Birth control is so widely, available and accepted, that the thought of it becoming legal and widely, available only starting in the 1960s for the United States is shocking. Much of the birth control movement was lead and pushed by Margaret Sanger. Sanger was originally a nurse in New York City, where she encountered the lives of poor and immigrant women. With limited knowledge and access to reliable contraceptives due to the Comstock Act, these women were forced to resort to five-dollar alleyway abortions. When there were complications with these horrendous procedures, Nurse Sanger was there to help. Witnessing these atrocious outcomes of unwanted pregnancy Sanger shifted her focus from nursing to advocate of proper family planning. With this in mind Sanger began producing and distributing educational material on contraceptives, which lead her to jail.
She continued her fight and on March 30, 1925 Margaret Sanger recited “The Children’s Era” speech at the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York. She spoke for the unborn and preconceived children, using a metaphor of a garden as a main point. Stating “ Before you can cultivate a garden, you must know something about gardening. You have got to give your seeds a proper soil in which to grow. You have got to give them sunlight and fresh air” (Sanger). Sanger is using this metaphor to say that before people decide to have children, they must educate and prepare themselves with a surrounding to allow the child a healthy and thriving childhood. If parents want their child to have the proper life that every child has a right to they must create a stable environment before he or she is brought into this world.
Sanger delivered the speech to those attending the conference who were seeking to control population size and make use of artificial contraception. Surrounded by scientists and liberated thinkers her piece must have had a clear and observable point of view. She used emotion and logical to appeal to the professional crowd. Those in attendance hoped that these meetings would eventually result in a viable solution. Forms of birth control and especially, abortions were illegal. Sanger having lost her own mother and watching several women suffer from dangerous abortions used her experience to fuel her fight. She knew that something had to change not only for the women, but for children’s welfare. Her speech is informative and filled with detailed examples and metaphors that further accentuate her point. She uses “we” very often in the speech, insinuating that it is they that need to correct it. She then proceeds to give her view on the steps that can be taken and enforced to create her “child’s era” future. “1. Transmissible disease 2. Temporary disease 3. Subnormal children already in the family 4. Space out between births 5. Twenty-three years as a minimum age for parents 6. Economic circumstances adequate 7. Spiritual harmony between parents” (Sanger). Any person who has any of these attributes and then decides to have a child “would make parenthood a crime” (Sanger)
Margaret Sanger had two very clear reasons for her address to the members attending the conference. First, contraception is a necessary step that needs to be taken and used by those who cannot provide for a child that may arise. Secondly and most importantly, those children have a right to a specific lifestyle that must be given to them by the parents. She provides different reasoning than most for the need of birth control. Advocating for the future life and outcome a child. She believed only those mentally and physically fit for a child should produce one. Sanger’s passion for the subject could be a downfall. However, her extensive knowledge of family planning and passion was effectively communicated to her audience. Her adeptness from nursing and research gave Sanger credibility.
Sanger devoted her life to preconceived children. She felt strongly that children brought up within the outline she described would end up in jails, asylums, or underperforming their potential and that school and charities were not the solutions to the ever growing problem, but rather the parents were. She created the road that allowed for the talk family planning which lead to our Planned Parenthoods today. Some of her views have come under criticism however, she pushed society in the right direction. Today condoms can be bought at almost any store, some girls begin taking birth control pills at only 13 years old, while the majority begin at 16 years old, and sexual health education is available in just a few short clicks. Though her methods may not be acceptable today, Margaret Sanger opened the door all the way back in the early 1900s that allowed us to be where we are today with common access to family planning materials.
- Sanger, Margaret. “The Children’s Era.” Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century – American Rhetoric, 29 Sept. 2018, www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/margaretsangerchildrensera.html.