Margaret Sanger: “The Children’s Era”

Wordle: Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger is known for the work that she did advocating birth control and women’s health in the 2oth century.  Trained as a nurse and working with poor women on the Lower East Side of New York, she witnessed the many hardships that low-income women face due to unplanned pregnancy.

Because of her experiences with such women, she was inspired to act against unplanned pregnancy.  She believed that it was very important for women to have birth control available.  As a result of her belief that birth control was the answer to improving the lives of children and mothers everywhere, she delivered “The Children’s Era,” a speech in which she calls society to organize a kind of “parental license” to ensure the best possible lives for parents and their future generations of children.

Margaret’s worldview is very feminist. She feels that much of the problem of unplanned pregnancy has to do with the lack of available birth control to women, especially minorities. She says, “–we have got to free women from enforced, enslaved maternity. There can be no hope for the future of civilization, no certainty of racial salvation, until every woman can decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother, and when and how many children she cares to bring into the world.” 

It is interesting because the key terms in her speech are “children’s,” “parenthood,” “parents,” and “world.”  She uses the word “parenthood” often but she rarely mentions the word “father.”  When she does mention “father,” she uses it in a negative way, therefore making her appear very sexist. 

The welfare of the children is her main focus.  She uses the word “children” many times and uses it closely with the word “world.” By this, she is implying that unplanned pregnancy and the lives that children face because of it, are very large problems.

The ideas that cluster around the word “world” in her speech are “motherhood,” “fight,” “feeble-minded,” “refugees,” and “society.”  This cluster of words is very powerful and emotionally loaded.  She’s definitely playing up the shock factor to her audience.  The word “motherhood” has a very strong appeal to women and “fight,” “feeble-minded,” and “refugee” all have very powerful negative connotations to them.  Therefore, when these words are grouped together, they give “motherhood” a new sense of urgency, like the idea of motherhood in grave danger and that needs protecting.  She is referring mothers and children as refugees.

She creates a hypothetical dialogue to explain why parents must be “physically and emotionally fit” to have children.  She creates a dialogue in which the unborn baby is interrogating the father about whether or not he is fit for raising a happy and healthy child.  The questions that the baby asks to the father are, “Mr. Father– Do you look upon children as a reward — or a penalty?” “What’s that you say? Ten children already? Two dark rooms in the slums?” “No, thank you! I don’t care to be born at all if I cannot be well-born. Good-bye!”  The phrase “Ten children already? Two dark rooms in the slums?” really stands out.  It puts the role of the father in a very negative light.

Margaret’s attempt to pull at her audiences heart strings through strong emotional appeals definitely speaks well to the female audience.  However, the male audience may be offended by her negative portrayal of the father.  Also, her solutions are a little unrealistic.  A license to have children?  What next? An eating license to help prevent obesity?


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