Planning for Sanger’s 1935 trip to India

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The Margaret Sanger Papers
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April 12, 2011, 9:28 a.m. (view history)

Sanger traveled to India in November 1935, leaving in February of 1936

Writing while en route to the Middle East, she note "looking forward with intense joy to your visit & to our pilgrimage t India & possibly to some other places. Within the next 5 years I would like you to visit every country in the world only about 40 of any size. I will make a list and then tick them off as your triumphant progress is made."

"As for the All India WOmen's Conf. again passed the B.C. resolution & also the Indian Medical Congress the ground must be well prepared. I think it may be a good plan if I work up the case for the Govt & get as many introductions as I can form the India Office in London & from the High Commissioners for India. These are only suggestions, but I do think as India is such a vast problem we should plan on team work under your direction also I think we should bear in mind publishing a report of our visit under your editorship as not only would it be an eyeopening record for the world but it should raise money for travelling & for Conferences. We should plan on China & Japan for 1935 while the Indian success is still fresh in people's minds. I just feel this morning as though in a few years we can defeat the images & the R.C.'s * the stupid everywhere on this question only of course under your leadership."

MS heard that a resolution to invite her to the AIWC meeting was approved. "I have been thinking over the trip and what it will mean and what we should like best to do. We have had so much success and such good results wherever we have organized a Conference that I should like to see such a Conference pulled off while I am in India. Such a Conference would last for three to five days, and would be open to those that cared to come, and opinions would be presented by such distinguished persons as might have particular viewpoints to present. I should like to have Gandhi and Tagore both present their own point of view, and prepare for an interesting discussion to follow both."

Says that she knows it is time consuming to organize, but perhaps How-Martyn can travel ahead of MS and arrange the set up and invitations. Asks whether they can get that much organized with the AIWC so close.  MS is looking for funding, which will make everything more quickly done if she can find it. Says that there is a "possibility" that after visiting India she might go to China to do more organizing there.

She is happy that the resolution went through and the official invitation will come shortly. "I have been thinking over the trip and what it will mean and what we should like best to do. We have had so much success and such good results wherever we have organized a Conference that I should like to see such a Conference pulled off while I am in India. Such a conference would last three to five days, and would be open to those who cared to come, and opinions would be presented by such distinguished persons as might have particular viewpoints to present. I should like to have Gandhi and Tagore both present their own point of view, and prepare for an interesting discussion to follow both."

Says that she knows it will take some work, likely they can send How-Martryn ahead to do the arrangements and invitations. "The question in my mind is whether there would be time enough to organize such a Conference in conjunction with the All India Women's Conference? If that takes place the latter part of December I am afraid that will be too soon to get the best results." Hopes to secure financial assistance for the idea, says that there is a possibility that she will also go to China and hold a conference there after her India trip. If so, she would return to the US in May, via San Francisco. Asks her for details of the AIWC as soon as she has them, also for any advice on publicity."

Recounts her "great joy" in hearing the news that she will be able to go to India. "My firm conviction is that you are going to do one of the biggest jobs of your life in India and make a mark on the history of Asia." Calls her ideas regarding holding a Conference, "right and wise, but they would not be possible of realisation this year" because she would need to meet the "prominent Indians and surveyed the ground" before she could get it going; took 2 years in Geneva, 1 in Zurich, but India "is far more difficult." Says once she had gotten the connections, "you will be able to plan the most marvelous Conference you have yet done." Also holds that Travanacore is a small native state in the extreme south of India and not suitable for an important conference; the important people would not travel there.

Also "The Indians are in a very jumpy condition and it is essential that we should take every care to respect their feelings and consult their wishes. I believe, being American you will be able to do that in personal contact better than an English person." How-Martyn also thinks that they should include other Asian countries in the conference, Ceylon, Burma, Palestine, Iraq, China, Japan and possibly Egypt and the Malay States.

Notes that she met with Mr. and Mrs. Ray in London office and that they were pleased about the trip and a lunch that Anne had for them (in NY?); Ray thinks that the AIWC will make all arrangements for Sanger in Travanacore and that they expect her appearance there will be MS's first major Indian appearance. How-Martyn discusses potential travel plans. Happy to hear that Anna Jane Phillips will be able to accompany Sanger without cost, she will see if she can get a few from England to do the same.  Brief mention of Ettie Rout and her ill health. "However, no one of any importance here in the movement, outside Stopes, would listen to her abuse of the American movement and you." How-Martyn plans to get to Bombay by Nov. 22 and to work for 10 days in the Bombay region, then on to Colombo until MS arrives.

Sanger received the official invitation and has accepted it. She also asked them about the chances of pulling off a conference "I think it is a good idea to try to get their cooperation if such a thing is done. I am now out trying to get money for the conference. In fact, we should have one in China about a month after we have one in India. If we do not get money enough to have a big affair we could have a preliminary conference in India and another in China, just as preparation for one a year later. It will certainly be most essential that you go forward to make arrangements if it is decided that we shall have a conference.

MS acknowledges that if the AIWC will be in December, there will not be time enough to organize a conference; also will miss How-Martyn being on the boat with her en route to India, had hoped that they could make stop offs at Egypt, Greece, Turkey and "as many other places as we could get stop-overs and add funds for our expenses." Asks her to make reservations for MS and Anna Jane Phillips "on any medium price boat you consider the right time for us to debark. I cannot afford to go first-class but if it is a one-cabin ship I would like an outside room, single, if possible. Miss Phillips might not object to going with someone else, but I prefer to be alone."

"Strictly confidential" "It is difficult to answer your direct question about coming here with an English group. (Long before receiving this you will have had the direct invitation to attend the Women's Conf. as a Special Visitor.) because it includes what seems a reflection on Mrs. How-Martyn. Even if she comes to India with you I would say that it will be best if you visit Trivandrum without her. I also advise that you do not hold a Birth Control Conference in Trivandrum after the Conference but that you organise it in Mysore & I would advise that if Mrs. How-Martyn comes with you to India she should organise that conference in Mysore while you are in Trivandrum. I cannot analyse quite why but it may have been because she was a third Englishwoman that our Conference women in Poona did not 'click' to her, & not on suggested that she should be asked to return with you. I do think emphasis on the American angle of your visit should be made & the English angle be kept in abeyance. I dislike having to write this as sisterhood is greater than national differences, & the Internat Centre of B.C. Inform. has every right to work here & Mrs. H-M was and will be most helpful--apart from the Conf. reaction to her in circumstances which placed her at a disadvantage."

Provides her more reasons not to have the conference in Trivandrum with the AIWC. 1) Trivandrum is far from everywhere. 2) Railways there give no concessions, even for the AIWC, whereas most other places are able to get them; the increased cost is an "enormous set back to good numbers and All-Indianess." 3) Travanacore has not been a leader in the BC movement. 4) Women who attended the AIWC will already have been in the city for 10 days and "they won't want to stay longer." 5) When they tried to add a conference onto the AIWC in 1930 (All-Asian), they "resolved that we would never again try to combine two Conferences." 6) MS will be more effective as the leading Visitor without "a background working up your own Cause" there. 7) Mysore or Bombay are better prepared, How-Martyn has made contacts there and they are already considered the "model state." and are centrally located. Does not advise Delhi. 8) Having her meeting in another town would allow more time to organize it. 9) She could attract the attendance of "a different set of women (I hope the more medical women)" as organizers whuch would be
all to the good."10) Says her only chance of getting Gandhi or Tagore would be if the meeting was held in Bombay; and from publicity angle, Bombay is better than Mysore.

Sorry that she is not free to help organize the meeting, but How-Martyn has got the "publicity ropes in her hands." Reminds her that she will help however she can and that she is in favor of MS's cause.

Got several of her letter; there is no doubt that her first appearance should be at the AIWC, "This is only fair to those who have issued the invitation." Notes that she would like to make some stops en route to India, Egypt, Persia or Istanbul. Asks for contacts, as "I do not want to go to any of these places as a sight-seeing venture, but I would like to use my time and my efforts as fully and wisely as they can be used during this tour." She prefers the idea of taking a British ship over the American Dollar Line because she thinks that she will be able to make contacts while on board. She asks whether their plans would be disturbed if Italy was to go to war, guessing that the Suez Canal might be closed "and it might be advisable for me in such a case to either stay home or go around the other way and sail from San Francisco, and go through Japan and China and then around to India." Prefers coming via England, so she can see some friends there, and returning via the Western US.

Still likes the idea of a Conference, even if it is only a preliminary one. Agrees that they would need 1-2 years planning for a major conference "especially if it is to take place in the Orient," but thinks they could set up preliminary ones in India and China with "short notice, with the idea of consulting with the various personages, setting up a Committee to carry on in preparation for the big event, etc. etc. I do not know India at all, but I have found the Chinese and Japanese were very prompt in responding to such suggestions; in fact, in China they took me completely by surprise in rushing me into activities, doing more in twenty-four hours than I expected I would take two weeks!"

"I should like to go to Bombay and meet some of the birth-controllers but I don't want to spoil anything by doing so for the All India Women's Conference. It would mean that we would have to go back to Bombay again, but perhaps that is what you intend to do." More discussion of plans and schedules. "The Squire says that he is sure the country is full of germs and he has no intention of filling his body with such parasites and he is quite certain we are all going to be shipped home dead!" Agrees with How-Martyn on publicity and will bring materials; says that she will use the BCIIC as her organization while there. Thinks they should get up some stationary for the BCIIC that includes the places and countries they have contacts in; previously it wasn't that impressive, "but I should like to begin after our trip to India to see if we cannot get outstanding people whose names will mean something to the inhabitants of each country." Asks How-Martyn to send a list of contacts to her.


Has booked passage on the Brittanic to England, leaving on Oct. 19. Has a temporary booking for the Viceroy of India for Bombay, but they are not sure they can hold it. "I could have had a very good accommodation on the Italian Line, the "VICTORIA" leaving Genoa at a later date, but I preferred not to give money to Mussolini's adventures, if I could find other accommodations." Wants to see How-Martyn in England before she leaves, as well as meet with friends and with the BCIIC Council.  Says that she is tempted to make a "round the world trip" because she would get a 30% discount. But she doesn't want to step on How-Martyn's toes or interfere with her plans. That is one of the reasons she wants to meet and plan in London. She is looking to economize while in London, asks for inexpensive hotel recommendation.

Hopes to greet MS when she lands at Southampton. Says that is "seems absurd we should not travel together" to India. Problem of available room on the Viceroy of India, which she hopes to avoid by getting on in Marseilles. Says that MS's plan of "stopping off is not easy to carry out because the boats are so full and we have no real hard workers in Egypt, Palestine, or Istanbul, or indeed anywhere else along the way. Further, in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, the whole of the sympathisers were against any publicity whatever, and Eileen Palmer, who has just been to Palestine, tells me that conditions there are still the same. Publicity would make the birth control work impossible." Reports that in Jerusalem they have gotten birth control sessions going at a health center, but "it has to be done so quietly that they are not even keeping case cards of the patients with whom they deal."

Says that with India's 350 million (against 20 million in Egypt and Palestine) she thinks that MS's three weeks in India early could be used profitably to make connections and begin work on their own conference. Mentions Lt. Col. Berkeley Hill, a doctor in India who is married to an Indian woman, and is President of the Women's Welfare Society in Calcutta, which has started a clinic there.

Says that it will not be a problem that she is arriving early, "provided we manage that the publicity is all around your coming for the All India Women's Conference, and that you are just going to meet as many prominent Indian workers as possible." Thinks they might be able to organize a Chinese conference with shorter notice, even after MS arrives in London, says they could send Air Mail that would precede them to China by about three weeks and that would be enough.

Says to tell the Squire that "he is right--there are millions and millions and millions of germs in India but he has overlooked their greatest enemy, the SUN. They wilt and fade and die in the temperatures of 100-110 F. in the summer and in the winter they find it difficult to survive art 90 F. We were inoculated against smallpox and against about five kinds of typhoid and of course did not drink unboiled water and did not eat salads or shellfish."

Changed plans. Now it is the S.S. Normandie to England, arriving Plymouth on Oct. 23 and sailing on the 28th. That leaves 3 days in London together before How-Martyn sails. MS will then sail on Nov. 8 from Southampton on the S.S. Baloeran which will arrive in Columbo on Nov. 28. She will then take a boat to Madras on Dec. 2, where she will spend a few weeks "to better acquaint herself with the problems she will meet and the Indian psychology."

Attaches info on the International Council of Women meeting that is also being held in India, "It would be wonderful if this group could include birth control on their program under the topic of 'Maternal Mortality'". Asks her to get in touch with Lady Ishbel, president of the Conference if she can make the suggestion personally. They would be most pleased if the ICW would invite MS to attend and speak.

Writes to tell her that  MS will sail on the S.S. Viceroy of India, instead of the Baloeran, which means she will arrive on Nov., 25, in Bombay, not on Nov. 28 in Columbo. Believes that she will remain in Bombay only a short time, then go to Madras as planned. They have been forwarding her mail to the AIWC office.

Says that the "pressing need for birth control in the Orient, and the potentialities for world peace in the development of its international aspects" have prompted MS to accept the AIWC invitation. Gives a brief history of MS's 1922 trip to Japan, notes that the AIWC represents 12 million women and has supported BC since 1932. "It is the largest organization of women in the world to officially demand that birth control information, as a fundamental right of every woman, be a part of all public health programs." Notes that the official invitation says "It is strange that your country, which boasts of being more advanced than the rest of the world, should still hang on to the puritanical ideas of its Pilgrim Fathers. The All India Conference should express its sympathy and lend full support to the women of America in their efforts to change their law about birth control information."

Quotes MS saying "The women of the Orient, like women the world over, have ceased to look to American womanhood for leadership in this field." Notes that interest was wakened by the BC in Asia conference held in London in 1933 and by How-Martyn's trip last winter "to prepare the ground for Mrs. Sanger's present tour of the Orient." MS will spend "sufficient time in India to instruct native midwives in contraceptive methods. Demonstration clinics will be set up, and a general educational movement, such as has been develeped in this country and in England, will be launched." MS will also visit China, Japan and Hawaii on the return trip, reaching Washington "early during the new session of Congress." Before then she will initiate an intensive education campaign in Congress.

"My instinct to prepare the way for you in India was very very right. Apart from the joy of your companionship I am really glad you are not here. The Conference treated me very scurvily. They sent me an invitation (very late) to go as a guest & then practically ignored me & I was only given about 10 mins. Very much was made of Maude Royden & Mrs Corbett Ashby in public & my name not even mentioned & not a word of thanks thrown to me by the officials. However apart from  its reflection on B.C. I am not worried & of course not making it public." Says that the general population of Karachi more than made up for the apathy at the conference. She addressed meetings, gives the names of some contacts, "Dr. Anna Tomas is a peach of a woman & her husband a delightfully refreshing person both very keen on B.C. They are S. Indians from Travancore so very dark in complexion, Christians & not political." Says that together with Mr. Mallik, they will get a Karachi Birth Control League started and maybe a clinic. Anna Thomas runs a maternity house and "is just the right woman to combine a clinic with it." Thomas suggested that they follow the next AIWC meeting with a birth control conference. How Martyn asks MS to cable Thomas a preliminary go ahead. Says that it should be Jan. 3-4 or thereabouts after the AIWC, says that they can travel to Ceylon, Burma, Chian and Phillipines, and can be preceded by MS in Syria, Egypt and  Palestine.

Says that the AIWC "will never" make India BC conscious, because "they are too respectable, run I imagine by a small cliqu who are thinking more of the political plans of Nationalism along Congress lines than of the voiceless millions of India's women. Next year your tour cd. be a triumph I feel sure. Can we bring a medical women with us & give practical advice during this Conf." Says she will sound out people as she goes to "& find out what support we can get." Says the meetings will be crowded.