Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Organization of
a Social Movement

While Margaret Sanger was studying and traveling in England and Europe in 1915, the birth control movement in America had begun to take on organization and direction. Undoubtedly inspired by the dramatic example of Mrs. Sanger's self-imposed exile, supporters of birth control began to form groups for the public advocacy of contraception. In that process of increasing publicity and consolidation, Mrs. Sanger's pamphlet "Family Limitation" also played an important role. Its circulation throughout the country by IWWs and other radicals acquainted thousands for the first time with practical contraceptive techniques. And the pamphlet occasioned the arrest of William Sanger, whose case, a cause célèbre among radicals and free-speech advocates, proved a powerful magnet which drew many hundreds into active participation in the birth control movement.

In late 1914, a man who gave his name as Heller appeared at William Sanger's studio and asked for a copy of " Family Limitation." Professing to sympathize with Margaret Sanger's work, he said he would like to have her pamphlet translated into different languages, "to distribute amongst the poor people he worked with." Sanger innocently gave him a copy. Heller turned out to be a decoy. A month later, in early 1915, Anthony Comstock came in person to Sanger's studio and arrested him for violating the New York law which forbade "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent and disgusting" literature. Comstock's real purpose, although he relished the arrest, was to flush Margaret Sanger from hiding. This his action ultimately accomplished; but

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