most part expressive a polite, passive Sympathy. But they are dominated by Fear--fear of their constituents, fear of public opinion, fear of prejudice, fear most of all of the opponents of Birth Control. For these opponents are skilled in the tactics of blocking all progress. They may be--undoubtedly they are--in a minority. But by the tireless activity, they give the impression of being twice as strong as they actually are. While the adherents of Birth Control may on occasion come to our aid, the opponents spring into double and intense activity, knowing that they must exercise eternal vigilance to prevent the freedom of women.

One Senator finally confessed: “If I sponsor this bill, I’ll mae enemies: if I do not sponsor it, it will make no difference to my popularity.” Thus, though the passive supporters of Birth Control measures may be actually more numerous, they never protest against this type of refusal. They acquiesce; they forget at the next election. We can stir them into sporadic activity; but they their attention, is easily distracted, and led astray by other problems which seem on the surface more pressing, but actually are not so.

We were told by our political advisors--we women are of so trusting a nature--that our Bill would come before the Judiciary Committee. We spent months interviewing, persuading, educating the twenty-five members of that Committee. Finally, after the Bill was introduced in the House--and that was in itself a strenuous, collossal task--it was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. All that work gone for nought--and yet we refuse to be discouraged.

Once I asked the advice of a Congresswoman. She was popular, well-liked, intelligent apparently. Yet she exclaimed to me bitterly: “For God's sake, don't send any of that Birth Control literature to my office! My stenographer is bitterly opposed to Birth Control, and any day, any of this Birth Control matters comes in the day’s mail to my desk, she goes up in the air--and makes it too hot for me the rest of the day.” I found out that secretaries and stenographers wield a vast unseen power behind the scenes in Washington--and the Congressman, already dominated by fear and afraid to ruin his own political futures--dare not act contrary to the advice of the secretary.

Another Woman Congressman said to me: “For Heaven’s sake, don’t ask women to touch this bill! It’s too controversial!

Opponents of Birth Control have use only the negative tactics of protest, but because they are so diabolically vigilant, even blocking our moves before we have had time to complete our plans. Yet in spite of these odds, we have accomplished much. Our bill is introduced. But we need your support. We need ammunition. We need reserve troops.

It has been active, dynamic public opinion, concentrated, focused, mobilized, that has brought produced this desired result. Few American citizens have realized that the Federal Laws concerning the transportion of preventives do not merely concern the use of the United States mails and common carriers. Do you realize that Section 312 of the federal Penal Code makes it a crime punishable by two years imprisonment and a fine of $2,000 even to have in your possession any article or information designed to prevent conception?

It was this that aroused the people of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We sent workers there, and aroused the determined support of the enlightened voters of Representative Frank Hancock’s constituency. They made him “Birth-Control-conscious” in a week’s time. Their dynamic, determined, persistent activity, courageous, challenging , expressed in letters, phone calls, visitors, could not be turned away with any conventional polite dismission. Of Representative Hancock, they demanded pointblank: Would he introduce this bill? And knowing their earnestness he replied that he would. And he has.

We have since been working to get the Bill in the Senate. The hearing before the Ways and Means Committee is set for . . . .

Most of the economic and social muddles which the Congress is trying to clear up have been the results of mistakes of the past. Clean them up, we all cry; but in doing so, do not neglect the great, basic, problems of humanity--the problems of Motherhood and of Childhood. Therefore we are convinced that it is our right and our duty to compel Congress to erase from the Criminal Code of this Country those Sections 211, 245 and 312, which are an insult to American Womanhood and a disgrace to the Country which permits them to remain there to block our path to freedom and realization.

I accept this medal as your pledge that you are with me in this battle to the bitter victorious end; and that as. Your gesture has been a public one and a courageous one. It is likewise a challenge to the opponents of Birth Control. Let your interest continue in the Active Tense, not the Passive. Join me in the is glorious battle for American womanhood and childhood, in the creation of a newer, better civilization for to-morrow. You will thank me then, as I thank you now--for Life active, dynamic, fighting crusading for a cause, I assure you, is more joyful and thrilling than life passive, inhibited, fearful. I have been in for twenty-years, and this medal gives me the inspiration to go on for twenty-years more, but I hope that Women will be freed long before that. Help us to make that hope become a fact. I thank you.