Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Inspiration for Activism! 

  • Worked as a visiting nurse in Henry Street Settlement.
  • Fierce advocate for measures to improve the health of poor people. In 1912 she participated in labour action in textile workers’ strike, and wrote a column in “The Call” on women’s sexuality.
  • Coined the term birth control in 1914.
  • Realizing knowledge of and access to contraception was a socio-economic issue, she challenged governmental censure of contractive information by civil disobedience.
  • Indicted in 1914 for violating postal obscenity laws and fled to England for a year to avoid imprisonment.
  • In 1916, Sanger opened the first U.S. birth control clinic (for which she spent 30 days in jail).
  • Founded American Birth Control League, later to become Planned Parenthood.
  • Global role in promoting birth control, e.g., India and Japan, although pronatalist fascist movements impeded progress during WWII.
  • In 1925, Sanger arranged for American manufacture of spring-form diaphrams, and
  • Fostered research into development of spermicidal jellies and foam powders.
  • In the 1950s, secured funding for development of the birth control pill.

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2 thoughts on “Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

  1. Sanger’s embrace of eugenics is a cautionary tale. She was in line with many thinkers at the time, and her alignment with the eugenics movement cannily gained political support for her otherwise then- scandalous promotion of birth control. But her positions on topics such as forced sterilization of the mentally ill are still reprehensible.


  2. Thank you, Debbie, for your comments. I was aware of some controversy related to her use of the of the language of eugenics; there does seem to be some evidence, however, that she categorically was not advocating for forced sterilization of people with developmental challenges (or those who are mentally retarded, to use the language of her time – see ( but advocating for their right, along with those of the general public, to use sterilization as a method of birth control. It has also been suggested that some recent accusations against her may have been misrepresented her position for political purposes in the campaign against Planned Parenthood (

    The issue you raised does merit serious discussion, and gives us all cause to be mindful of the values on which our own actions are based.


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