Margaret Sanger founded a movement in this country that would institute such a change in the course of our biological history that it is still debated today. Described by some as a "radiant rebel", Sanger pioneered the birth control movement in the United States at a time when Victorian hypocrisy and oppression through moral standards were at their highest. Working her way up from a nurse in New York's poor Lower East Side to the head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Margaret Sanger was unwavering in her dedication to the movement that would eventually result in lower infant mortality rates and better living conditions for the impoverished. But, because of the way that her political strategy changed and evolved, Margaret Sanger is seen by some as a hypocrite; a rags to riches story that involves a complete withdrawal from her commitment to the poorer classes. My research indicates that this is not the case; in fact, by all accounts Margaret Sanger was a brave crusader who recognized freedom and choice in a woman's reproductive life as vital to the issue of the liberation of women as a gender. Moreover, after years of being blocked by opposition, Sanger also recognized the need to shift political strategies in order to keep the movement alive. Unfortunately, misjudgments made by her in this area have left Margaret Sanger's legacy open to criticism. In this paper, I would like to explore Margaret Sanger's life and career as well as become aware of some of the missteps that she made and how they reflect on both.
Margaret Sanger was not born a crusader, she became one. A great deal of her early life contributed to the shaping of her views in regards to birth, death, and women. Born Margaret Louise Higgins on September 14, 1879 in Corning, New York to Michael and Anne Higgins, she was the sixth of eleven children. Anne Higgins was a devout Catholic while Michael Higgins was a stonemason with iconoclastic ideas and a flair for rebellion. It was her father that fascinated Margaret. Corning, being a strictly Catholic town, disapproved of Michael Higgins and, consequently, the stone cutting commissions that kept the family fed were often lacking. The children did not fair much better than their father in terms of public ridicule. The Higgins children would arrive to school to chants of "Children of the Devil". One ...
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...first trip after her semi-retirement was to Japan. Then, in 1952, Margaret went to India for the first meeting of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She then returned to the States to turn the Clinical Research Bureau over to a board of directors to ensure its continuance; the clinic was renamed the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau (which was fundamental to the development of The Pill). In her 80's, Margaret Sanger threatened to leave the country when she head that a Catholic (JFK) would be elected President. Fortunately, John F. Kennedy was the first U.S. President to recognize the world's population problem. Margaret Sanger lived to see the right to privacy triumph in the courts in 1965 with Griswold v. Connecticut. Margaret died a year later in September of 1966, just 8 days after her 87th birthday (Miller 238-239).
At first glance, Margaret Sanger's career seems much like that of any dedicated heroine of her time; Dorothea Dix, Bessie Hillman, and Carrie Chapman Catt were all women with a cause. Upon closer inspection, though, Margaret stands out as a woman who, not only had a cause to fight for, but also had a movement to found and a life of example to live.
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