STORIES
Women

Margaret Sanger

by DeeDee from Playa Del Rey


Margaret Sanger was born in the late 1800's to a poor Irish Catholic family, the 6th of 11 children. Her father rejected religious teachings and taught her to question everything. Her mother, who was a devout Catholic, was frequently pregnant and the young Margaret blamed too many pregnancies as the cause of her mother's poor health. When her mother died, the children had to take care of each other. This taught her to be independent and influenced her to become a nurse.

After finishing nursing school, she married and had 3 children. Later, she went to work as a visiting nurse and worked with the poor women of NYC slums. She saw many women who were sick or who died from pregnancies, miscarriages or illegal abortions. She realized that these poor and underprivileged women could not afford to have children and that their economic progress depended upon being able to limit the number of children they had. However, there was no reliable information or birth control available in this country at that time because it was against the law to teach a woman how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. This so outraged Mrs. Sanger that she committed her life to the fight for Family Planning. And for her beliefs she was ridiculed, arrested and harassed by the government.

Mrs. Sanger printed pamphlets teaching women about reproduction and unwanted pregnancy prevention and for this she was arrested. Later she and her sister opened a free clinic but they were arrested 9 days later - but only after having seen 500 women! The American birth control movement was underway and the publicity she received with each subsequent arrest only attracted more and more wealthy supporters willing to fund her cause.

Mrs. Sanger sued the government over the laws preventing the spread of information about birth control and the NY Appellate Court ruled that physicians could teach their patients birth control if for medical reasons. This ruling allowed Mrs. Sanger to open a free clinic, funded by the generous donations from wealthy supporters of her work. The clinic was staffed with female physicians and social workers.

Margaret Sanger was a proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience. In the 1960's, Martin Luther King credited her work on behalf of birth control education as having been the predecessor to the American Civil Rights Movement.

Page created on 9/5/2007 11:20:28 AM

Last edited 9/5/2007 11:20:28 AM

Related Links

Margaret Sanger - PBS.org