Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

Preface

When Margaret Sanger died in September 1966, she was eulogized as "one of history's great rebels and a monumental figure of the first half of the twentieth century." From an unexceptional childhood in Corning, New York, she grew to fame and influence as the world's leading progagandist for the artificial cpntrol of human reproduction. She began by defying old conventions and ended the lionized champion of new ones. By the time of her death at age 82, said Time, "her vision had been realized beyond her dreams." History records few examples of such successful advocacy of important social change. 1.

Much of that change occurred in the last two decades of Mrs. Sanger's life, after she had retired from official leadership in the birth control movement. At the time she "left the front," as she put it, in 1943, the most commonly used contraceptives were still intravaginal devices and chemicals. By the time of her death, millions of women all over the world regularly took oral contraceptives. That development Mrs. Sanger promoted both indirectly and directly. Not only did it reflect her long years of propagandizing for a simple, inexpensive contraceptive; it also owed in large part to the financial and organizational support she made possible in the post-World War II years to research in hormonal anovulants. Thus did Dr. Gregory Pincus, one of the principal developers of the "pill," inscribe a 1959 report on oral contraceptives "to Margaret Sanger with affectionate greetings—this product of her pioneering resoluteness." 2.

So too did the government which had once prosecuted Margaret Sanger move dramatically, in the years after 1945,

____________________
1.
New York Times, September 11, 1966, sec. 4, p. 12; Time, September 16, 1966, p. 96.
2.
Inscription dated February 14, 1959, on print of "Field Trials with Norethynodrel as an Oral Contraceptive," MSP-SS.

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