The Margaret Sanger Papers


Malthusian League (1877-1927)

British Neo-Malthusian organization. Founded by George Drysdale in 1877 in the wake of the prosecution of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publication of Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy, the Malthusian League was the first organization to promote family limitation as a cure for poverty caused by universal, periodic overpopulation. While George Drysdale's belief in utilitarianism, classical economic theory, and family limitation provided the philosophical underpinning of the organization, it was his brother, Dr. Charles Robert Drysdale who served as the League's president from 1877 until his death in 1907; he was succeeded by his wife, Dr. Alice Vickery Drysdale. Under the Drysdales' leadership, the League promoted family limitation as a means of reducing poverty and overpopulation. The League's membership, though never large, was extremely active, particularly in its commitment to promoting "full and open discussion of the Population question" in an environment "unfettered by fear of legal penalties." In 1913 the League published Hygienic Methods of Family Limitation. In 1872 it also began publishing The Malthusian, a monthly journal. In 1922 it was renamed and published as The New Generation until 1949 when it again became The Malthusian (it ceased publication in 1952). After her 1914 escape from prosecution, Margaret Sanger contacted the League and received a great deal of support from Alice Vickery Drysdale and her son Charles Vickery Drysdale; the latter remained a close friend of Sanger's for many decades. The Drysdales and other League members encouraged Sanger to continue her fight and also recommended that she visit the clinics run by the Dutch Neo-Malthusian League. Sanger continued a close association with the Malthusian League throughout the 1920s, attending the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in London in 1922 and sponsoring the sixth such conference in New York in 1925. The League, however, never shed its conservative political outlook, failed to build working-class support and kept itself separate from Socialist, or Labour Party ties. As a result it failed to expand its support base and by 1927, had ceased active operations.
References: Audrey Ledbetter, A History of the Malthusian League, 1977-1927 (1976).