Margaret H Sanger

Lived:September 14, 1879—September 6, 1966 (aged 86)
Career:Birth control activist
Education:Claverack College

Margaret Sanger was proponent for scientific contraception (birth control) and family planning, but also a supporter of eugenics.

Sanger was born on September 14, 1884, in Corning, New York, into a Roman Catholic family as one of eleven children. Sanger was greatly influenced by her father's political views in support of women's suffrage and tax reform, although these and other beliefs caused the family to be seen as radical in the eyes of their neighbors.

After graduating from Claverack College at Hudson, New York, Sanger took a teaching position in New Jersey, until she was forced to return home to care for her dying mother. Her mother's death in 1896. Soon afterwards, she moved to White Plains, New York, where she took nurse's training, then to New York City where she served in the extremely poor conditions in the slums of its Lower East Side. In 1902, she married William Sanger. Although Sanger suffered from tuberculosis, she had her first child, a son, the next year. The couple had another son, as well as a daughter, who died in childhood.

Sanger's experiences with slum mothers, who begged for information about how to avoid more pregnancies, transformed her into a social radical. She joined the Socialist Party, began attending radical rallies, and read everything she could about birth control practices. She became convinced that oversized families were the basic cause of poverty. In 1913, she began publishing a monthly newspaper, the Woman Rebel, in which she passionately urged family limitation and first used the term "birth control." After only six issues, she was arrested and charged with distributing "obscene" literature through the mails. She fled to Europe, where she continued her birth control studies, visiting clinics and talking with medical researchers.

Sanger returned to the United States in 1916 and, after charges against her were dropped, she began nationwide lecturing. In New York City, she and her partners opened a birth control clinic in a slum area to give out materials and information about birth control. This time she was arrested under state law. She spent a month in prison, as did her sister. Leaving prison in 1917, Sanger intensified her activities, lecturing and raising money from a group of wealthy supporters in New York, and launching the Birth Control Review, which became the voice of her movement for 23 years. Encouraged by a state court decision that loosened New York's anti-contraceptive law, she shifted her movement's emphasis from direct action and open resistance, to efforts to secure more flexible state and federal laws. Although regularly in trouble with New York City authorities, she continued lecturing to large crowds and keeping in touch with European contraceptive research. A year later, she and her friends opened clinical research bureaus to gather medical histories and dispense birth control information in New York City and Chicago, Illinois. By 1930, there were 55 clinics across the United States. Meanwhile, Sanger divorced her husband and married J. Noah H. Slee.

In 1927, Sanger helped organize and spoke before the first World Population Conference at Geneva, Switzerland. She and her followers continued to lobby for freer state and federal laws on contraception and for the distribution of birth control knowledge through welfare programs. By 1940, the American birth control movement was operating a thriving clinic program and enjoying general acceptance by the medical profession and an increasingly favorable public attitude.

In 1946, she helped found the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Sanger died in Tucson, Arizona, on Sept. 6, 1966.