“To the working girls of the world this little book is lovingly dedicated.”
– Dedication Page, What Every Girl Should Know
Some of the information in Sanger’s What Every Girl Should Know, first published in 1913 as a column in the socialist newspaper, The Call is outdated. For instance, Sanger’s belief that masturbation, “gives the individual unlimited opportunity for indulgence, and consequently drains and exhausts the system of the vitality necessary for full development” [Page 39] and that sex can do the same thing if not approached mindfully (“A girl can waste her creative powers by brooding over a love affair to the extent of exhausting her system, with results not unlike the effects of masturbation and debauchery” [Page 46]) doesn’t really stand up to to knowledge that modern science has about our bodies and how they work.
Lady Gaga may not have gotten this memo (“I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they’re going to take my creativity from me through my vagina.” – Lady Gaga, 2010) but most people can agree that these ideas are a bit outdated.
(Image from the New York Call, printed in response to a temporary suppression of Sanger’s What Every Girl Should Know by the US Postal Authorities.)
Despite the advances we’ve made in the 97 years since this was published, however, much of Sanger’s writing in this pamphlet still rings true today. For instance…
“The mother is the logical person to teach the child as soon as questions arise, for it is to the mother that the child goes for information before he enters the schoolroom. If, therefore, the mother answers his questions truthfully and simply and satisfies his curiosity, she will find that the subject of sex ceases to be an isolated subject, and becomes a natural part of the child’s general learning.” [Page 8]
In response to a social worker who feared that giving girls and women accurate truths about sex (and STIs especially) would cause them to fear sex so much that they avoid marriage: “To which I replied that my object in telling young girls the truth is for the definite purpose of preventing them from entering into sexual relations whether in marriage or out of it, without thinking and knowing.” [Page 9]
“It is not my intention to thrust upon anyone a special code of morals, or to inflict upon the readers my own ideas of morality. I only presume to present the facts for you to accept according to your understanding.” [Page 10]
“The girl who scoffs at the idea of the Chinese women binding up their feet, is doubtless ignorant of the knowledge that to bind up their own thoracic and pelvic structures, i.e., the chest and abdominal portions of her body, in tight corsets is doing greater harm to her health and injury to her development than the binding of the feet could possibly do. [Havelock] Ellis brings forth a few words on this subject which shows the the habit of binding the feet of the Chinese women is based on the same idea as the European woman has when she deforms her waist – they are both done for sexual attractiveness.” [Page 13 – 14]
“The women of wealth set certain standards for themselves and their class, but separate and distinct standards for the women of the working class. It is about time the reformers and philanthropists do something other than deal with the symptoms of the great social unrest.” [Page 17]
“No sexual attraction or impulse is the foundation of the beautiful emotion of love. Upon this is built respect, self-control, sympathy, unity of purpose, many common tastes and desires, building up and up until this real love unites two individuals as one being, one life. Then it becomes the strongest and purest emotion of which the human soul is capable.” [Page 42]
“Fortunately this condition of affairs is changing and the knowledge of the human body, which for ages has been most carefully locked within the medical libraries, is fast taking up its abode in the homes of the people — where it belongs.” [Pages 63- 64]
“It is said that in Japan or China, the duty of the physician is to keep his patients in good health, receiving payments only when they are well. Certainly this sounds like civilization.” [Page 64]
“In conclusion I cannot refrain from saying that women must come to recognize there is some function of womanhood other than being a child-bearing machine. Too long have they allowed themselves to become this, bowing to the yoke of motherhood from puberty to the grave. ” [Page 90]
All quotes pulled from 1920 reprint.
To read the whole pamphlet online, click here!