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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sept. 14, 1879, in Corning, N.Y.
Launches The Woman Rebel, a feminist
monthly that advocates birth control; is indicted for inciting violence and
Opens the U.S.'s first family-planning clinic, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; is later
jailed for 30 days
Founds the American Birth Control League, the precursor to the Planned
Sept. 6, 1966, in Tucson, Ariz.