Study Guide

The Children's Era Main Idea

By Margaret Sanger

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  • Main Idea

    Women and Children First

    Despite all the other agendas swirling around in this speech, Sanger's main point is clear: the world has a lot of problems right now. Yeah: Sanger's speech is pretty much evergreen in that way—when doesn't the world have a ton o' problems?

    But Sanger's not just talking about problems in general: you know, like the environment and the job market and the fact that people on the West Coast can't get Waffle House home fries and people on the East Coast can't get In-N-Out.

    Sanger believes that one of the biggest problems stems from people having children they don't want and can't care for. She says that for social reformers to attempt to care for those children after they're already here is like trying to stop a leak by putting a bucket under it. (Which works for like half an hour, tops. Trust us on this one.)

    Sanger wants to get to the root of the problem by giving women the power to decide how many children they have and when they have them. She believes this solution will lead to greater wellbeing of mothers and children and ultimately to the greater wellbeing of societies everywhere.

    And wellbeing—like easy access to regional fast food—is one of those things we can definitely get behind.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Sanger says women should choose when they have children, but she sure does have a lot of requirements. What would she say to a woman who wants a child but can't afford one?
    2. Why was the idea that women ought to be able to choose when to have children so freaky that Sanger had to ally herself with other agendas to get her message taken seriously?
    3. Whose life seems to matter more to Sanger, the mother's or the child's?
    4. How do you think Sanger sees the role of fathers in the choice to have a child or not?

    Chew on This

    Sanger claims that women should choose when they have children, but she doesn't seem to trust individual women to make their own decisions.

    Sanger's list of requirements for parenthood are an appeal to other agendas and not a reflection of her own most pressing concern, the right of women to choose to become mothers or not.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    On March 30th, 1925, Margaret Sanger spoke at a public meeting at the Scottish Rite Hall. This meeting was part of the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference held in New York City.

    The Text

    We have failed the kiddos, says Margaret Sanger.

    The 20th century was supposed to be a great time for kids. We were going to fix things. But have we done that? Nope. Instead of making sure children could be born into loving homes where they are wanted and provided for, we've just set up charities to try to deal with them once they're born to overworked, underpaid parents who didn't want them in the first place.

    We have to do better, says Margaret Sanger. We have to ensure that women can choose when to become mothers so that every child can be born into a home where he or she is wanted and cared for.

    Oh, and we've got to find a way to stop all these poor people with defective genes from having kids before it messes our country up. (Her words guys, not ours.)


    Women should be able to choose if and when they have children. And Margaret Sanger has some strong opinions about what that choice should be, depending on your circumstances.

  • Questions

    1. What would Margaret Sanger be up to if she were around today?
    2. How do concerns about issues like poverty, overpopulation, and child and maternal health come up in the public conversation about motherhood today?
    3. Has Margaret Sanger's goal been reached? Do women have the freedom to choose how many children they have and when they have them?
    4. In the speech, does Margaret Sanger seem to value children born into poverty less than those born into wealthier families?
    5. Does Margaret Sanger's use of eugenicist ideas affect how we read the rest of the speech?
    6. If Sanger's goal is to put the choice of motherhood in women's hands, why does she seem to have so many ideas about what situations women should choose to bring children into?

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