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Margaret Sanger was an early feminist and women's rights activist who coined the term "birth control" and worked towards its legalization.
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Watch a short video about Margaret Sanger and find out how she started a movement encouraging women to take control of their bodies.
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Margaret Sanger was born on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York. In 1910 she moved to Greenwich Village and started a publication promoting a woman's right to birth control (a term that she coined). Obscenity laws forced her to flee the country until 1915. In 1916 she opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. Sanger fought for women's rights her entire life. She died in 1966.
Activist, social reformer. Born Margaret Higgins on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York. She was one of 11 children born into a Roman Catholic working-class Irish American family. Her mother, Anne, had several miscarriages, and Margaret believed that all of these pregnancies took a toll on her mother's health and contributed to her early death at the age of 40 (some reports say 50). The family lived in poverty as her father, Michael, an Irish stonemason, preferred to drink and talk politics than earn a steady wage.
Seeking a better life, Sanger attended Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896. She went on to study nursing at White Plains Hospital four years later. In 1902, she married William Sanger, an architect. The couple eventually had three children together.
In 1910, the Sangers moved to New York City, settling in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village. The area was a bohemian enclave known for its radical politics at the time, and the couple became immersed in that world. They socialized with the likes of writer Upton Sinclair and anarchist Emma Goldman. Sanger joined the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist Party and the Liberal Club. A supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World union, she participated in a number of strikes.
Sanger started her campaign to educate women about sex in 1912 by writing a newspaper column called "What Every Girl Should Know." She also worked as a nurse on the Lower East Side, at the time a predominantly poor immigrant neighborhood. Through her work, Sanger treated a number of women who had undergone back-alley abortions or tried to self-terminate their pregnancies. Sanger objected to the unnecessary suffering endured by these women, and she fought to make birth control information and contraceptives available. She also began dreaming of a "magic pill" to be used to control pregnancy. "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother," Sanger said.
In 1914, Sanger started a feminist publication called The Woman Rebel, which promoted a woman's right to have birth control. The monthly magazine landed her in trouble, as it was illegal to send out information on contraception through the mail. The Comstock Act of 1873 prohibited the trade in and circulation of "obscene and immoral materials." Championed by Anthony Comstock, the act included publications, devices, and medications related to contraception and abortion in its definition of obscene materials. It also made mailing and importing anything related to these topics a crime.
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With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony began working to establish women's right to vote in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, Anthony never got to see the impact of her efforts—the 19th Amendment, granting women the righ to vote, was passed on August 26, 1920, more than a decade after Anthony's death—but hers remains one of the most important stories in women's history. Explpre this group to learn more about Anthony and other leading suffragettes, including Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Louisa May Alcott, Alice Paul, Dorothy Day, Amelia Bloomer and Jeannette Rankin.
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