Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview

Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement

ELLEN CHESLER

Margaret Sanger went to jail in 1917 for distributing contraceptives to immigrant women from a makeshift clinic in a tenement storefront in Brooklyn, New York. When she died fifty years later, the cause for which she defiantly broke the law had achieved international stature. Although still a magnet for controversy, she was widely eulogized as one of the great emancipators of her time.

For more than half a century, Sanger dedicated herself to the deceptively simple proposition that access to a safe and reliable means of preventing pregnancy is a necessary condition of women's liberation and, in turn, of human progress. Although she encountered enormous resistance in her own lifetime and still invites criticism, Sanger popularized ideas and built institutions that have widespread influence today. Her leadership, though often quixotic, helped create enduring changes in the beliefs and behavior of men and women who perceive themselves as modern, not only in America but throughout the world.

Birth control and the promise of reproductive autonomy for women have fundamentally altered private life and public policy in the twentieth century. As the late psychologist Erik Erikson once provocatively suggested, no idea of modern times, save perhaps for arms control, has more directly challenged human destiny than has birth control, which may account for the profound psychic dissonance and social conflict it tends to inspire. 1

Margaret Sanger was an immensely attractive woman: small, lithe, and trim. Her green eyes were flecked with amber, her hair a shiny auburn, her smile warm and charming, her hands perpetually in motion, beckoning even to strangers. As H. G. Wells once described her, she had a quick Irish wit, high spirits, and radiant common sense. She married twice and enjoyed the affection and esteem of both men and women, who provided her a lifelong network of emotional, financial, and organizational support. At the same time, she could be

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Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Catharine Beecher and Domestic Relations 1
  • Notes 16
  • Bibliography 17
  • Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Black Abolitionism 19
  • Notes 38
  • Bibliography 40
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Woman's Rights Movement 41
  • Notes 51
  • Bibliography 53
  • Dorothea Dix and Mental Health Reform 55
  • Notes 69
  • Bibliography 71
  • Frances Willard and Temperance 73
  • Notes 82
  • Bibliography 83
  • Jane Addams and the Settlement House Movement 85
  • Notes 97
  • Bibliography 98
  • Ida Wells-Barnett and the African-American Anti-Lynching Campaign 99
  • Notes 110
  • Bibliography 111
  • Jessie Daniel Ames and the White Women's Anti- Lynching Campaign 113
  • Notes 123
  • Bibliography 123
  • Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement 125
  • Notes 136
  • Bibliography 137
  • Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement 139
  • Notes 151
  • Bibliography 152
  • Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women 153
  • Notes 164
  • Bibliography 165
  • Index 167
  • About the Editors and Contributors 171
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