Margaret Sanger

Born in Corning, New York, Margaret Higgins learned from her nonconformist father to be a rebel and to reject prejudice. She married William Sanger, an architect, but after three children and ten years in an affluent Westchester suburb, she yearned for more. The Sangers moved to New York City and plunged into the world of bohemian radicalism in Greenwich Village. Perhaps the radical activist Emma Goldman first introduced her to the issue of birth control. Margaret Sanger worked as a visiting nurse on the Lower East Side. She always said that a poor woman named Sadie Sachs, dying after trying to end an unwanted pregnancy, made her determined to take up the fight.

Sanger published The Women Rebel, a newspaper advocating birth control, and when indicted for sending "obscene" materials through the mails, she fled to Europe and gathered information there. In 1916 she opened a clinic in Brooklyn, was arrested, and served thirty days for distributing information about contraceptives. From then on Sanger assumed leadership of the struggle for free access to birth control.

She was persuasive, tireless, single-minded, and unafraid of a fight. Her arguments might vary -- at first she saw birth control as part of a socialist reordering of society, later as a means to prevent the multiplication of the inflicted or to assure happy marriages. But always Margaret Sanger saw it as a woman's issue and she was prepared to take on the medical establishment, the churches, the legislatures, and the courts.

Among her many visionary accomplishments as a social reformer, Sanger

        established the principles that a woman's right to control her body is the foundation of her human rights; that every person should be able to decide when or whether to have a child; that every child should be wanted and loved; and that women are entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment just as men are

        brought about the reversal of federal and state "Comstock laws" that prohibited publication and distribution of information about sex, sexuality, contraception, and human reproduction

        helped establish the contemporary American model for the protection of civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience a model that later propelled the civil rights, anti-war, women's rights, and AIDS-action movements

        created access to birth control for low-income, minority, and immigrant women

        expanded the American concept of volunteerism and grassroots organizing by setting up a network of volunteer-driven family planning centers across the U.S.

BORN Sept. 14, 1879, in Corning, N.Y.

1914 Launches The Woman Rebel, a feminist monthly that advocates birth control; is indicted for inciting violence and promoting obscenity

1916 Opens the U.S.'s first family-planning clinic, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; is later jailed for 30 days

1921 Founds the American Birth Control League, the precursor to the Planned Parenthood Federation

DIED Sept. 6, 1966, in Tucson, Ariz.