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246 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011
Fishkill Rural Cemetery Fishkill, Dutchess County, New York, USA
Margaret Sanger Clinic, 17 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011

Related imageMargaret 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. She became an anarchist under Emma Goldman’s influence, later turned away from anarchism; she was the editor of The Woman Rebel and Birth Control Review, and wrote for Mother Earth, International Socialist Review, and an essay for the first issue of the journal The Blast.

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.[2]

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.[3] Sanger's efforts contributed to several judicial cases that helped legalize contraception in the United States.[4] Due to her connection with Planned Parenthood, Sanger is a frequent target of criticism by opponents of abortion. However, Sanger drew a sharp distinction between birth control and abortion and was opposed to abortion through the bulk of her career. Sanger remains an admired figure in the American reproductive rights movement.[5] She has been criticized for supporting negative eugenics.[6]

"Never mind if you don't like speaking, Margaret," wrote Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in an August, 1915 letter imploring Margaret Sanger to organize a cross-country speaking tour, "one talk on the general purposes of your work would be sufficient". Other radical friends including Emma Goldman and her inner circle, Caroline Nelson, Alexander Berkman and Ben Reitman, prodded Sanger to confront her enemies and give voice to her self-replicating pamphlet, Family Limitation, that was pulling people to labor halls and down-town auditoriums to discuss publicly what was so rarely mentioned even in private.

Mabel Dodge actively assisted Sanger in the development of birth control literature. Hustak explains how Dodge also “supported the Birth control League and provided her home for Sanger’s Defense Committee meetings as part of the crusade against the criminalization of birth control literature”. Dodge’s unique duality of being both a radical as well as a high society woman allowed Sanger to fully delve into her cause. It is also important to see how Dodge doesn’t ever just support a reformer she discovers; Dodge finds herself in their confidence and opens herself to conversations on their ideology. Dodge writes, “it was in talking to her at home in my sitting room that I really got something from her, something new and releasing and basic,” which conveys how she was able to support Sanger and idolize her while also being able to socialize with her. Dodge has the ability to make individuals from all different backgrounds comfortable and willing to explore radical ideas. Dodge and Sanger would eventually have a falling out in Dodge’s later days in The Village because of some of Sanger’s beliefs on limiting fertility. Dodge strongly believed in the power of the individual and believed that to limit all fertility would defeat the purpose of contraception. Dodge believed contraception’s purpose should be to give women freedom to explore sexuality as they pleased. In fact, it wasn’t long after their falling out that Sanger would be arrested, possibly because Dodge was no longer providing the location for the Birth Control League’s meetings.


Margaret Sanger Clinic

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.[7] 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,[8] which were common at the time because abortions were illegal in the United States.[9] She believed that while abortion was sometimes justified it should generally be avoided, and she considered contraception the only practical way to avoid them.[10]

When Sanger lectured in Portland in 1916, Marie Equi became smitten with her. She later wrote letters to Sanger that referred to sexual intimacy between them during Sanger's earlier visit.[5][6][7] Archivist Judith Schwartz has described Equi's letters to Sanger as "love letters."[8][9]

Katharine McCormick met Sanger in 1917, and later that year joined The Committee of 100, a group of women who practiced promoting the legalization of birth control. Throughout the 1920s McCormick worked with Sanger on birth control issues. McCormick smuggled more than 1,000 diaphragms from Europe to New York City to Sanger's Clinical Research Bureau[5].

Margaret Sanger lived in an apartment building at 246 W 14th St, New York, from 1918 to 1921, and her sister, Ethel Byrne, occupied the unit above her.

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,[11] where African-American staff were later added.[12] 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.

Prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 - September 9, 1945), Pearl S. Buck worked with Sanger to open a birth control clinic in Shanghai.[5]

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.[4]


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