Document 44: "Mrs. Sanger's Talk Gets by Police Censors," San Francisco Chronicle, 20 February 1922, p. 3


   Consul General Yada told the press that the Department of Home Affairs "undoubtedly feels that now is not the time in Japan for the dissemination of such doctrine as Mrs. Sanger teaches. . . . There may also be a fear in official circles that such a gospel would cause agitation in radical, political and social circles . . . for the Japanese people feel quite as the American Government does on the principles of birth control. They are not yet ready to accept the teachings." The Japanese government's decision to bar Sanger from entering the country was widely covered in both the American and Japanese press. Sanger told reporters: "At any rate, I shall sail on schedule time and if I am not allowed to land in Japan, I can at least go to China and India and present my lectures there. . . . Those governments have placed no obstacles in my path, but signed my passports this morning." To press her case still further, Sanger gave a public speech on February 18 that was covered by the local press.[34]

Mrs. Sanger's Talk Gets by Police Censors
Interrupted by Spectator She Skillfully Refuses Information Sought
Describes Two Groups
Large and Small Families Selected by Speaker to Illustrate Her Point of View

[San Francisco, Calif., U.S.A.]

[Feb. 19, 1922]

   "Birth control does not mean race suicide,"[A] declared Margaret Sanger, head of the Birth Control league[B] in an address yesterday afternoon before an audience in California hall.[C] "Scientific birth control has already operated in a number of countries such as Holland, New Zealand and others, for sufficient time to demonstrate that instead of race suicide the percentage of infant survivals has been greatly increased with a better type and class of manhood and no decrease in population."[D]

   The speaker traced the history of birth control, maintaining that it was not a new idea. She said it was, in fact, one of nature's fundamental laws, as in the natural course of events, without the interference of science, nature will weed out the sick, the old and feeble and the diseased to make room for the strong and healthy.

Describes Two Groups

   Mrs. Sanger declared that the human race has divided broadly into two classes, the large family group and the small family group. She insisted that in the latter group are to be found culture, leisure, wealth and two or three children, who are brought up under the best conditions, sent to universities and given every advantage in life. In the large family group, according to the speaker, are found poverty, misery, the tenement life, infant and maternal mortality and the breeding places of all today's vital sociological problems.[E]

   "Yet it is from the former group that the greatest clamor comes against giving to the latter group the information which allows the small family group to be what it is," said the speaker.

Defends Birth Control

   "Not only do we want to protect society from further propagation of the sick and insane," said Mrs. Sanger, "but we want to make motherhood a conscious and voluntary act, giving her a change to develop her own individuality and that of her children.

   "You have been told that birth control is against the laws of God. I say to you that if you, as an individual, believe in God as a divine intelligence who has endowed you with the power to think and to reason, then you certainly are at liberty to apply that intelligence according to the dictates of your conscience.

   "Every advance in science has been attacked in this same manner. It is against the laws of nature for a man to shave, to cut his hair, to walk on two legs, instead of four, to ride in street cars or to submit to an operation to save his life, just as much as it is against those laws for him to practice birth control," said the speaker.

Wants Scientific Clinics

   "What we need at present is scientific clinics at which the fundamentals of birth control can be taught. We should get away from the back-yard gossip and through the clinic bring to the poor woman who cannot afford to pay for it under the present conditions the same information that the rich women gets today."

   The speaker denied that birth control would result in race suicide. She maintained that the maternal instinct is so great in women that they will perform the sacred duty of bearing and rearing children, but that with control an established fact the work will be done under conditions which are best for both mother and child.

   Mrs. Sanger told of being excluded from Japan, but expressed the hope that this bar would eventually be lifted. She emphasized the need of the doctrine in Japan, saying:

   "When the pressure of population gets too great in any country there can be but two ways of relief. One is war, with its attendant loss of life and possible increase in territory in the case of the victor and the other is through scientific birth control. Of the two, I believe that the latter is by far the better way."

Will Go to England

   The speaker said that she will continue her journey to the Orient, lecturing in China and India, and going on to England, where she will attend an international conference on birth control."[F]

   Mrs. Mary Parton acted as chairman of the meeting, introducing the speaker. During the questioning which followed the regular lecture a woman in the audience asked, "Is there any book now published which gives inside information on birth control."

   Mrs. Sanger smiled and nodding toward the door of the hall answered, "There are two policemen standing at the door who would be very glad to know the answer to that question."

   A detail of plain clothes officers was present at the meeting.[G] Mrs. Katherine{sic] Eisenhart was a member of the detail. No action was taken by the officers to stop the lecture or to prevent the distribution of pamphlets, which were given out at the door.[H]


A.Race suicide was a term popularized by Theodore Roosevelt in the early years of the twentieth century to describe the potential demise of the educated and upper classes through the voluntary restriction of family size. It was less of a concern among minorities and indigenous communities who were more likely to fear the racist eugenic policies of outsiders. (Engelman, A History of the Birth Control Movement in America, 33-34.)
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B.In November 1921 Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, the first national organization dedicated to educating the public about birth control, fostering the formation of state and local birth control leagues, and hosting birth control clinics and research. (Engelman, A History of the Birth Control Movement, 129.)
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C.The speech was held at the Native Sons of the Golden West building on Mason Street.
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D.In a chapter entitled "The Race Suicide Bugbear," William Robinson argued that since contraceptives had become available in New Zealand, the birth rate had fallen to 20 per thousand and the death rate to 10 per thousand. Rather than resulting in a declining population, the figures combined to increase population by a rate of 10 percent. He also argued that in Holland, another nation with widely available contraceptives, when the birth rate declined, the death rate declined as well, at an even sharper rate. In 1910, he reported that the birth rate in Holland was 32 and the death rate was 18 per thousand. By 1912, the birth rate had declined to 28, but the death rate had fallen to 12, resulting in a net population gain. In the Netherlands, where contraceptives had been readily available through clinics since 1882, both the birth rate and the infant mortality rates showed significant drops. Sanger had personally observed the Dutch clinic system during her 1915 visit to Amsterdam. (William J. Robinson, Fewer and Better Babies; Birth Control: or the Limitation of Offspring [New York: Eugenics Publishing Co., 1916], 45-47; Sanger, "Birth Control and Woman's Health," Birth Control Review [Dec. 1917]: 7).
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E.For similar arguments, see, for example, Sanger, "The Tragedy of the Accidental Child," Birth Control Review (Apr. 1919), 5-6; Sanger, "Morality and Birth Control," Birth Control Review (Feb-Mar. 1918), 11; and Sanger, "Birth Control and Woman's Health," Birth Control Review (Dec. 1917), 7.
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F.Sanger did not have firm dates on her appearances in China and India, preferring to set dates and places once she was in Asia. The conference she refers to was the Fifth International and Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference was held in London's Kingsway Hall on July 11-14th, 1922.
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G.Sanger had already been arrested several times for violating anti-obscenity laws by distributing book and pamphlets on birth control.
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H.It is unlikely that Sanger distributed Family Limitation, or her other pamphlets in which she provided specific birth control advice and instruction; more likely she gave out pamphlets such as American Birth Control League, What We Stand For: Principles and Aims of the American Birth Control League, Inc. (New York: American Birth Control League, accessible at What We Stand For appeared first in the Birth Control Review in December 1921, p. 18, and was reprinted numerous times.
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