Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966

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Margaret Louise Higgins was born in Corning, New York, on September 15, 1879, the sixth of eleven children and the third of four daughters born to Anne Purcell Higgins and Michael Hennessey Higgins, a stone mason. Her two elder sisters worked to supplement the family income, and financed her education at Claverack College, a private coeducational preparatory school in the Catskills. After leaving Claverack, Higgins took a job teaching first grade to immigrant children, but decided after a short time that the work did not suit her temperament. She returned to Corning where her mother, then only forty-nine years old, was dying of tuberculosis. Margaret Higgins blamed her mother's untimely death, as well as her sisters' need to sacrifice their own ambitions to support the family, on her parents' high fertility. Though she loved and admired her father, she resented his demand that she take her mother's place managing the household. Shortly after her Anne Higgins's death, Margaret Higgins left Corning for White Plains, New York, where she entered nursing school.

In 1902, after completing two years of practical nursing training and gaining acceptance to a three-year degree program, Higgins met and married William Sanger, an architect and aspiring artist. By 1910 Margaret Sanger had survived her own bout with tuberculosis and given birth to three children (Stuart, 1903; Grant, 1908; and Peggy, 1910), but was chafing inside her role as a traditional housewife and mother in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Later that year the family moved to Manhattan where, through her work as a home nurse on the Lower East Side and her political involvements with the International Workers of the World and anarchist Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger was drawn into the burgeoning struggle for women's right to control their sexuality and fertility. By 1912 Sanger was widely recognized as a writer and speaker about sex reform. Later that year she became a regular contributor to the socialist newspaper The Call, where she published a series of articles on sexual hygiene. One of these, an article about syphilis published in February 1913, was targeted by the U.S. Post Office under the Comstock Act of 1873, which banned the distribution of sexually-related material through the U.S. mail. This repression of her writings, combined with her exposure to the damages done to women by repeated childbirths and self-induced abortions, led to Sanger's decision to devote herself entirely to the birth control movement. By 1914 she had separated from her husband, written a pamphlet entitled Family Limitation which coined the term "birth control," traveled to Europe to research new contraceptive methods, and set out to establish a system of advice centers where women throughout the U.S. could obtain reliable birth control information.

Sanger's use of radical tactics to educate women about birth control, especially her publication of the radical journal The Woman Rebel, brought her once again to the attention of the U.S. Postal Service. When the U.S. government brought charges against her, Sanger fled to Europe where she befriended the sex reformer Havelock Ellis, who encouraged her to avoid radical political rhetoric and reframe her writings in the language of the social sciences. The pneumonia death of five-year-old Peggy Sanger, which occurred shortly after her mother's return to the New York in October 1915, devastated Margaret Sanger. But Peggy's death, in tandem with William Sanger's arrest for distributing a copy of Family Limitation, aroused considerable public sympathy for Sanger, which, in turn, led the U.S. government to drop its earlier charges against her. More convinced than ever of the need to legalize birth control, Sanger and her younger sister Ethel Byrne opened the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn in October 1916 and, for ten days before the police closed it down, the two dispensed contraceptive advice to 488 women. Tried and imprisoned for her work, Margaret Sanger became a national figure. On appeal, Sanger won a clarification of the New York law forbidding the dissemination of contraceptive information. The Judge, Frederick Crane, rejected Sanger's argument that, because it forced women to risk death in pregnancy, the law was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Crane did establish doctors' right to provide women with contraceptive advice for "the cure and prevention of disease."

Interpreting Crane's decision broadly as a mandate for birth control clinics staffed by doctors, Sanger completed the strategic and tactical transformation she had begun at Havelock Ellis's suggestion. Sanger minimized her radical past and began to stress eugenic arguments for birth control over feminist ones. In doing so, she gained increasing support from both medical professionals and philanthropists; in 1921 such backing allowed her to organize the American Birth Control League, which would become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942. In 1923, aided by her second husband, millionaire J. Noah Slee, Sanger opened the first doctor-staffed contraceptive clinic in the U.S., the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in New York City, under the direction of Dr. Hannah Stone. In addition to dispensing birth control information and devices, the Bureau trained hundreds of physicians in contraceptive techniques and served as a model for the national network of 300 clinics Sanger and her supporters would establish over the next fifteen years. In 1925 Sanger convinced her old friend Herbert Simonds to found the Holland Rantos Company, which became the first American company to produce the diaphragm. Between 1929 and 1936 Sanger and her lobbying group, the Committee on Federation legislation for Birth Control, waged a series of court battles which culminated in United States v. One Package, which overturned the old statutes by permitting the mailing of contraceptive devices intended for physicians. Sanger's victory in this case led the American Medical Association to endorse contraception as a legitimate medical service and a vital component of medical education in 1937.

After the U.S. v. One Package Victory Sanger retired to Tucson, Arizona determined to play less central role in the birth control movement, yet her influence continued. In 1952 Sanger helped found the International Planned Parenthood Federation and served as the organization's first president. Also in the 1950s she won philanthropist Katharine Dexter McCormick's financial support for Gregory Pincus's work on the development of the birth control pill. Margaret Sanger died of congestive heart failure in Tucson on September 6, 1966.

From the guide to the Margaret Sanger Papers MS 138., 1761-1995, 1900-1966, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Archival Resources
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creatorOf Wilcox, Jean M. Jean M. Wilcox papers, 1929-1964. Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Central Committee on Friendship Dinners. Records, 1927-1950 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Correspondence with Carl Zigrosser, n.d. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. TLS, 1935 June 19 : New York City to Edward Huntington Fallows. Haverford College Library
referencedIn The Margaret Sanger Papers G88-55 New York University United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Stella Hanau Papers MS 73., 1904-1971 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts Records MS 359., 1859-2002, 1916-1960 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Williams College. Office of the President. Harry A. Garfield correspondence, 1908-1934. Williams College, Sawyer Library
referencedIn Sophia Smith Collection. Biography collection, 1771-1995 (bulk 1920s-70s). Smith College, Neilson Library
P3613-NY The Margaret Sanger Papers 95-067 New York University United States. National Archives and Records Administration
Margaret Sanger, December 1949-January 1950 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Margaret Sanger papers, 1900-1966 (bulk 1928-1940). Library of Congress
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Papers, 1917-1956. Houghton Library
referencedIn Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940. Papers of Leon Malmed and Emma Goldman, 1899-1982 (inclusive), 1899-1940 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Annie Gertrude Webb Porritt Papers 123., 1898-1976 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Lutz, Alma, 1890-1973. Collection of documents by and about abolitionists and women's rights activists, 1775-1943 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES IX. Guttmacher MS 371., 1947-70 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Clarke, Ida Clyde. Letter 1924, September 30, New York City [to] Mr. [Edwin] Markham, [Staten Island] / Ida Clyde Clarke. Wagner College, Horrmann Library
referencedIn 90-R14 The Margaret Sanger Papers United States. National Archives and Records Administration
creatorOf Pearmain, William Robert, 1888-1912. William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955. Archives of American Art
referencedIn NAMES IN THE NEWS #131: MARGARET SANGER United States. National Archives and Records Administration
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. The Margaret Sanger papers, [ca. 1880-ca. 1966] [microform] / edited by Esther Katz ; with Peter Engelman, Cathy Moran Hajo, and Anke Voss Hubbard. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
referencedIn David Starr Jordan papers, 1861-1964 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Papers of Lini M. De Vries, 1910-2002 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Margaret Sanger Papers, 1900-1966, (bulk 1928-1940) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Efficiency Reports, Surnames Beginning with Letter "S" United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Lindsey, Ben B. (Ben Barr), 1869-1943. Ben B. Lindsey papers, 1838-1957 (bulk 1890-1943). Library of Congress
referencedIn Mary Lasker Papers, 1940-1993. Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ragland, Martha Ragsdale, 1906-1996. Papers, 1926-1996 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947. Papers, 1874-1945 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Gamble, Clarence James, 1894-. Papers of Clarence J. Gamble, 1920-1966 (bulk). Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
referencedIn Wald, Lillian D., 1867-1940. Papers, 1895-1936 [microform]. Twentieth Century Legal Treatises
creatorOf Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Papers. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Records, 1927-1950 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American birth control conference corporateBody
associatedWith American Birth Control Conference 1921 : New York) corporateBody
founderOf American Birth Control League corporateBody
associatedWith American Medical Association. Dept. of Investigation. corporateBody
associatedWith American Medical Association. Dept. of Investigation. corporateBody
associatedWith Anthony, Alfred Williams, 1860- person
associatedWith Appel, Cheri person
associatedWith Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. corporateBody
associatedWith Barnes, Harry Elmer, 1889-1968. person
associatedWith Bates, Gladys Edgerly Archives. person
associatedWith Bigelow, John, 1854-1936 person
correspondedWith Billikopf, Jacob, 1883-1950 person
associatedWith Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Birth Control Federation of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Birth Control League Of Massachusetts corporateBody
associatedWith Black, John D., 1883-1960. person
associatedWith Blanshard, Paul, 1892- person
associatedWith Booth, Edwin, 1833-1893 person
correspondedWith Brome, Vincent, 1910- person
associatedWith Brooks, Lawrence Graham, 1881-1981 person
associatedWith Brownell, Baker, 1887-1965. person
associatedWith Brush, Dorothy Hamilton person
associatedWith Brush Foundation (Cleveland, Ohio) corporateBody
associatedWith Buck, Pearl S. (Pearl Sydenstricker), 1892-1973 person
associatedWith Burlingham, Charles Culp, 1858-1959 person
correspondedWith Burr, Jane, 1882-1958 person
correspondedWith Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968 person
associatedWith Campbell, Loraine Leeson, 1905- person
correspondedWith Cannon family family
associatedWith Central Committee on Friendship Dinners. corporateBody
associatedWith Clarke, Ida Clyde. person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Claverack College and Hudson River Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Collins, Seward, 1899-1952 person
correspondedWith Cyon, Françoise. person
correspondedWith Delafield, Ruth Manierre person
correspondedWith Delisle, Françoise Roussel person
correspondedWith Delisle, Françoise Roussel person
associatedWith Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947 person
associatedWith De Selincourt, Hugh, 1878-1951 person
correspondedWith De Sélincourt, Janet. person
associatedWith Dibner, Bern, person
associatedWith Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861- person
associatedWith Dietrich, John H. (John Hassler), 1878-. person
correspondedWith Doris Stevens person
associatedWith Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895 person
associatedWith Eastman, Max, 1883-1969 person
associatedWith Edna Bertha (Rankin) McKinnon, 1893-1978 person
associatedWith Ellis, Havelock, 1859-1939 person
associatedWith Emily Borie (Hartshorne) Mudd person
correspondedWith EMMA GOLDMAN, 1869-1940 person
associatedWith Ernst, Morris Leopold, 1888-1976. person
associatedWith Fallows, Edward H. (Edward Huntington), 1865-1940. person
associatedWith Family Planning Oral History Project family
associatedWith Family Planning Oral History Project family
associatedWith Family Planning Oral History Project. corporateBody
correspondedWith Fawcett, James Waldo, b. 1893 person
associatedWith Fielding, William J. (William John), 1886- person
correspondedWith Figdor, Richard person
correspondedWith Figdor, Richard person
associatedWith Fisk, Amelia Worthington, 1890-1975. person
associatedWith Fried, Paul G., 1919- person
associatedWith Gamble, Clarence James, 1894- person
associatedWith Gamble, Sarah Merry Bradley, 1898-1984 person
associatedWith Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1860-1935 person
associatedWith Ginzburg, Ralph. person
correspondedWith Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940 person
associatedWith Hanau, Stella, 1890-1972 person
associatedWith Hand, Learned, 1872-1961 person
associatedWith Hepburn, Ethel Remington. person
associatedWith Hepburn, Ethel Remington. person
associatedWith Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, 1878-1951. person
associatedWith Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, 1878-1951 person
associatedWith Hersey, Harold Brainerd, 1893- person
associatedWith Higgins, Michael person
correspondedWith Higgins, R. A. person
sibling of Higgins, Robert Arlington, 1893-1969 person
associatedWith Himes, Norman Edwin, 1899-1949. person
associatedWith Hoard, Halbert L. (Halbert Louis), 1861-1933. person
associatedWith Holzwarth, Adam. person
associatedWith Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund corporateBody
associatedWith Hubert, James H. person
correspondedWith Hugh De Sélincourt person
associatedWith Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947. person
correspondedWith Huxley, Julian, 1887-1975 person
correspondedWith Huxley, Julian Sorell person
associatedWith Informed Homebirth/Informed Birth & Parenting. corporateBody
founderOf International Planned Parenthood Federation corporateBody
associatedWith Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger person
correspondedWith Ishill, Joseph. person
spouseOf James Noah H. Slee person
associatedWith Jawaharlal Nehru person
associatedWith Jessup, Walter Albert, 1877-1944, person
associatedWith Jordan, David Starr, 1851-1931. person
associatedWith Judy Chicago person
associatedWith Julius Rosenwald Fund corporateBody
correspondedWith Katharine Wolcott Toll person
correspondedWith Katō, Shizue, 1897- person
associatedWith Katz, Esther. person
correspondedWith Kennedy, Anne person
associatedWith Kennedy, Anne, person
associatedWith Kilty, Jerome. person
correspondedWith Lader, Lawrence person
associatedWith Lader, Lawrence, person
associatedWith Lasker, Mary. person
correspondedWith Laslett, Emily Mary. person
associatedWith Lawrence Lader. person
associatedWith Lednicky, Julia Nelson. person
associatedWith Leon Jacob Cole person
correspondedWith LEON MALMED, 1881-1956 person
correspondedWith Lindsey, Ben B. (Ben Barr), 1869-1943. person
associatedWith Lini M. De Vries person
associatedWith Littledale, Clara Savage, 1891-1956. person
correspondedWith Luhan, Mabel Dodge, 1879-1962. person
associatedWith Lutz, Alma, person
associatedWith Lutz, Alma, 1890-1973 person
associatedWith Mahatma Gandhi person
associatedWith Mahoney, Florence S. person
associatedWith Margaret Sanger Research Bureau corporateBody
correspondedWith Marion, Kitty person
associatedWith MARTHA (RAGSDALE) RAGLAND, 1906-1996 person
correspondedWith MARTHA (RAGSDALE) RAGLAND, 1906-1996 person
associatedWith Mary (Ritter) Beard, 1876-1958 person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Maxim, Hudson, 1853-1927. person
associatedWith McAlister, Alexander W., 1862-1946 person
associatedWith McCormick, Ada Peirce. person
associatedWith McCormick, Katherine Dexter, 1876-1967 person
associatedWith McKinnon, Edna Rankin, b. 1893. person
associatedWith Modern School (Stelton, N.J.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Moore, Hugh, 1887-1972. person
associatedWith Morris, Clara, 1848-1925. person
associatedWith Morris Leopold Ernst, 1888-1976 person
associatedWith Mudd, Emily Hartshorne, 1898- person
associatedWith National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control. corporateBody
associatedWith National Committee on Maternal Health. corporateBody
correspondedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
correspondedWith Newman, Elizabeth. person
associatedWith New York Academy of Medicine. Committee on Public Health. corporateBody
associatedWith New York (State). Legislature. Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Times Company corporateBody
associatedWith Norma L. Wintersgill. person
associatedWith Office of the Messrs Rockefeller. corporateBody
associatedWith Palmer, Eileen, fl 1913-1952 person
associatedWith Park, Alice. person
associatedWith Parshley, H. M. (Howard Madison), 1884-1953 person
associatedWith Pearl, Raymond, 1879-1940. person
associatedWith Pearmain, William Robert, 1888-1912. person
correspondedWith Pinchot, Ruth P. person
associatedWith Pincus, Gregory, 1903-1967 person
correspondedWith Pittman, Hobson, 1900- person
associatedWith Pittman, Hobson Lafayette, 1899 or 1900-1972. person
correspondedWith Planned Parenthood Center of Pittsburgh. corporateBody
founderOf Planned Parenthood Federation of America corporateBody
associatedWith Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts person
associatedWith Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona. corporateBody
associatedWith Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas. corporateBody
correspondedWith Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona. corporateBody
correspondedWith Porritt, Annie G. (Annie Gertrude), 1861-1932. person
correspondedWith Porritt, Annie Gertrude Webb person
associatedWith Ragland, Martha Ragsdale, 1906-1996. person
associatedWith Reed, James, 1944- person
associatedWith Reed, John, 1887-1920 person
associatedWith Rich, Frances person
correspondedWith Rock, John Charles, 1890- person
associatedWith Rose, Florence person
associatedWith Rose, Florence, 1903-1969 person
associatedWith Ross, Edward Alsworth, 1866-1951. person
associatedWith Rublee, Juliet person
associatedWith Rublee, Juliet Barrett person
correspondedWith Rutgers, J. (Johannes), 1850-1924 person
associatedWith Sanger, Alexander Campbell. person
associatedWith Sanger family family
associatedWith Sanger family. family
associatedWith Sanger, Grant, 1908- person
associatedWith Santa Fe Maternal Health Center. corporateBody
associatedWith Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968 person
associatedWith Slee, James Noah H., person
associatedWith Smith College. corporateBody
memberOf Socialist Party of New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Socialist Party (U.S.). Local New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Solomon, Maida H. (Maida Herman), 1891-1988. person
associatedWith Sophia Smith Collection corporateBody
associatedWith Stokes, Rose Pastor, 1879-1933. person
associatedWith Stone, Abraham, 1890- person
associatedWith Stone, Hannah M. (Hannah Mayer), 1894-1941 person
correspondedWith Stopes, Marie Carmichael, 1880-1958 person
correspondedWith Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941 person
associatedWith University Publications of America (Firm) corporateBody
correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
associatedWith Walden, May, 1865-1960. person
associatedWith Wald, Lillian D., 1867-1940. person
associatedWith Watumull Foundation corporateBody
associatedWith Wells, H. G. (Herbert George), 1866-1946 person
associatedWith Whitney, Leon Fradley, 1894-. person
associatedWith Wilcox, Jean M. person
correspondedWith Wile, Ira S. (Ira Solomon), 1877-1943 person
associatedWith Williams College. Office of the President. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Corning NY US
Tucson AZ US
Subject
Sexual health--History--20th century
Sex instruction--United States--History--Sources
Human reproduction--Political aspects
Marriage--United States--History--20th century--Sources
Birth control
Marriage--History--20th century
Social problems
Women social reformers--Archives
Activism and social reform
Eugenics--United States--History--Sources
Women's rights--History
Birth control clinics
Corning (N.Y.)
Science and medicine
Birth control--History
Nativism--History
Contraception
Social advocacy
Women political activists--Archives
Eugenics--history
Birth control--United States
Sterilization (Birth control)--History
Sex instruction
Social action
Birth control clinics--History--Sources
Population policy--History--20th century--Sources
Women--Health and hygiene--History
Socialism
Birth control clinics--History
Reproductive rights--United States
Women's rights--United States--History--20th century--Sources
Sex instruction--History
Women--Health and hygiene--History--20th century--Sources
Women's health services--History
Hygiene, Sexual--History--20th century--Sources
Birth control--History--20th century--Sources
Feminists--Archives
Public Health--History
Liberalism
Human reproduction--Political aspects--History--Sources
Sexual health
Birth control--Developing countries--History--Sources
Occupation
Social reformers
Authors
Nurses
Reformers
Sex educators
Activity

Person

Birth 1879-09-14

Death 1966-09-06

Female

Americans

English

Information

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