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Margaret Higgins Sanger (born Margaret Louise Higgins, September 14, 1879 – September 6, 1966, also known as Margaret Sanger Slee) was an American birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse. Sanger popularized the term “birth control”, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established organizations that evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Sanger used her writings and speeches primarily to promote her way of thinking. She was prosecuted for her book Family Limitation under the Comstock Act in 1914. She was afraid of what would happen, so she fled to Britain until she knew it was safe to return to the US.Sanger’s efforts contributed to several judicial cases that helped legalize contraception in the United States.Due to her connection with Planned Parenthood Sanger is a frequent target of criticism by opponents of abortion, although Planned Parenthood did not begin providing abortions until 1970, after Sanger had already died. Sanger, who has been criticized for supporting negative eugenics, remains an admired figure in the American reproductive rights movement.
In 1916 Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, which led to her arrest for distributing information on contraception after an undercover policewoman bought a copy of her pamphlet on family planning.Her subsequent trial and appeal generated controversy. Sanger felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society and to lead healthier lives, they needed to be able to determine when to bear children. She also wanted to prevent so-called back-alley abortions, which were common at the time because abortions were illegal in the United States. She believed that while abortion was sometimes justified it should generally be avoided, and she considered contraception the only practical way to avoid them.
In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In New York City, she organized the first birth control clinic staffed by all-female doctors, as well as a clinic in Harlem with an all African-American advisory council,where African-American staff were later added. In 1929, she formed the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, which served as the focal point of her lobbying efforts to legalize contraception in the United States. From 1952 to 1959, Sanger served as president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She died in 1966, and is widely regarded as a founder of the modern birth control movement.
Books and pamphlets
- What Every Mother Should Know – Originally published in 1911 or 1912, based on a series of articles Sanger published in 1911 in the New York Call,which were, in turn, based on a set of lectures Sanger gave to groups of Socialist party women in 1910–1911. Multiple editions published through the 1920s, by Max N. Maisel and Sincere Publishing, with the title What Every Mother Should Know, or how six little children were taught the truth …Online (1921 edition, Michigan State University)
- Family Limitation – Originally published 1914 as a 16-page pamphlet; also published in several later editions. Online (1917, 6th edition, Michigan State University); Online (1920 English edition, Bakunin Press, revised by author from 9th American edition);
- What Every Girl Should Know – Originally published 1916 by Max N. Maisel; 91 pages; also published in several later editions. Online (1920 edition); Online (1922 ed., Michigan State University)
- The Case for Birth Control: A Supplementary Brief and Statement of Facts – May 1917, published to provide information to the court in a legal proceeding. Online (Internet Archive)
- Woman and the New Race, 1920, Truth Publishing, foreword by Havelock Ellis. Online (Harvard University); Online (Project Gutenberg); Online(Internet Archive); Audio on Archive.org
- Debate on Birth Control – 1921, text of a debate between Sanger, Theodore Roosevelt, Winter Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Robert L. Wolf, and Emma Sargent Russell. Published as issue 208 of Little Blue Book series by Haldeman-Julius Co. Online (1921, Michigan State University)
- The Pivot of Civilization, 1922, Brentanos. Online (1922, Project Gutenberg); Online (1922, Google Books)
- Motherhood in Bondage, 1928, Brentanos. Online (Google Books).
- My Fight for Birth Control, 1931, New York: Farrar & Rinehart
- An Autobiography. New York, NY: Cooper Square Press. 1938. ISBN 0-8154-1015-8.
- Fight for Birth Control, 1916, New York (The Library of Congress)
- Birth Control A Parent’s Problem or Women’s?” The Birth Control Review, Mar. 1919, 6–7.
- The Woman Rebel – Seven issues published monthly from March 1914 to August 1914. Sanger was publisher and editor.
- Birth Control Review – Published monthly from February 1917 to 1940. Sanger was Editor until 1929, when she resigned from the ABCL. Not to be confused with Birth Control News, published by the London-based Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress.
Collections and anthologies
- Sanger, Margaret, The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 1: The Woman Rebel, 1900–1928, Esther Katz, Cathy Moran Hajo, Peter Engelman (eds), University of Illinois Press, 2003
- Sanger, Margaret, The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 2: Birth Control Comes of Age, 1928–1939, Esther Katz, Cathy Moran Hajo, Peter Engelman (eds), University of Illinois Press, 2007
- Sanger, Margaret, The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 3: The Politics of Planned Parenthood, 1939–1966, Esther Katz, Cathy Moran Hajo, Peter Engelman (eds), University of Illinois Press, 2010