’s Birth Control Movement Essay, Research Paper
When a motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result
of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new
race. (URL 1)
Many people have made significant impacts on the way our world is today but
only a few have dedicated their lives to a cause that would benefit all
people. Margaret Sanger dedicated her life to making birth control available
to all women in the world and thereby increased the quality and length of
women?s and children?s lives.
Margaret Louise Higgins was born on September 11, 1879, in Corning, New
York. She was the sixth out of eleven Higgins children and grew up in the
woods on the outskirts of town. Her father, Michael Hennesy Higgins, was a
sculptor who specialized in tombstone creation. Her mother, Anne Purcell,
like most women at the time, was a stay at home housewife. Money was tight
in the Higgin?s household but Mr. Higgins believed in helping others.
He instilled this trait into all of his children telling them “you have
no right to material comforts without giving back to society the benefits of
your honest experience” (Sanger 23) Young Margaret was especially
close to her father and admired his attitudes but being his daughter
wasn?t always easy.
Margaret and her siblings grew up being called “children of the devil”
(Sanger 21) because of their father?s involvement in political activities
such as social and labor reform. The locals didn?t agree with his beliefs
and considered him to be a rebel. To most children, this nickname would have
been a negative thing but Margaret liked it. She was proud to be the
daughter of a man who believed in a cause despite what others thought. This
is how Margaret gained the confidence and strength to later make her mark on
Margaret was sent off to boarding school after the eighth grade and
began to develop her leadership qualities. She developed an interest in
woman?s rights after she was turned down for an acting job because she
refused to give the director her leg measurements. For the first time in her
life, she had encountered discrimination for being a woman and didn?t like
it. She began to read about woman leaders in history such as Helen of Troy
and Cleopatra. These women inspired her to write an essay on women?s
equality for a class. After reading it aloud and receiving a rousing
ovation, she decided she wanted to dedicate her life to making the world a
After graduating from high school, she became a teacher. Her career was
short-lived, however, as she was forced to return home and care of her
tuberculosis stricken mother. The pressure and stress from raising eleven
children weakened her mother and she died shortly after. The short time in
which Margaret cared for her mother made her realize her true
calling-nursing. She enrolled in a nursing program at White Plains Hospital
and by age 21, she was a certified nurse.
While working as a nurse, she met her husband-William Sanger. He was an
architect and was very politically active like Margaret. He reminded her of
her father and they fell in love instantly. They immediately had three
children and Margaret took a short hiatus from nursing to be a full-time
She resumed her nursing career with a newfound determination. It was during this ?rebirth? when Margaret found her true calling.
She got a job as a visiting nurse in some of the worst neighborhoods in New York City. Being a visiting nurse, she dealt mostly with pregnant women. Whether it was delivering the child or nursing desperately weak mothers back to health, Margaret saw a trend that bothered her immensely. A good portion of these women were either close to death from bearing their umpteenth child or from profuse bleeding from failed abortions. One thing was clear-many of these woman didn?t want these children. ?Tell me something to keep from having another baby. We cannot afford another yet!?, these women begged. (Sanger 87) Unfortunately, Margaret was prohibited by law from helping these woman in any way.
Visions of these women suffering made Sanger unable to sleep at night. She was angry at the fact that these children were born into poverty with no chance of getting out because of the burden of supporting so many kids. The last straw was when one of her patients died during
childbirth after asking Margaret for birth control. This ate away at Margaret?s conscience. ?No
woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother?. (URL 1) She had finally found how she was going to make the world a better place.
After this woman?s death, Sanger quit nursing. She began doing daily research on birth control and soon she was enthralled by it. She moved her family to Europe so that she could learn various techniques of birth control. She moved back home a few years later and was ready to help the woman of New York.
Sanger realized that if she truly wanted to help these women then she would have to break the law, but she believed that these laws were unconstitutional in the first place.
She broke down her plan into three steps-education, organization, and legislation. First she would educate the public on birth control using the information that she had gathered. Then she would form a birth control organization that would help raise awareness and money for the cause. And finally she would seek to get the Comstock Law, which restricted the sending of birth control information through the mail, overturned. She would also lobby, or pressure, Congress for federal legislation allowing doctors to prescribe birth control devices. (Douglas)
In the early 1900?s, it was illegal for even married couples to use birth control. Just like many laws today, these laws were biased against the lower class. Birth control was available through illegal means but was very expensive, as were safe abortions. The fact that her family?s poverty ultimately led to her mother?s death made her even more dedicated.
In 1914, Sanger and her friends published a magazine called the Woman Rebel. She wrote
most of the articles herself and her goal for the magazine was ?to stimulate women to think for
themselves and to build up a conscious fighting character? (Gray 67) The magazine was geared towards mothers and young women and encouraged feedback to be published in future issues. While this magazine won her a great deal of respect among her supporters, it also made her many enemies-especially the Catholic Church.
Even in today?s world of sex on TV and pornography, the Catholic Church is against all forms of birth control. One can only imagine the controversy that Margaret Sanger?s magazine sparked in the early 1900?s. Besides the Church, some politicians weren?t too happy with her and neither were other woman?s groups. They thought she should be spending her time trying to establish women?s right to vote instead of birth control. The magazine was also banned by the post office under the aforementioned Comstock Law which deemed the magazine ?obscene?. Her father?s influence on her was never more apparent than during her writing of the next issue of Woman Rebel. On the cover, in capital letters, she wrote ?THE WOMAN REBEL FEELS PROUD THAT THE POST OFFICE AUTHORITIES DID NOT APPROVE OF HER. SHE SHALL BLUSH WITH SHAME IF EVER SHE BE APPROVED BY OFFICIALISM OR ?COMSKISM?? (Gray 69).
Word of her defiance quickly spread to higher levels of government and she was charged with nine counts of breaking obscenity laws which could have resulted in 45 years of prison. She decided to leave her family behind and fled to England to avoid prosecution.
Though the years apart from her home and family were trying for Sanger, she used the time to increase her knowledge and political connections. She gathered information both to strengthen her argument in favor of birth control and to mount a defense against the charges that faced her in the United States. (Coigney)
During her time in England, she familiarized herself with the theory put forth by Thomas Robert Malthus. He believed that ?birth control was a means of world stability and peace? (Sanger 127) Soon, she began meshing these ideas into her own teachings.
In, 1915, the obscenity charges were dropped and Sanger returned to the U.S. and began the National Birth Control League (it?s now known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America). She spent her time touring the country to both raise money and awareness for birth control. She finally decided to open up a birth control clinic in New York. She chose one of the poorest sections of Brooklyn because she believed these were the people who needed it most. On October 16, 1916, the first birth control clinic in the United States opened its doors. The clinic did everything from distributing literature to performing checkups. All the while, sanger was collecting information to show how this clinic truly benefited people.
Not surprisingly, after three weeks, the clinic was raided and shut down. Sanger was forced back into the courtroom. The judge was willing to drop the charges if she promised to shut down the clinic. Sanger, continuing her father?s defiant ways boldly replied, ?I cannot respect the law as it stands today.? (Sanger 237) He quickly sentenced her to thirty days.
After her release, she reopened the clinic, but this time she ran it out of her house. She continued to tour the country but this time, it was as a lecturer rather than a fundraiser. She also started to publish a new magazine.
The Birth Control Review was a national publication which advocated birth control. It quickly became a huge hit among women and letters started to roll in regularly. Millions of stories about women bleeding to death and poverty stricken parents of 10 touched Sanger. All of these women were begging Sanger for birth control information and pleaded for answers to their medical problems.
Sanger realized that these letters would touch almost any human being. She wanted federal legislators to catch a glimpse of these and hoped it would persuade them to change the laws that had been in place for so long. She decided to assemble 500 of the most telling letters into a book titled Mothers in Bondage, which she published in 1928. The book worked.
In the 1930?s, Sanger?s personal life took a turn for the worst. She divorced from her husband and remarried to an older man, Noah Slee. Her daughter, Peggy died of tuberculosis, and her two sons entered college. Sanger found herself alone again and buried herself deeper into her work. She began lobbying the American Medical Association in addition to publishing her newsletter and lecturing. She developed a group called the Clinical Research Bureau of the American Birth Control League. Its purpose was to invent cheaper and safer means of birth control. She also published eleven books and formed international conferences on birth control.
She focused her attention specifically on the AMA. She wanted them to begin distributing birth control. Finally, in 1936, Margaret?s wish came true. The Supreme Court overruled the Comstock Laws and the AMA allowed its doctors to distribute birth control devices. She was 57 and after numerous brushes with the law and many setbacks, Margaret Sanger had succeeded.
Even in her old age and with her health deteriorating, she continued to push for advancements in the field of birth control. In 1943, her second husband died and she contacted leukemia. She moved to Arizona and died there on September 6, 1966, at the age of eighty-seven.
Her son summed up her amazing life at her funeral. ?One thing about my mother that to me was most impressive was her utmost concentration on the birth control problem. From the time she started this business until she finished, she never deviated? (Coigney 167).
-(URL 1) http:www.bemorecreative.com/one/1440.htm-?Creative Quotes from Margaret Sanger?
-Sanger, Margaret. Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography. New York: Norton, 1938.
-Douglas, Emily Taft. Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970.
-Gray, Madeline. Margaret Sanger: Champion of Birth Control. Marek Publishers, 1979.