“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.” —Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger, born in 1879, was the founder of the birth control movement in the United States, as well as the organization Planned Parenthood. Her efforts led to landmark Supreme Court legislation legalizing birth control in the United States.
The sixth of eleven children, Margaret spent much of her youth helping raise her younger siblings. With financial help from her sisters, Margaret went to nursing training at White Plains Hospital and the Manhattan Ear and Eye Clinic. At the request of her father, she returned home to nurse her mother who died three years later, at age 50, of cervical cancer and tuberculosis. Her mother, Anne Higgins, went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years with 11 live births.
As a nurse, Margaret viewed more devastation that came with unwanted pregnancy. She saw the relation between poverty, uncontrolled fertility, high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and deaths from illegal, botched abortions. This, along with her mothers death, made Sanger an ardent feminist who believed in every woman’s right to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Her life became dedicated to the cause of contraception access and education, working tirelessly to end laws against them.
In 1911, Margaret began to write frank articles on sex in the socialist magazine, The New York Call. The reviews were mixed with outrage and praise. She published her own magazine, for a short time, called The Woman Rebel. She was indicted for mailing materials advocating birth control, but the charges were eventually dropped in 1916. The next year, she opened the United States first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. She was arrested and charged as a ‘public nuisance’, spending 30 days in jail. She appealed to reinterpret the Comstock Act of 1873, a federal law which deemed all contraception education and devices obscene. Her efforts allowed doctors to begin prescribing contraception.
In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, the parent organization of what became Planned Parenthood. She died at age 86, in Tuscon, Arizona from congestive heart failure. It was a year after the greatest accomplishment in her 50 year career, the Supreme Court case Griswold vs. Connecticut which legalized birth control on grounds of ‘marital privacy.’