Margaret Sanger and Birth Control: Expert on Sexual Practises in the 1900s

She was determined to do something to help these women, and Margaret Sanger became a registered nurse, an expert on birth control and took her knowledge to the women in poverty areas of New York City. But it was not an easy job…in 1912 her articles about female sexuality in The Call, a socialist weekly publication were subjected to scrutiny by government forces. February 9, 1913, found Margaret’s article on syphilis deemed by the United States Postal Service as being unmailable. Women were not allowed to have any information about abortion or contraception according to the Comstock Act of 1873, so women regularly died from these dreaded sufferings. And the number of women among Margaret’s patients on the Lower East Side of Manhattan who died from botched abortions was astronomical.

“The Woman Rebel”

In 1914 Margaret began living apart from her husband and started on a journey to discover a safe and sure female contraceptive. In March of 1914 she created her feminist journal, The Woman Rebel , and once again the post office refused to deliver it, even though it contained no advice on contraception. She continued to distribute the publication and after being charged with violations of the postal code left America for Europe in October of 1914.

Havelock Ellis

While staying in Europe Margaret began an intimate association with Havelock Ellis, whose publication Studies in the Psychology of Sex , influenced her to continue her work. In the meantime, back in America, her husband William was caught distributing copies of her how-to pamphlet Family Limitation. The death of the their daughter from pneumonia in 1915 gained them public sympathy and when Margaret returned to America in October of 1915 the charges against her were dropped.

Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn

October of 1916 found Margaret and her sister Ethel Byrne opening a birth control clinic in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn, New York. Open only for ten days before the police shut it down, it offered contraceptive advice to 488 women in that short time. Subsequently Margaret and her sister were indicted and imprisoned, which led to her becoming a national personality.

Spread of Birth Control Information

Margaret now addressed the government in her unceasing efforts to have this information available to all women, and lobbied for bills that would allow physicians to dispense contraceptive advice. This was bitterly opposed by Mary Ware Dennett, who was vying for leadership of the movement, and would herself face obcenity charges in 1929. Margaret’s marriage to J.Noah Slee, milllionaire manufacturer of Three-in One oil took place in 1922 (she had divorced Sanger in 1920), and she began to downplay her former associates and radical past. She did, however, still engage in intimate relations with other men but remained married to Slee until his death in 1943.

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