Margaret Sanger Tells Of Her Visit To Dr. Rutgers
( Originally Published 1940 )
From "My Fight for Birth Control", 1931, Chap. VIII, p. 107 ff.
My visit to Holland in January, 1915, was doubtless the most instructive of all my travels, and from it I derived the greatest benefit.
During my arduous studies in the reading room of the British Museum I gathered...that Holland stood out as the one nation in Europe where some force was automatically at work on...constructive race building...Here the death rate had fallen faster than the birth rate, which was a natural increase in the population of 16 persons per thousand, meaning that the population of Holland was increasing faster than that of any other country in the world!
Again I found a gradual lowering in the rate of deaths among mothers and children; a reduction in the proportion of stillbirths and abortions; and indication of a smaller amount of venereal disease; and a decrease of professional prostitution. The tables of maternal mortality gave Holland the lowest figure...
Speaking neither Dutch nor German ...I could not telephone to Dr. Rutgers. So at nine o'clock the same morning I wrote his address on a piece of paper, hailed a taxi and set forth to call on the veteran of Dutch Neo-Malthusianism. Never shall I forget the feeling I had when, in response to my ring, a small, square aperture in the upper part of the door opened in an uncanny way, and a face, wizened, aged, and inquisitive, appeared in the frame window. Finally after I had explained my mission, the doctor opened the door. I was ushered into his library to wait until he was dressed. We then went out to a second "breakfast" together at a nearby cafe, where we talked until noon, about the situation in Holland and the difficulties in America.
From Dr. Rutgers I learned much of the complexities of the technique of contraception...The following day, I began my daily visits to his office which continued for several weeks ...The fact that each woman had to be examined by Dr. Rutgers before the method of contraception could be advised presented an entirely new aspect of the situation to me. I began to delve with deep interest into the whys and wherefores. I bombarded the little man with questions concerning each case. At some sessions there were as many as ten or even fifteen women in his office seeking instruction. These I advised and fitted under his guidance without knowledge of the Dutch language.
Besides myself, two midwives were learning the technique from Dr. Rutgers. They came each morning to equip themselves with knowledge preparatory to starting a center in the outskirts of The Hague. There were already over fifty such centers, which Dr. Rutgers called "clinics"...
The nurses or midwives were trained by Dr. Rutgers as "experts" in hygienic methods of family limitation. They were then set up in practice in various towns or cities throughout Holland.
Besides these official clinics for which the Neo-Malthusian League was responsible, I found many commercial places, run as supply shops, where any woman or man could purchase any contraceptive article desired regardless of needs or conditions...This method was strongly disapproved by Dr. Rutgers and the Dutch Neo-Malthusian League. They directed their propaganda against commercializing this great service.
Records, detailed and full, had not been kept until Dr. Rutgers took charge, follow-up had not seemed necessary, and the great opportunity of giving to the world case histories or mass facts over a period of forty years upon which scientific data could be based, was lost to the world forever...
Dr. Rutgers' object was to direct the teachings of family limitation into homes where there was poverty, sickness, or disease... There was a gentle and sympathetic follow-up into the homes where death had taken a child. The condition of the home and the attitude of the mother was reported to the League's officers, and proper ad-vice was given according to the circumstances. I found that the infant mortality rates of The Hague and Amsterdam were at that time the lowest of all cities in the world ...To Dr. Rutgers we owe the idea of training nurses and sending them into congested quarters to teach contraception to the overburdened mothers of the poor...
I visited Dr. Rutgers again in 1920, and found a sad and unhappy man, ever willing that the younger generation should try its hand, but realizing how much they were lacking in experience. When, in 1921 Dr. and Mrs. Drysdale and Dr. Haire and I went to Amsterdam to attend a contraceptive conference, Dr. Rutgers' health would not allow him to join us. He died in September, 1924. His death was ten years too soon. Today the influence of his work goes on spreading itself sanely, quietly into the lives of people who are not afraid to think.
The results of my visit to Holland were to change the whole course of the birth control movement, not only in America but in England and Europe well.