At the Brownsville trial, January 1917.

In March of 1917, members of the National Birth Control League sought to book New York’s famous steakhouse, Delmonico’s for a luncheon to welcome Margaret Sanger back after her thirty-day jail sentence for opening the Brownsville birth control clinic.

As reported in the March 8 New York Times:

Not even the presence of the Committee of One Hundred as guests of the League was a sufficient prophylactic to induce the management to risk contaminating their regular patrons, for, they explain, they ‘cater to the debutante and college alumna class and cannot afford to let any organization which approves such ideas and indorses such propaganda have the use of one of the private dining rooms.

Delmonico’s, which was first opened in 1827, moved to various locations in New York before settling at 2 South William Street in 1837. Known for its innovative and iconic inventions, such as the Delmonico steak, Delmonico potatoes, Baked Alaska, Manhattan Clam Chowder, and Lobster Newberg,  the restaurant catered to the elites in politics and the entertainment world. In the late 19th century the restaurant had as many as ten additional locations, but by 1917 only two remained, the South William Street restaurant and one at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. By 1923 all locations had closed. Revivals came and went through the years, the current Delmonico’s is located at 56 Beaver Street.

Delmonico’s on Fifth Avenue.

The National Birth Control League had invited members of the Committee of One Hundred to attend the event.  The Committee had been created in 1916 to support Margaret Sanger’s birth control work, and consisted of many of the most prominent women in the New York area, including Gertrude Minturn Pinchot, a wealthy socialite from a prominent New York family of Progressive Republicans, Rose Pastor Stokes, the socialist activist and wife of millionaire J. G. Phelps Stokes, Juliet Barrett Rublee, the wife of George Rublee, one of President Wilson’s advisers, and suffragist and socialist Jessie Ashley.

Rebuffed by Delmonico’s the National Birth Control League pressed on, securing a dining room at the Plaza, another of the grand spaces in Manhattan, which seized the opportunity to pledge “as long as persons conduct themselves with dignity, their ideals, beliefs and utterances are not subject to the censorship of any hotel management.”  Around 150 members turned up to listen to Margaret Sanger call for a new fighting morality of motherhood:

Long has woman been called the gentler and weaker half of human–kind; long has she borne the brunt of unwilling motherhood; long has she been the stepping stone of oligarchies, kingdoms and man–made democracies; too long have they thrived on her enslavement. The time has come at last when she demands her physical and spiritual freedom,–and her liberty.

When woman becomes conscious of her ego, her inner self, then shall she become a pivot in the world’s advanced thought, and shall hold within her hands the reins of human destiny. Those who have opposed her development and progress are simply those who refuse to accept this new Moral Standard for her.

They do not realize that Birth Control, which shall place woman in possession of her own body, is an epoch-making process in racial development. (Sanger, “Voluntary Motherhood,” March 1917.)

At a speech to the Women’s City Club on the previous day, March 14, Sanger denounced the archaic laws against birth control and the inhumane conditions in women’s prison:

No human being can see the things I have seen and respect the law that causes them. I decided that I owed it to society and to every social instinct of my being to lay the facts bare before society. The only way to strike is to strike from the shoulder, and I aimed at what is sacred to you–a law. But that law is unsocial, for when you put a piece of parchment on a pedestal and worship it, placing it above womanhood and motherhood, I call that law anti-social.”

For the complete text of “Voluntary Motherhood a speech which may have been delivered at the meeting, see our digital edition.

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