Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Revolution and Repression:
The Changing Ideology
of Birth Control

Margaret Sanger proposed an idea that many at first considered preposterous, even insidious. To legitimize her aims, she had to develop a body of arguments that demonstrated the desirability and practicability of contraception. Havelock Ellis had perceived that necessity when he guided Mrs. Sanger through a more or less systematic study of birth control at the British Museum. There she began to build a complex rationale for her reform. With the passage of time, her case for birth control took on different emphases; eventually it underwent changes in substance as well. By the end of the 1920s birth control propaganda bore little resemblance to Mrs. Sanger's prewar pronouncements.

Drawing on the lessons of her study with Ellis, Mrs. Sanger argued first of all that birth control in some form was inevitable. Citing the Finnish anthropologist E. A. Westermarck, she wrote that from time immemorial woman "has sought some form of family limitation. When she has not employed such measures consciously, she has done so instinctively. Where laws, customs and religious persecutions do not prevent, she has recourse to contraceptives. Otherwise, she resorts to child abandonment, abortion and infanticide, or resigns herself hopelessly to enforced maternity." 1. Officialdom, said Mrs. Sanger, could not resist the spontaneous demand for contraceptive information.

____________________
1.
Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race ( New York: Brentano's, 1920), p. 11.

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