Quotes from Contraceptives Pioneer Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger Seated at Desk
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, worked first as a nurse where she learned first-hand of the health and social problems of too many pregnancies. Margaret Sanger spent time in jail to fight for sex education, and for distributing contraceptive information and contraceptives. Margaret Sanger lived long enough to see the practice of birth control declared a constitutional right (for married couples) in 1965.

Selected Margaret Sanger Quotations

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.

Greater understanding and practice of planned parenthood, through the use of contraceptive measures prescribed by doctors and clinics, will mean that there will be more strong and healthy children and fewer defective and handicapped babies unable to find a useful or happy place in life.

Fundamental Freedom to Choose

Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man's attitude may be, that problem is hers—and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.

Dire Poverty and Large Families

Everywhere we look, we see poverty and large families going hand in hand. We see hordes of children whose parents cannot feed, clothe, or educate even one half of the number born to them. We see sick, harassed, broken mothers whose health and nerves cannot bear the strain of further child-bearing. We see fathers growing despondent and desperate, because their labor cannot bring the necessary wage to keep their growing families. We see that those parents who are least fit to reproduce the race are having the largest number of children; while people of wealth, leisure, and education are having small families.

Dire poverty drives this mother back again to the factory (no intelligent person will say she goes willingly). It is the fear of the loss of a job, debts and another mouth to feed that compels her to leave this newborn infant in the care of any one who has the room to keep it. Any friend or neighbor who works at home can take care of this little waif.

Women of the working class, especially wage workers, should not have more than two children at most. The average working man can support no more and the average working woman can take care of no more in decent fashion.

Increased Survival Rate

It is our experience, as it was our aim, that as a result of child-spacing, and adequate care of mothers, death rates would be reduced. It is now a fact that as a result of birth control, the survival rate among mothers and children is higher. There is less suffering for all groups.

Expression and Deep Yearning

Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.

When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race.

Sex and Mating

A mutual and satisfied sexual act is of great benefit to the average woman, the magnetism of it is health giving. When it is not desired on the part of the woman and she gives no response, it should not take place. The submission of her body without love or desire is degrading to the woman's finer sensibility, all the marriage certificates on earth to the contrary notwithstanding.

The real hope of the world lies in putting as painstaking thought into the business of mating as we do into other big businesses.

Woman of Today Arises

Against the State, against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.

War, famine, poverty and oppression of the workers will continue while woman makes life cheap. They will cease only when she limits her reproductivity and human life is no longer a thing to be wasted.

No despot ever flung forth his legions to die in foreign conquest, no privilege-ruled nation ever erupted across its borders, to lock in death embrace with another, but behind them loomed the driving power of a population too large for its boundaries and its natural resources.

A free race cannot be born to slave mothers. A woman cannot choose but give a measure of that bondage to her sons and daughters.

Woman's Duty Is to Herself

Eugenists imply or insist that a woman's first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her first duty to the state. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother.

Birth Control Movement Misrepresented

At times I have been discouraged and disheartened by the deliberate misrepresentation of the Birth Control movement by the opponents, and by the crude tactics used to combat it. But at such moments invariably comes back into my mind the vision of the enslaved and supplicant mothers of America. I hear the low moans of their cry for deliverance—a vision ever renewed in my imagination by the perusal of these letters. Painful as they are, they release fresh resources of energy and determination. They give me the courage to continue the battle.

On Racial Issues

A sickly race is a weak race. As long as Negro mothers die in childbirth at two and one-half times the rate of white mothers, as long as Negro babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies, colored homes will be unhappy.

Democratic Participation

Negro participation in planned parenthood means democratic participation in a democratic idea. Like other democratic ideas, planned parenthood places greater value on human life and the dignity of each person. Without planning at birth, the life of Negroes as a whole in a democratic world cannot be planned.

White Man Is the Problem

What hangs over the South is that the Negro has been in servitude. The white southerner is slow to forget this. His attitude is the archaic in this age. Supremacist thinking belongs in the museum.

The big answer, as I see it, is the education of the white man. The white man is the problem. It is the same as with the Nazis. We must change the white attitudes. That is where it lies.

Misattributed, Inaccurate, or Misleading Quotes

When Sanger used terms like "racial betterment" she was generally referring to the human race, so in looking at quotes using such phrases, check the context before making assumptions. Her opinions of the disabled and immigrants—opinions not attractive or politically correct today—were often the source of such sentiments as "racial betterment."

"More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control." – A quote which Margaret Sanger did not say, but which is often attributed to her

W.E.B. Du Bois Quote

"The mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly." – A quote usually taken out of context, and which was from W.E.B. Du Bois instead of Sanger

No Supporting Sources

"Blacks, soldiers, and Jews are a menace to the race." – A quote attributed to Sanger, but which cannot be found attributed to her in print before 1980 and which does not appear in the supposed source document

"We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population." – A quote taken out of context (In context, it's apparent that she didn't want such word to get out because such a characterization of her work was common—and untrue. Then as now.)


  • Earl Conrad, "American Viewpoint on U.S. Birth and Bias Control," The Chicago Defender, September 22, 1945
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Quotes from Contraceptives Pioneer Margaret Sanger." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/margaret-sanger-quotes-3530134. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Quotes from Contraceptives Pioneer Margaret Sanger. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/margaret-sanger-quotes-3530134 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Quotes from Contraceptives Pioneer Margaret Sanger." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/margaret-sanger-quotes-3530134 (accessed June 10, 2023).