History (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The modern debate over birth control first took written form with the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) by the English clergyman and economist Thomas Malthus. Malthus argued that population always increases faster than the food supply, so that every society must eventually face overpopulation. For the human species, overpopulation results in civil unrest, disease, and warfare. Thus Malthus was the first to describe the correlation between human population growth and human misery. Malthus himself, as a clergyman, did not advocate contraception or abortion as a means of dealing with this problem, but others in Europe and America did. Partly as a result of their efforts, birthrates fell in the industrialized countries of the West throughout the nineteenth century. Even so, knowledge of the various means of birth control were largely confined to the upper and middle classes, and information about it spread slowly, by word of mouth. In Great Britain, for example, it was illegal to publish or distribute information about birth control devices and techniques until after 1875, while in the United States it remained illegal until the twentieth century had begun.
In the early twentieth century Margaret Sanger finally broke the long-standing American silence about birth control. Working as a trained nurse among poor women in New York City in the early 1900’s, Sanger became convinced that they could have economic and social...
(The entire section is 950 words.)
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