Search using this query type:



Search only these record types:

Item
File
Collection

Advanced Search (Items only)

Pioneering in Scandinavia

Dublin Core

Title

Pioneering in Scandinavia

Subject

Jensen, Thit
Leunbach, Jonathan Hoegh von
Union for Sexual Education
Jacobs, Aletta
Sanger, Margaret
Moller, Katti Anke
Nelson, Ada
International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, New York (1925)

Description

Thit Jensen's account of her struggle for birth control in Denmark delivered at Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference.

Creator

Jensen, Thit

Source

Margaret Sanger, ed. International Aspects of Birth Control: Proceedings of the sixth international Neo-Malthusian and Birth control Conference, vol. 1 (New York, 1925), 65-71

Publisher

American Birth Control League

Date

1925

Contributor

Katz, Esther (metadata), Heather De Bel (transcription)

Rights

The American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1939. Contact Planned Parenthood for rights.

Format

JPG

Language

English

Type

Article

Coverage

Copenhagen, Denmark

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

PIONEERING IN SCANDINAVIA
By Fru Thit Jensen

I wonder if you know Mr. Lowbrow?

You probably don't. All the same you have all had to meet him. He is the flat-brained opposition, always full of malice and self-satisfaction.

In my flight for Birth Control in Denmark, I naturally collided with Mr. Lowbrow. But let me begin at the beginning. We pioneers have not much new to tell each other; our fight has, in the main points, been equal. I was called a lion, a tiger, a destroyer of morals, a monster, a witch, and anti-Christ. Surely, you have all been called these nice things; as far as that goes, it certainly is the most dangerous party in history, which is gathered here. 

Because we are pioneers we are dangerous. What is a pioneer? In my diary once was written: "I go as a blind child at the hand of my own law - out in the storm." I think this is the law for all pioneers. This is why we are dangerous - nothing exists able to stop that being who obeys eternal claims, the secret law of progress.

In a year and a half I fought through Birth Control in Denmark. From the day in August, when I visited you in the Hague, Dr. Aletta Jacobs, and until last December, words can't describe my life. The netherworld would be a nice vacation place in comparison. It is a perfect wonder I did not break down. Fortunately I had one of the leading papers in Denmark, the Politiken, as my battlefield. It is usually called the "Intelligence" paper. Every week I wrote an article in the Sunday magazine. I was born to write and trained to speak and discuss. I was an experienced and hardened social-worker. People feared me because of my poisonous tongue and my equally poisonous pen. 

Well, I started out with my first article about Margaret Sanger and Birth Control. I called it Free Motherhood. 

The result was a social earthquake all through the country - and my best friends tried to prevail upon me to stop it. They said they had defended me so often and could not go on doing so.

Just the same I kept on. 

I became a sort of central-station for the cause. I corresponded with Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, England, Argentine and so on. Then I pilgrimaged to the great Danish physicians and invited them to a private meeting in my own home in Copenhagen - and they actually all came - they even stayed to supper. There I introduced Birth Control with a short speech - I must tell you the fact that Danish physicians are very much estimated all over Europe as superior in their work. They certainly hesitated, but they were not directly against the cause. only a sweet old baby one was absolutely in opposition, because he thought that such information would remove the dust from the butterfly's wings - and, I couldn't help it, I had to answer the old fellow, when a woman had given birth to eight children, there could not be much more butterfly dust left on her wings, and one might inform her without any risk. 

Oh, I could entertain you for hours with the amusing and astonishing ideas I have heard, but I must wait til next time I have to speak. 

When I first lectured about Birth Control, it happened that a physician for women interfered - I think he was afraid it might spoil his practice, if there were not to be so many sick and half-killed women, when they finished child-bearing in a reasonable time. He had the nerve to go on to my platform and try to take over my audience - of course, he didn't know me, he talked the most perfect hymn of cheap sentimentality about the poor good mother - the darling mother who gave birth to her sixteenth child and happily took it to her heart and it was wonderful. 

And of course, you know an audience; he appealed to their childishness and they applauded him. I could not stand that, exactly at my start, so I got onto the platform and told him just what I happened to know:

"In your clinic, this very noon, a poor woman died after having borne her ninth child. She had been your patient through several years; you had told her that if she were to bear another child, she would die. You didn't tell her how to avoid it, you only sent her home to her husband, knowing that the law forbade her not to live with him. She became pregnant, and she died, promptly, as you told her. But...who killed her? You, who had the knowledge, or she who knew nothing. And, tell me please, if she had been a rich woman, belonging to society, and your patient, would she ever have had to die from nine small children? Certainly not, because then she would never have had so many."

The audience exploded, being poor people most of them. 

He never answered a word. 

From the moment I started out I was kept busy. I lectured every night, travelled every day, wrote hundreds of articles, defended myself and the cause, talked with poor women who came to me, slept in street cars and ate standing, and finally used the evening of my birthday, the only free evening I had saved, to found the association for Birth Control. It was called the Union for Sexual Education. Physicians from my private meeting became the board of directors, and every member of the association could get information from them. 

It was on account of this that a terrified young physician wrote in the newspaper: "Mrs. Thit Jensen's agitation has resulted in an association for sexual education! This may be considered a striking proof of the slowly progressing process of rottenness in our nation!" Surely, one has to dive deep down in the darkness of the Middle Ages to find the belief that education is sinful and rotten...I need not tell you, the man was a Catholic! I have noticed that when physicians are against Birth Control, it is because they are either in their second childhood or Catholics.

In the autumn Dr. Leunbach came to me. He had written against me in the beginning because his point of view was the well-known one, that the upper classes would decrease, intelligence die out, while only the proletariat would multiply. But very honestly he told me, he had changed his mind; he now thought that nothing would stop the upper classes in their cultured limitation, so there was nothing else left than to make way for the poorer classes to do the same. This was exactly my own point of view. 

The result was a clinic for the poor. He became the physician. I talked about the clinic every  night. Everyone of the audience got a slip of paper with the address if the clinic; all women were welcome, the unmarried as well as the married. 

Now the cause was at a sort of a standstill, nobody attacked, nobody had a mind to - silence - and silence is death.

Than Mr. Lowbrow appeared - sweet boy from the country!

Two women had consulted with him confidently, as I have always advised women to seek the physicians...and he nearly fainted like an old aunt Mitte. He didn't see any reason for these women not to get more children, and when he didn't...such an idea, that a woman herself, as human being, as thinking individual, should have the right to decide whether she would give birth to and educate more children or not. Mr. Lowbrow's low brow was not yet able to deal with such an idea. 

His attack on me, Dr. Leunbach and Birth Control was simply wicked...and led to the last fight, which was for the best - as all the most famous physicians took up the cause and treated it in honest and open discussion. More than ever before the cause was like an earthquake. Throughout the country nobody could avoid hearing about it; the press was full to the brim about it; and even Parliament talked for and against the matter. 

And, luckily, it proved to be an enormous advance in culture from the time of the old physician a woman once told me about. In her despair she had asked him for information, because she had six small children , a paralyzed husband and a farm to handle, quite alone, she couldn't manage anymore - whereupon he had given her the brutal answer: even if a woman had to give birth to a child three times in one year he wouldn't help her. 

The most prominent physicians allied themselves with Birth Control. Professor Gammeltoft - he, too, was at my private meeting - famous throughout Europe as a first-class gynaecologist, took the standpoint that in all cases of medicine, even if a woman was weak, the physician had to help her. And in consequence, he recently gave physicians from country districts a course on Birth Control information. 

But other physicians went further. Dr. Kuhn, in the physician's review, wrote that modern doctors must realize the social side of the matter as well. Dr. Kuhn is a member of the invalid insurance court; and he quote many cases when a housewife, after a troublesome life with hard work in and outdoors and many child-births, suddenly had  her breakdown between forty and fifty...the court declared her a permanent invalid, and the state had to pay. But this proved too expensive in the long run.

Finally the fight ended before the Board of Health, which stated there was no reason for bringing any action against me or the clinic, and honored the physician by declaring Dr. Leunbach a highly esteemed and respected physician. And it finished by giving Mr. Lowbrow a beautiful little hint: that people ought to seek intelligent physicians, where they could get sensible information. 

We have such a civilised and non-hypocritical Board of Health in Denmark. And the last I heard from Dr. Leunback was that the clinic had moved to a bigger office. 

In Norway Mrs. Katti Anker Moller fought for years. She wrote books and pamphlets and recently she got her first clinic opened in Oslo, the capital of Norway. The Norwegian Labour Party is for Birth Control; and it is under consideration that this party will take it over and put in a regular public system.

In Sweden Dr. Ada Nelson opened the first clinic in Stockholm.

The cause may now be considered beyond its childhood maladies in the whole of Scandinavia. Thanks to an intelligent, for-advanced physician-class, and thanks also to Mr. Lowbrow's foolishness, the movement seems to be developing surely and quietly. 

Doubt is half-failure, belief is half-success. When they asked me, "Do you really believe that this will go through?" I steadily answered: "I don't believe it, I know it! Because my instinct for what the future is preparing is absolutely sure. I never would have been sent out in it, if it hadn't been for this secret law I mentioned. The future wishes the essence of mankind, not an ocean of nothing."

And every organisation, church or person, who tries to interfere, is doomed beforehand to lose in power and respect - only when progress has reached a dead point, there will always appear a Mr. Lowbrow. It means trouble for us, personally, but it means glorious progress for civilisation.

Original Format

Published article

Geolocation