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Margaret Higgins Sanger (born Margaret Louise Higgins, September 14, 1879 ) is still a powerful and controversial figure in the consciousness of many. Her life's work ensured that women in the United States could have Reproductive Rights. She freed over half the world's population to choose when to give birth. Sanger coined the term "birth control", created the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established organizations that evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
We present these works for you to read and come to your own conclusions about Margaret Sanger and her work.
Links to Margaret Sanger's Works:
Today, Sanger is a controversial figure primarily because she stood up for women's rights, but also because she had dialogues with Eugenics organization. Although she has been accused of being a racist, when one reads her works, it appears that she was opposed to racism. The idea that because she wanted women of color to be equally empowered with access to birth control has sparked some to accuse her of racism. When reading these books we have found views that are contrary to racism, yet there are disputes about this. We encourage you to read and form your own conclusions. .
Sanger was both persecuted and prosecuted yet persisted in her promotion of birth control / contraception precisely in order to prevent unnecessary abortions. In any case, whatever your conclusion, we can be thankful for Sanger's advocacy for reproductive rights as this is a key factor in insuring women lead healthier happier lives and by choosing when to have children can better provide those children with love and lives which are better because they are desired.
Prior to the confirmation of women's reproductive rights by the U.S. Supreme Court, "back-alley abortions" ruled as the primary method of birth control often claiming the lives of teenage girls who had been seduced or raped. This was chronicled in Herlihy's broadway play Blue Denim which premiered as a film in 1959, seven years before Sanger's death. The customary judgment by people adhering to an Abrahamic belief system, contributed to Blue Denim being controversial and resulted in the film having a different ending than the play.
Those opposed to women having reproductive rights at times direct their ire against Sanger's work.
Even access to information regarding contraception was forbidden by the time Sanger was born via the Comstock Law of 1873. Women were still wearing corsets and had no right to vote. Often when a woman asked her doctor about contraception, she would be simply told "keep your legs shut". Women who were raped were primarily blamed for the crimes committed against them.
Sex was considered "dirty" and the female orgasm was largely discounted as the province of "loose women" or "women of the night."
The ground breaking work of Havelock Ellis had not even come to the fore. Due to the odd constraints imposed by Victorian Society, fetishism ruled the lives of many and provided the foundation for Sigmund Freud's theories. Many Victorian doctors made their fortunes through the provision of manual stimulation of their female clients ostensibly to cure "hysteria".
Sanger understood that unwanted pregnancy could lead to devastating results in a woman's life and realized that birth control was essential for women to be able to be in control of their lives. To this end, Sanger published Birth Control Methods a.k.a. Family Limitation in 1914 which promptly led to her indictment.
Margaret fled to England in 1914, where she met Havelock Ellis who taught her that sex could not only be safer for women but also more pleasurable. The idea that sex could be pleasurable for women was shocking to American society which was primarily rooted within Abrahamic beliefs and Victorian values. However, Sanger was fearful that masturbation was dangerous and felt "every normal man and woman has the power to control and direct his sexual impulse. Men and women who have it in control and constantly use their brain cells thinking deeply, are never sensual."
During her sojourn in England, she encountered the neo-Malthusians whose fear of overpopulation soon became one of her own. The Irish Potato famine was still within the living memory of many and only 7 years later the Russian Famine prompted Herbert Hoover to organize a major relief effort through his American Relief Adminstration. This supported 10 million Russians. The fear of starvation was real to many people around the world including folks in the United States.
Sanger would lecture anywhere she could for any audience that would listen. In 1926, Sanger gave a lecture at the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey. She described it as a "weird experience" saying that the KKK women were such simpletons she had to use "the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand."
Sanger lectured to republicans, fascists, democrats and socialists continually expressing her belief that all women deserved to be free to choose when they would be pregnant. Her work continued through the end of her life. She was only focused on her message which was that women should have free and unfettered access to birth control in order to prevent abortions and ensure a manageable number of children through family planning.
Margaret supported African-American leaders securing funding from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to open a clinic staffed with black doctors and directed by a 15 member advisory board of black doctors and professionals including W. E. B. Du Bois, founde of the NAACP. Sanger did not tolerate bigotry among her staff and would not brook refusal to work within interracial projects. Sanger's work earned the praise of Martin Luther King, Jr. who accepted the Margaret Sanger Award in 1966.
It was Margaret Sanger who encouraged Katherine McCormick to fund Gregory Pincus to develop the birth control pill which came to the market in 1960.
The most controversial quote from Sanger was taken from a letter to Clarence Gamble: "we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." New York University's Margaret Sanger Papers Project argues that "Sanger recognized that elements within the black community might mistakenly associate the Negro Project with racist sterilization campaigns in the Jim Crow South;" but Angela Yvonne Davis, (twice a vice-presidential candidate for the Communist Party) uses this quote to support her claim that Sanger intended to exterminate the black population.
Within one of the books presented, we found Sanger criticizing the Eugenics Movement, yet she professed a belief in "negative eugenics" which aims to reduce the reproduction of those considered unfit such as those with Down's Syndrome. We have included her book Woman and the New Race so you about her views on that issue yourself.
Sanger gave a speech in 1921 titled "The Morality of Birth Control," dividing society into three groups: the "educated and informed", the "intelligent and responsible" and the "irresponsible and reckless people" whose religious scruples "prevent their exercising control over their numbers," concluding "there is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped."
Yet Sanger disagreed with William Robinson who advocated euthenasia for the unfit and denounced the aggressive and lethal Nazi eugenics program.
Sanger felt strongly that responsibility for birth control should be in the hands of able-minded individual parents rather than the state and that it was up to mother's to make the decisions that would lead to racial betterment.
It should also be noted that in 1932 Sanger wrote an essay called "A Plan for Peace" which supported restricting immigration to strong and healthy people and excluding people "whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race," and that sterilization or segregation should be applied to those with incurable, hereditary disabilities.
Now it is up to you to read her works and come to your own conclusions.