Sanger Worked Tirelessly for Women's Health

By Cleere, Jan | AZ Daily Star, June 6, 2015 | Go to article overview

Sanger Worked Tirelessly for Women's Health


Cleere, Jan, AZ Daily Star


Margaret Sanger Slee first appeared in Tucson in 1934. She was already well known for her sponsorship of birth control, particularly among poor, underprivileged women.

Many believed she was ahead of her time in her crusade to encourage open discussions about sex, procreation and contraception, but in all probability she was the right person for a very tough job.

The years she spent in Tucson became very important to her during times when she faced vilification from the public and press. The town was her haven from those who sought to silence her rhetoric. Yet even in the middle of the desert, she worked tirelessly on women's health issues.

Margaret Louisa Higgins was born to Irish parents on Sept. 14, 1879, in Corning, New York.

Her mother suffered from tuberculosis, and after giving birth to 11 children, Anne Higgins died at the age of 50. Margaret bore her mother's proclivity for tuberculosis and endured several bouts of the disease throughout her life.

She wanted to become a doctor, but after her mother's death, she left school to work as a nurse. In 1902, at the age of 23, she married architect William Sanger.

Shortly after her third child was born in 1910, Margaret took a position at Lillian Wald's Visiting Nurses Association on the Lower East Side of New York City where immigrants arrived daily with little money, language barriers and limited knowledge of health care.

She was soon speaking out for indigent women through the Socialist Party and wrote for the Socialist newspaper The Call, producing a column entitled "What Every Girl Should Know."

The Federal Comstock Law, passed in 1873, condemned all contraceptive information and devices as "obscene," outlawing the use, sale or mailing of anything having to do with contraception. When Margaret's column was ruled obscene according to the law, The Call ran the title, "What Every Girl Should Know--Nothing; by order of the U.S. Post Office."

In 1914, she started her own publication, The Woman Rebel, but the Post Office again claimed she was mailing indecent material and confiscated the first issue. Margaret continued to publish the magazine until she was arrested that August.

To avoid prosecution, she fled to Europe, but when her 5-year- old daughter, Peggy, was diagnosed with pneumonia, Margaret returned to the United States.

Peggy Sanger died in November 1915, and public sympathy for Margaret may have played a role in the dismissal of the charges against her.

In 1916, she set out on tour the country espousing her views on birth control. Her appearance started a riot in St. Louis, and officials in Portland, Oregon, threatened to arrest her. Officials in several cities refused to allow her to speak.

She opened the first birth control clinic in New York City in October 1916. A week later, she was arrested, tried and found guilty of dispensing birth control products. She served 30 days in prison.

Margaret formed the American Birth Control League in 1921. Two years later, New York City opened the first physician-run birth- control clinic, providing legal contraceptive counseling to married women.

Margaret and William Sanger divorced in 1921, and she married 3- in-One Oil inventor Noah Slee in 1922. Slee's affluence afforded Margaret the opportunity to travel extensively, advocating her views on birth control. …

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