in the early 20th century, at a time when issues related to family planning or women’s health care were not discussed in public, margaret sanger founded the birth control movement and became a into an open and permanent defender of women’s reproductive rights. In her later life, Sanger spearheaded the effort that resulted in the modern birth control pill in 1960.
born September 14, 1879 in Corning, New York, the sixth of eleven children born to Michael Hennessey Higgins, a bricklayer, and Anna Purcell Higgins, a devout Irish Roman Catholic. Sanger’s life course was shaped by the poverty of his childhood and the death of his mother at age 50, which he understood to be the result of the physical toll of eleven pregnancies. Sanger later became a nurse, attending Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896 and completing the nursing program at White Plains Hospital in 1902. That year she married William Sanger, an architect, and moved to Hastings, New York, where the couple had three children.
The singers moved to New York City in 1910, where they became involved with a number of progressive-era activists and intellectuals, including Max Eastman, Upton Sinclair, and Emma Goldman. Sanger became a member of the Women’s Committee of the New York chapter of the Socialist Party and participated in women’s labor protests, such as the strikes in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 and Paterson, New Jersey in 1913.
Sanger strongly believed that the ability to control family size was crucial to ending the cycle of poverty for women. but it was illegal to distribute birth control information. Her working as a visiting nurse, she frequented the homes of poor immigrants, often with large families and wives whose health was affected by too many desperate pregnancies, miscarriages or botched abortions. Often, too, immigrant wives would ask her to tell them “the secret,” assuming that educated white women like Sanger knew how to limit family size. Sanger set out to 1) provide women with birth control information and 2) repeal the federal Comstock Act, which prohibited the distribution of obscene materials through the mail and treated birth control information as such.
In 1914, Sanger launched her own feminist publication, The Wayward Woman, advocating birth control. She was charged with breaking the Comstock Laws and fled to England, though friends of hers shared a pamphlet she wrote on contraceptive techniques in her absence. She returned a year later to stand trial, but when her five-year-old daughter died unexpectedly, public pressure caused the charges against Sanger to be dropped.
in 1916 he opened the first birth control clinic in brownsville, brooklyn. just a week later, she was arrested and spent 30 days in jail. Sanger’s arrest garnered much media attention and attracted a number of wealthy supporters. He appealed his conviction, and although he lost, the courts ruled that doctors could prescribe contraceptives to women for medical reasons, a loophole that allowed Sanger to open a clinic in 1923 staffed by female doctors and social workers, which would later become planned parenthood. federation of america.
Sanger and her husband divorced in 1914; She remarried James Noah Slow, an oil magnate, in 1922, while continuing his advocacy work for her. Sanger launched the birth control revision in 1917 and founded the American Birth Control League in 1921 to garner support from social workers, medical professionals, and the public for birth control. In 1929, she formed the National Committee on Federal Birth Control Legislation to lobby Congress for legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe birth control. Despite resistance from doctors and the Catholic Church throughout her activist career, Sanger’s efforts eventually led to the legalization and widespread use of contraceptives in the United States. in 1936, the courts made it legal for doctors to prescribe contraceptives. In 1971 the Comstock Laws finally ended, nearly a century after they were passed.
Sanger’s steadfast focus on birth control sometimes had unintended consequences. she spent time with the eugenics movement, which sought to “breed” “undesirable” populations by limiting their ability to procreate through birth control and sterilization. Sanger saw the value of the science of birth control in preventing birth defects, and although she disagreed with the racial and class focus of the eugenics movement, her association with it tarnished his reputation.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Sanger expanded his efforts internationally. Sanger retired in 1942 and moved to Tucson, Arizona, although she remained a passionate advocate of birth control. In the late 1950s, with funding from International Combine heiress Katharine McCormick, Sanger enlisted researcher Gregory Pincus to develop an oral contraceptive. The “pill” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. She Sanger died in 1966 at the age of 86.