Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Real Margaret Sanger

          The following is part one of a research paper written by my sister, and I am posting it here with her full permission.  It is a bit long and parenthetically notated, but quite informative. For the second half, see The Real Margaret Sanger, Cont'd.  Her own words are found in the second part.  

          Margaret Sanger is heralded today as a hero for the women's rights movement in the early 1900's. She has been accredited to have fought fearlessly for a woman's right to be in control of her own reproductive health through the use of artificial birth control.  But was that really her reason for trying to make the use of birth control legal?  Could her mission have really been more about trying to control the population of those she deemed "unfit" than her trying to fight for the rights of women to use birth control?
          She was born Margaret Louise Higgins, one of eleven children, to Michael and Anne Higgins on September 14, 1879.  After attending Claverack College and Hudson River Institute, Sanger started the nursing program at White Plains Hospital and graduated from there in 1902 (A and E Television Networks).  She married William Sanger shortly after and had 3 children in Hastings, N.Y.  In 1910 her family moved into the City.  Even though their marriage ended in divorce she kept his last name of Sanger (A and E Television Networks).  
          Her work toward making birth control legal started in 1912 when she started a column in the New York Call called "What Every Girl Should Know."  And in 1913 she began publishing her monthly periodical "The Woman Rebel" which often emphasized a "woman's right to access birth control" (Witherbee).  By promoting and circulating such material she was in violation of the federal 1873 Comstock law which prohibited the promotion of "obscene" and sexually explicit material (Witherbee).  She was indicted in August 1914, posted bail and fled to Europe (Witherbee).  While in Europe she spent time with social "elites" where she learned of neo-Malthusian thought and readily embraced its ideology.
         Neo-Malthusian is a stance that built off of Thomas Malthus's fear of overpopulation.  Thomas Malthus (1766-1843) was an English clergyman, economist, and demographer who feared the threat of overpopulation if the population did not use more moral restraint in procreation (U of Colorado).  He proposed negative checks, also called moral checks, which included abstinence and waiting longer before marriage.  Through this "individual and moral choice" the threat of overpopulation would be stemmed (U of Colorado).  Neo-Malthusians, however, believe that the world population is in a "state of crisis" and that the overpopulation can only be reversed through the negative checks of artificial birth control, sterilization, and abortion (U of Colorado).  Neo-Malthusians blamed the poorer and lower classes for the overpopulation because of their high birth rates and therefore believed that the negative checks should be used against them.  The poorest communities were usually filled with immigrants, minorities, and the uneducated or under-educated and they were to be targeted to keep them from continuing to procreate, thus removing them from society.
          She came back to New York for trial in 1915 but the prosecutor dropped the charges because of the death of her young daughter.  In 1916 she "opened the country's first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn" and was forced to shut down 9 days later because it was illegal to hand out birth control related material (Witherbee).  In 1917 she started publishing her monthly periodical "Birth Control Review", which often contained eugenic material.  In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League (ABL) which was eventually renamed Planned Parenthood.
          For the second half of the posting, see The Real Margaret Sanger, Cont'd.  Her own words are featured in the second part.


  1. I'm so glad you posted this. She is often heralded as a hero when she really should not be. Her intentions weren't noble at all. She is often associated with the KKK, as well.