Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
The pioneer of birth control, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) altered the course of history with her achievements. To this day, Sanger remains a controversial figure. Born into a poor family in New York, Sanger grew up with an outspoken, liberal father who rallied for equality of the sexes. Her own mother was also an inspiration for Sanger’s later work—she was pregnant eighteen times, yet had only eight live births, and she was ill with tuberculosis for most of her life. Sanger saw the inability of families to control their reproductive destinies as a direct cause of keeping poor families poor.
When Sanger later became a labor and delivery nurse, she often cared for women who asked her how to prevent another pregnancy. In the late nineteenth century, the topic of reproduction was so taboo that the Comstock Law was passed, prohibiting dissemination of any contraceptive information on the grounds of obscenity, even between doctors and patients. To help women, Sanger started a column in a monthly magazine, The Call, entitled “What Every Girl Should Know,” discussing basic female public health issues. After a month of publication, the column was banned by the censors. This spurred Sanger to start her own magazine, The Woman Rebel, which got her arrested.
In 1916, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in New York, which led to another arrest and conviction. The judge in her case stated that women do not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” Subsequent appeals resulted in a landmark 1918 trial in which a judge finally ruled to allow doctors to prescribe contraception. The publicity of these trials garnered a groundswell of public support for Sanger, propelling her into her next project: the American Birth Control League, which would evolve into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She was openly against abortion her entire life, opting to instead educate people about available contraceptive options so they could take control of their own futures.