When Children Are Wanted

Margaret Sanger - Tucson, Arizona
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 28, 2009
Margaret Sanger
Library of Congress Photo

As a nurse, Margaret Sanger believed it was important to work not just for herself, but for greater good in the world. As a social activist, Sanger believed that all children should be wanted before they are conceived.

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This I Believe, first of all: that all our basic convictions must be tested and transmuted in the crucible of experience—and sometimes the more bitter the experience, the more valid the purified belief.

As a child, one of a large family, I learned that the thing I did best was the thing I liked to do. This realization of doing and getting results was what I have later called an awakening consciousness.

There is an old Indian proverb which has inspired me in the work of my adult life. “Build thou beyond thyself, but first be sure that thou thyself be strong and healthy in body and mind.” Yes, to build, to work, to plan to do something, not for yourself, not for your own benefit, but “beyond thyself”—and when this idea permeates the mind you begin to think in terms of a future. I began to think of a world beyond myself when I first took an interest in nursing the sick.

As a nurse, I was in contact with the ill and the infirm. I knew something about the health and disease of bodies, but for a long time I was baffled at the tremendous personal problems of life, of marriage, of living, and of just being. Here indeed was a challenge to “build beyond thyself.” But where was I to begin? I found the answer at every door. I began to believe there was something I could do toward increasing an understanding of these basic human problems. To build beyond myself I must first tap all inner resources of stamina, of courage, of resolution within myself. I was prepared to face opposition, even ridicule, denunciation. But I had also to prepare myself, in defense of these unpopular beliefs; I had to prepare myself to face courts and even prisons. But I resolved to stand up, alone if necessary, against all the entrenched forces which opposed me.

I started my battle some 40 years ago. The women and mothers whom I wanted to help also wanted to help me. They, too, wanted to build beyond the self, in creating healthy children and bringing them up in life to be happy and useful citizens. I believed it was my duty to place motherhood on a higher level than enslavement and accident. I was convinced we must care about people; we must reach out to help them in their despair.

For these beliefs I was denounced, arrested. I was in and out of police courts and higher courts, and indictments hung over my life for several years. But nothing could alter my beliefs. Because I saw these as truths, and I stubbornly stuck to my convictions.

No matter what it may cost in health, in misunderstanding, in sacrifice, something had to be done, and I felt that I was called by the force of circumstance to do it. Because of my philosophy and my work, my life has been enriched and full. My interests have expanded from local conditions and needs to a world horizon, where peace on earth may be achieved when children are wanted before they are conceived. A new consciousness will take place, a new race will be born to bring peace on earth. This belief has withstood the crucible of my life’s joyous struggle. It remains my basic belief today.

This I believe—at the end as at the beginning of my long crusade for the future of the human race.

Margaret Sanger was the founder and president of the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood. She organized the first World Population Conference in Geneva in 1927. Even into her 80s, Sanger traveled the world helping establish birth control clinics.