Sanger organized a tribute dinner to H. G. Wells as a fund-raiser and publicity even for the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control
Mrs. Sanger's speech at the Wells dinner. Oct. 23, 1931, Waldorf-Astoria
Had it not been for H. G. Wells and the magic of his name, I might be spending this evening in a cozy little cell in a Federal penitentiary.
When this fight for birth control began, some seventeen years ago, I soon found myself buried under an avalanche of indictments. The very words “birth control” sent shudders up the spines of our Federal authorities, and our penal codes specified heavy penalties for anyone advocating restricted output on the production of babies.
Thus I found myself facing the possibility of spending 45 years in a Federal prison.
Then Mr. Wells, with several other distinguished men and women of his country, sent a vigorous protest to President Wilson, and eventually the indictments against me were dropped.
Though I am free, the laws which threatened my liberty are still on our statue books and have remained unchanged for 58 years since they were passed by Congress two generations ago.
It was Mr. Wells who helped to free us--even before he knew my womanly charms! It revealed him: As quick to appreciate the merits of an unpopular cause! Prompt and fearless in throwing the weight of his tremendous influence in favor of a cause in which he believes; Swift and relentless in tearing through the tinsel wrappings of a problem and probing it to its very depths; Warm-hearted and chivalrous in his love for mankind, and a veritable dynamo of energy in directing misguided humanity along the road to Freedom.
No knight ever set out with higher ideals and a nobler love of mankind than H. G. Wells. Though he has lived to see some of his darkest fears converted into harsh facts, yet I believe that he will live to see some of his dreams come true.
Perhaps there is nothing more fantastic depicted in the early romances of the great creative artist who is our guest tonight than the spectacle of the world today.
The paradoxes are too numerous to relate, but we hear that wheat is rotting while thousands starve; that cotton is burned while people shiver in rags. Able-bodied men walk the streets looking for work which cannot be had. While on top of it all is the cry: Our children are starving – but give us more babies!
“The age of confusion,” Mr. Wells so rightly termed this period; the “age of the missing link” in the evolution of our intelligence, I’d like to add.
We have the wholesome desire on the part of parents to bring into the world better, stronger, finer children to make the world a better and happier place. We have knowledge, facts, science, resources and talent to apply to these problems and to protect the very well-springs of life, it but we fail to hook up our equipment with human needs. We remain indifferent to this fundamental right of human beings, and still countenance laws upon our statute books which place parenthood beneath the level of the stock farm.
But we may as well realize once and for all time that we cannot avoid the consequences of these laws, for just so long as parenthood is haphazard and irresponsible and casual, so long shall we be forced to bear the burden of the unemployed as well as the burden of the unemployable.
We frown upon and deplore the suggestion of the dole--but we have been paying a dole in the form of public charities for the full life-time of thousands of men and women derelicts--unemployable offspring of unemployable parents. Our Federal laws make it difficult for social agencies to tackle this problem openly, and to attack it at the roots.
There are various kinds of horrors going on in the world today, but I cannot get exercised or excited over them because I know that the very interest created in them awakens people out of a lethargy, and something is done to prevent their recurrence. Even if it is done in self defense it brings a little nearer into realization that collective mind of humanity, that community of world wisdom which has been one of Mr. Wells’s vital and enduring ideas since he began to write over forty years ago.
In this way, may many of your dreams come true:
Horrors and catastrophes may be humanity’s blessings in disguise.
Many of us in this room tonight are concerned with the deeper miseries and less spectacular horrors going on day after day, year after year in the lives of women, which are accepted by Society, Church and State as the natural consequences of being born a female. I mean those senseless, ceaseless, useless miseries of childbearing--sufferings forced upon women too poor, too weak, downtrodden and hopeless, too inarticulate to cry out, to defend themselves. These are the real horrors of the day, because to them Society has grown callous and indifferent, and refers to them as “natural” or "God’s will"!
But, friends, we are paying for these miseries; we are paying for them in our costs of charities, by infant and maternal mortality, by child labor, by the multiplication of the unfit, by the feeble-minded, by the hordes of unwanted, neglected babies. We are paying for them in the wide-spread practice of abortion, in untold, senseless misery.
It is time for us to change our ways. We can do this by making a drive on Congress to change those laws, once and for all time placing motherhood in America in the front ranks of our civilization.