( 1879-1966), crusader for voluntary motherhood
JOHN M. MURPHY
From her political awakening in 1910 to her retirement from public life in 1962, Margaret Higgins Sanger pursued one goal: the dissemination of reliable contraceptives to women around the world. Regardless of changes in the political, legal, or economic climate, she advocated birth control from the tenements of New York City to the villages of China, from the halls of the United States Congress to forums around the world.
Higgins Sanger's career began with her long fight ( 1910-1937) to legalize the distribution of birth control information in the United States. In pursuit of that goal, she founded and edited two newspapers, the Woman Rebel and the Birth Control Review, and played a major role in the founding of three national organizations, the American Birth Control League, the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She organized birth control research, founded birth control clinics, filed and won lawsuits to modify birth control laws, the most important of which, United States v. One Package ( 1937), opened the mails to distribution of contraceptive information to physicians, and gave innumerable speeches on behalf of her cause. After World War II, she founded and served as president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She fought for government aid in the distribution of birth control throughout the 1950s and played an important role in the development of the birth control pill ( Chesler, 1992; Reed, 1978).
Margaret Higgins Sanger remained steadfastly wedded to one cause because she believed birth control was the lever with which she could move the world. No matter what the particular problem of an era might be, she claimed that birth control could meet that need. One central thesis animated her work: "Birth Control is the keynote of a new social awakening" ( Parsons' Theatre Address, 1923). The epigram that appeared on the masthead of the Birth Control Review during her editorship put the matter bluntly: "To create a race of thoroughbreds." She believed that birth control would lead to more independent women, to better human beings, and to a better world.