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Home > Women's History Month > Part 1: Women's Rights Pioneers > Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Higgins Sanger was born on September 14, 1879 in New York. Her mother was pregnant 18 times with 11 live births. Margaret went to Claverack College and became a nurse. In 1902 she was married to William Sanger.

In 1912 she began work in a poor slum area of Manhattan and wrote a column for the 'New York Call' called 'What Every Girl Should Know. She also distributed a pamphlet to poor women - Family Limitation - which included information about contraception and risked being arrested because of it.

Margaret started up a newspaper called 'The Woman Rebel' in 1914 which advocated birth control. In 1916 she opned a clinic for family planning and birth control - the very first in the United States. The clinic was raided by the police and she was arrested for breaking obscenity laws because she had sent information about birth control through the mail. The year following that she began the 'The Birth Control Review and Birth Control News'.

In 1916 she also wrote a pamphlet called 'What Every Girl Should Know' which explained sexuality to young girls including things like menstruation. In 1917 'What Every Mother Should Know' was published. She ended up being sent to a workhouse for 'creating a public nuisance' because of these publications.

Margaret continued to stay busy promoting birth control over the next several years. Her activities included founding the American Birth Control League (ABCL), made multiple trips to Japan to distribute information about birth control there, opened the first legal birth control clinic in the United States (the Clinical Research Bureau), she formed the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, helped with the first World Population Conference, became president of the Birth Control International Information Center and was chairperson of the Birth Control Council of America. And she also was involved with the publishing of 'The Birth Control Review' and 'The Birth Control News' and was president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Later, in the 60's, the birth control pill became available for the first time and she helped to promote its use all over the world.

During her life she published a number of books also, including, 'Happiness in Marriage' in 1926 and an autobiography in 1938.

She died in 1966 when she was 87 years old - a few months after the law was passed that made birth control legal in the United States.

Quotes about Margaret Sanger

In 1966 the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked about Sanger:
'There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger's early efforts. . . . Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.'

Quotes from Margaret Sanger

'No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.'

'Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.'

'Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man's attitude may be, that problem is hers -- and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.'

'For it is never the intention of such philanthropy to give the poor over-burdened and often undernourished mother of the slum the opportunity to make the choice herself, to decide whether she wishes time after time to bring children into the world. It merely says 'Increase and multiply: We are prepared to help you do this.' Whereas the great majority of mothers realize the grave responsibility they face in keeping alive and rearing the children they have already brought into the world, the maternity center would teach them how to have more. The poor woman is taught how to have her seventh child, when what she wants to know is how to avoid bringing into the world her eighth.'

[Sanger wrote that she wanted to help] 'a group notoriously underprivileged and handicapped to a large measure by a 'caste' system that operates as an added weight upon their efforts to get a fair share of the better things in life. To give them the means of helping themselves is perhaps the richest gift of all. We believe birth control knowledge brought to this group, is the most direct, constructive aid that can be given them to improve their immediate situation' (July, 1939)

'I think it is magnificent that we are in on the ground floor, helping Negroes to control their birth rate, to reduce their high infant and maternal death rate, to maintain better standards of health and living for those already born, and to create better opportunities for those who will be born.' (1942)

'Eugenists imply or insist that a woman's first duty is to the state; we contend that her duty to herself is her first duty to the state. We maintain that a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother. . . . Only upon a free, self-determining motherhood can rest any unshakable structure of racial betterment' (1919)

Other sources of information about Margaret Sanger

The Truth About Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger

About Margaret Sanger


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