Famous Faces: Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger was a woman who encompassed the word provocative, with her distaste for traditional gender roles and defiance in the face of opposition putting her among the most influential women of the 20th century. She has been hailed as a revolutionary figure in the fight for reproductive rights, especially for women, and is the founder of the American Planned Parenthood cMargaretSangerSignslinics that today provide information, medication, and medical procedures to improve the reproductive health of millions of individuals.


Margaret Sanger (née. Higgins) was born on September 14th, 1879 and originally hailed from Corning, New York. She attended Claverack College and Hudson River Institute before enrolling as a nurse probationer at White Plains Hospital. She married William Sanger in 1902 and subsequently stopped her education. The Sangers, after the birth of their three children, moved to Westchester in New York to settle down and live the quiet life.


Fortunately for us this did not last long; a fire that destroyed their home caused them to move to New York City in 1911, where she became more involved with the bohemian lifestyle and left wing politics that prevailed in the Greenwich Village during this time. This led her to write two columns in the magazine New York Call, “What Every Mother Should Know” and “What Every Girl Should Know”, that caused both outrage and incredible support for her ‘radical’ ideas of equality and a woman’s right to her body. Eventually, after publishing her magazine The Woman Rebel (with its catchphrase ‘No Gods, No Masters’) and for creating a pamphlet containing incredibly detailed descriptions of various contraception methods, she was forced to flee the country for violating postal obscenity laws of the time.


Upon returning to the US in 1915, and having visited various birth control clinics in the Netherlands, she started up her campaigns once again; smuggling diaphragms from Europe, publishing periodicals regarding birth control and, most importantly, opening a family planning and birth control clinic in Brooklyn on October 16th 1916. However, after just nine days of operating Sanger was arrested and subsequently released after making bail. Upon returning home she continued to see women until a second police raid where she was charged with distribution of contraceptives and running a public nuisance and sent to a workhouse to work. The judge stated that women did not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception”, and when offered a lenient sentence if she promised to not break the law her response was: “I cannot respect the law as it exists today.”


In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League, whose founding principles were thus:

“We hold that children should be (1) Conceived in love; (2) Born of the mother’s conscious desire; (3) And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health. Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.”


This landmark event started an incredible movement that attracted the attention of some incredibly powerful and influential people and groups; from John D Rockeffeler Jr. to Kato Shidzue in Japan. This was also around the time that Sanger established the Clinical Research Bureau, which she would later obtain full control over after a leadership conflict in the ABCL forced her to resign and would rename to the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB). It was with this group that she achieved her ultimate goal; in 1936 the Comstock laws prohibiting physicians from obtaining contraceptives was overturned, and in 1937 the American Medical Association adopted contraception as a normal and vital medical service that would require teaching in medical schools around America.


After this landmark decision Sanger retired to Arizona to spend less time on the movement and more time relaxing. This was not the case, and she continued to be the president of the newly formed Planned Parenthood Federation of America (an amalgamation of the BCCRB and the ABCL) for a number of years as well as the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation well into her 80s.


Margaret Sanger died of congestive heart failure in 1966; a year after the US Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which saw the legalisation of birth control in the US. She is buried in Fishkill, New York, next to both her sister and her second husband. Her work with the underprivileged women in New York, with desperate women who could not afford to have any more children, to women who just wanted to enjoy having sex without discrimination, can never be overvalued; she was a pioneer with women’s rights and was one of the most influential feminists of the 21st century. To end this article, a quote from the woman herself that fully demonstrates the woman that Margaret Sanger was:

“A woman’s duty: To look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in the eyes… to speak and act in defiance of convention.”- Margaret Sanger, 1939.


FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT http://www.biography.com/people/margaret-sanger-9471186.


To make a donation towards Planned Parenthood visit: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/


Image from http://www.peacebuttons.info/new/E-News/peacehistorynovember.htm.


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