The philosophy of Birth Control insists that motherhood, no less than any other human function, must undergo scientific study, must be voluntarily directed and controlled with intelligence and foresight. As long as we countenance what H. G. Wells has well termed “the monstrous absurdity of women discharging their supreme social function, bearing and rearing children, in their spare time, as it were, while they `earn their living’ by contributing some half-mechanical element to some trivial industrial product” any attempt to furnish “maternal education” is bound to fall on stony ground. Children brought into the world as the chance consequences of the blind play of uncontrolled instinct, become likewise the helpless victims of their environment. It is because children are cheaply conceived that the infant mortality rate is high. But the greatest evil, perhaps the greatest crime, of our so-called civilization of to-day, is not to be gauged by the infant-mortality rate. In truth, unfortunate babies who depart during their first twelve months are more fortunate in many respects than those who survive to undergo punishment for their parents’ cruel ignorance and complacent fecundity. If motherhood is wasted under the present regime of “glorious fertility,” childhood is not merely wasted, but actually destroyed. Let us look at this matter from the point of view of the children who survive.
(1) U.S. Department
of Labor: Children’s Bureau. Infant
No. 3, pp. 81, 82, 83, 84.
(2) Henry H. Hibbs,
Jr. Infant Mortality: Its Relation to
Industrial Conditions, p. 39. Russell Sage Foundation, New
(3) Cf. U. S.
Department of Labor. Children’s Bureau:
Series, No. 11. p. 36.
(4) Havelock Ellis, Sex in Relation to Society, p. 31.
Failure of emotional, sentimental and so-called idealistic efforts, based on hysterical enthusiasm, to improve social conditions, is nowhere better exemplified than in the undervaluation of child-life. A few years ago, the scandal of children under fourteen working in cotton mills was exposed. There was muckraking and agitation. A wave of moral indignation swept over America. There arose a loud cry for immediate action. Then, having more or less successfully settled this particular matter, the American people heaved a sigh of relief, settled back, and complacently congratulated itself that the problem of child labor had been settled once and for all.
Conditions are worse to-day than before. Not only is there child labor in practically every State in the Union, but we are now forced to realize the evils that result from child labor, of child laborers now grown into manhood and womanhood. But we wish here to point out a neglected aspect of this problem. Child labor shows us how cheaply we value childhood. And moreover, it shows us that cheap childhood is the inevitable result of chance parenthood. Child labor is organically bound up with the problem of uncontrolled breeding and the large family.