When I worked in New York, I was a member of my agency’s task force on women’s issues. We commemorated Women’s History Month by sharing brief bios of prominent women on the agency’s internal news server. I wrote several myself, and have decided to post them here to celebrate Women’s History Month 2011.
Margaret Sanger–Founder of the American birth control movement
Working in the poorest neighborhoods of New York City in the early 20th century, Margaret Sanger saw first hand the negative effects upon women’s health resulting from multiple births. While more educated women could obtain contraceptives (“French” products) and birth control information, the women Sanger assisted had no such recourse1. She began writing essays and producing pamphlets about birth control.
In 1914, Sanger was indicted for violation of the Comstock Laws, which prohibited the transmittal of obscene materials through the postal service. Sanger’s essays on contraception and women’s sexual health were considered obscene. She fled to England but returned in 1915. After the death of her five-year-old daughter, public sympathy resulted in the dismissal of all charges against her.
Not one to avoid controversy, in 1916 Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the country. Nine days later, authorities closed the clinic. Sanger served 30 days in jail2. However, the publicity generated public debate about birth control, and helped Sanger develop a base of wealthy supporters. This support enabled her to create an organized birth control movement: she founded the American Birth Control League in 1921, which in 1942 became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America3.
1: Steinem, Gloria. “Margaret Sanger.” Time Magazine 100. April 13, 1998.
2: Centers for Disease Control. “Margaret Sanger.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. December 3, 1999 48(47): 1075.
3: “Biographical Sketch.” Margaret Sanger Papers Project. December 6, 2002.
Photo from Business Week
To learn more:
Chesler, Ellen. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.
Sanger, Margaret. The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger. New York: Dover Publications, 2004.
Sanger, Margaret. “This I Believe.” First broadcast on Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe in November 1953.