Margaret Sanger, Birth Control Advocate, Founder, Planned Parenthood
Margaret Higgins Sanger – Your Invisible Mentor
As a midwife, Margaret Higgins Sanger was frequently asked what the secret was to prevent a pregnancy. There were no secrets and at the time physicians did not learn about contraceptives during their studies. She opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. Sanger coined the term birth control, and founded the Birth Control League, which morphed into Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Name: Margaret Higgins Sanger
Birth Date: September 14, 1879 – September 6, 1966
Job Functions: Midwife, Sex Educator, Birth Control Advocate
Fields: Midwifery, Birth Control
Known For: Birth Control Advocate, Planned Parenthood
Self-Mentoring Strategy – A Tough Question
On the one hand, you have the 1873 Comstock Law, a censorship law, named after Anthony Comstock, which prohibits distribution of information such as contraceptive pamphlets through the U.S. mail. On the other hand, there are many unwanted pregnancies, and self-induced abortions, especially among low income women. Should Sanger defy the Comstock Act, and distribute the information and face indictment or should she obey the laws of the land?
This is a tough call, and is very indicative of the many tough decisions you will face throughout your life, and only you can decide what you are willing to risk. The moral, ethical, and legal thing to do is often on opposing sides and that’s a fact of life.
- Ask your clients and customers what major issues they are facing, listen carefully to what they say, then create solutions to their problems.
- If you cannot find solutions to problems in your field, look to other industries and even other countries to see what they have done.
- Have the courage to be different, and stand up for what you believe in.
- Who are the pioneers and thought leaders in your field – learn from them.
- Collaborate with professionals who can help you solve pressing problems.
- Work on projects that really matter.
- Listen to your customers and clients.
- Learn from the pioneers and thought leaders in your field.
Margaret Sanger’s Steps to Success
- Michael Higgins, Margaret Sanger’s father, encouraged all his children to be free thinkers.
- After nursing her mother who had a terminal case of tuberculosis, Sanger decided to study nursing. She wanted to be a physician, but did not possess the financial resources to do so.
- Focused her nursing skills on midwifery to assist women during childbirth.
- As a midwife, many women frequently asked Sanger what the secret was to preventing a pregnancy. Not having the answer, she was convinced that women needed birth control information.
- In 1914, she was prosecuted for publishing her magazine The Woman Rebel because of its content. However, the charges were dropped. This same year, she travelled to Europe and received training in aspects of human sexuality from Havelock Ellis, English physiologist and writer. She also traveled to France and discovered that French women were very knowledgeable about contraceptive methods – she had conversations with druggists, midwives, doctors, and working women, and noted formulas for suppositories and douches. Her intent was also to document the information as a pamphlet for U.S. women.
- At the time, physicians did not learn about contraceptives during their studies, and the 1873 Comstock Law, a censorship law, prohibited distribution of such information through the U.S. mail so doctors were afraid of publicly supporting Sanger. The Roman Catholic Church was also opposed to Sanger because they opposed birth control. She produced 100,000 pamphlets on contraceptive techniques, Family Limitation, and had them stored until she was ready to mail them.
- In August 1914, Sanger was indicted for violating the 1873 Comstock Act. When it became clear to her that the judge was biased, she fled to Europe to get the time necessary to prepare her case. She sailed from Canada, and while on the ship, she sent a telegram giving the go-ahead for her pamphlets to be mailed.
- While in Europe, she went to Holland where she learned “how to examine women and advise them on which of the fifteen available birth control devices were appropriate. As a result of her experience in Europe, she learned the necessity of the medical community’s involvement in the birth control movement and the importance of keeping thorough records and conducting follow-up studies.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 2nd edition
- She returned home in October 1915 and the case against her was subsequently dropped.
- In 1916, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League in Brooklyn to fill a need, and was briefly imprisoned for opening a birth control clinic. It was the first birth control clinic in the US.
- In the 1920s, her interest in world population issues grew, and she played a pivotal role in organizing the first World Population Conference in 1927. One of the outcomes of this conference was the establishment of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Problems.
- Sanger wanted a birth control method that was safe, inexpensive, in the form of a pill or a long term injection, and non-permanent. Dr. Gregory Pincus, who we profiled, learned about Margaret Sanger’s work. The two met in 1950 and collaborated, which led to the development of the birth control pill by the end of the decade.
- In 1953, founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Biggest Accomplishments Why Margaret Sanger’s Contribution Matters
- Margaret Sanger challenged Dr Gregory Pincus, the reproductive physiologist to develop the “perfect contraceptive.”
- Founded the Birth Control League which morphed into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and also founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
- Predicted the effects of over-population.
- We are all flawed, and so was Margaret Sanger who advocated for the use of birth control to reduce genetically transmitted mental and physical defects. She also called for the sterilization of people with mental disabilities.
Encyclopedia of World Biography
Encyclopedia of Population
Encyclopedia of Public Health
Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics
Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender
Encyclopedia of the Great Depression
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law
Books By/About Margaret Sanger
The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion
Woman and The New Race
Killer Angel: A Short Biography of Planned Parenthood’s Founder, Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility