The Place of Birth Control
in the Women’s Movement
March 26, 1925 — Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Hotel McAlpin, New York City
Read by Dr. Charles Vickery Drysdale
This seems to me a very critical period in the world’s history. Either the world’s inhabitants must face the problem of controlling the numbers of succeeding generations in proportion to the supply of necessaries, or the struggle between the various races and nations will become intensified and lead to world-wide disaster.
This is a time in which it is of the utmost importance that women shall learn to realise their responsibility in view of the fact that the peopling of the world belongs to them. It is essential then that women shall come to the front and insist that they will no longer consent to be deprived of the knowledge which will allow them to fulfill their function in the way which will reflect credit upon themselves individually and collectively, and benefit the world at large. Sir Arbuthnot Lane has written of “the crass stupidity of man,” and when we recall the obstacles which have been placed in the way of women’s education generally, and education in physiology, biology, and all that concerns the reproduction of the human species in particular, we cannot think the phrase misplaced. The church has always looked with disfavor on the education of young people, more particularly women, in sex matters. Men also have very largely desired ignorance in their mates. The legal profession have placed obstacles in the way of woman’s power of acting on her own judgment, by making her in the past so largely dependent on the husband as to feel it impossible to form or take any action of which he might not approve.
The subject which above all others craves the woman’s outlook is that of maternity and reproduction.
As woman did not know how to control reproduction and as she naturally, as did man, desired a mate in the early days of maturity, she fell, almost of necessity, into a state of dependence, and that dependence has been fruitful of evil results. But with the knowledge of contraception, of Birth Control, there is no longer the same reason why she shouldaccept a position of dependence. The young girlliketheyoung man should find thesame oppor tunities for employment and self-dependence open to her. She can postpone marriage until she meets with a suitable partner. And when she does meet with an apparently suitable partner (say at 21 years of age) she will not be faced with the necessity of forfeiting her independent position for fear of the premature arrival of offspring. Shewill by means of birth control methods be able to maintain a position of self-dependence for some years. There is much to be said for a temporary postponement of parentage after marriage.
First as the age of physiological maturity is 25, it will doubtless be granted that parentage should be delayed to that age in order that maturity and not immaturity should produce the next generation.
Again, is it not well that the young couple should be able to enjoy to the full (say from 21 to 25 years) the delight of intimate companionship, until they can feel assured that they are well suited to one another, that their characters and ideals are likely to develop along mutually sympathetic lines; also that their career (industrial or otherwise) may not be hampered by the premature arrival of another mouth to feed and care for, obliging the young mother to cease her independent employment.
The young couple owe to each other fidelity and companionship, mutual solace and assistance. They will learn in this period of experience to understand each other more fully, not merely trusting to the more or less superficial attraction which brought them together. They will besides be more able to assure their future, to build up the home and create and develop the little capital which will en able them to face the responsibility of parentage without alarm. The prospective mother, with health assured, will be willing to cease her contribution to the family budget at a suitable period, having laid by what she deems sufficient for the time being. She will be prepared to give to the newcomer her time, her strength, her thoughts, so that together the young parents will mutually enjoy the delights of parentage, and by the careful use of contraceptive methods will feel assured that no second birth will come to cut short prematurely the mother-care due to the first comer.
Think what all this power of direction means to the young couple in their early married life. The power to go slow, to adjust their expenses to their means to avoid all the overstrain of being always a little behind. Poverty is held at bay. Slums are not being created. The child will enjoy its childhood.
He will have time for play, for education. If accidents happen, if ill-health supervene, the strain is materially lessened. Woman with efficient knowledge of birth control can practically abolish poverty in the home. Collectively she will learn how to abolish poverty in the town, the city, the village, the nation.
There need be no sex-promiscuity either for men or women. Rational early marriage laws will allow for needful changes.
Source: The Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Volume 1, International Aspects of Birth Control, ed. Margaret Sanger (New York: The American Birth Control League) 1925, pp. 30-32.