#86: Margaret Sanger


Margaret SangerYou can't talk about reproductive freedom without talking about Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Sanger was born in 1879 in New York. She was the sixth of eleven children in a working-class Irish-American family. Margaret's mother was constantly pregnant and sick during her childhood, eventually dying of TB.

Margaret went to college and became a nurse. She focused on maternal health care and worked in some of the worst parts of New York City. In 1902, she married William Sanger, an architect. They had three children before divorcing in the early 1920s.

After spending ten years watching women suffer and die from too many pregnancies, botched abortions and other gender and poverty-related afflictions, Margaret quit nursing become a full-time birth control educator and activist. She wrote a series of articles entitled "What Every Girl Should Know" for The New York Call, giving practical advice on available birth control methods. These articles were later published as a book. Margaret also wrote pamphlets, and then started her own radical newspaper, The Woman Rebel, which many states banned.

In 1914, Margaret was arrested for violations of the Cornstock Act, which banned the transmission of "lewd" materials through the mail. She expatriated to Europe until her case was dismissed.

In 1916, Margaret opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. It was shut down after nine days and she was briefly imprisoned. In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League (renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942). She traveled and lectured on birth control and family planning through the 20s and 30s, and won a victory when the Cornstock Act was overturned in 1923.

In 1965, the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut legalized contraception for married couples (this protection was extended to unmarried people in 1972). The next year, Margaret Sanger died at the age of 86.

Time Magazine
Michigan State University
Harvard University

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