Margaret Sanger, 1879-1966

  • Margaret-Sanger-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, Business & Entrepreneurship, and HealthWoman Tags: Educator and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    The founder of the birth control movement in the US, an activist, a writer, a nurse, and a sex educator in the early 20th century.

    Born in 1879 to a working-class Irish Catholic family in Corning, NY, the 6th of 11 children. Her mother had 18 pregnancies in 22 years and died at the age of 50, which impacted Margaret tremendously, and so she decided to become a nurse. Sanger went to college, got married, had three children, and in 1911 moved to NYC. During this time, as a nurse, she encountered the horrible results of unsafe, self-induced, and back-alley abortions of unwanted pregnancies, which were illegal in those days.
    Due to her profession, women were reaching out to her, asking for her knowledge to prevent pregnancies. She got involved in women’s rights activities for fair labor and equality and became part of the bohemian life of Greenwich Village. All of this led her to realize that the only way to change women’s status, enjoy their sexuality, reduce poverty, and allow women more freedom is to educate them to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and this became her life mission.
    Key events in her life, courage, innovative thinking, and strong desire to change women’s lives led Margaret Sanger to establish the Birth Control Movement in the US during the early 20th century by educating women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. She wrote a series of columns about sex education in the New York Call (1911-1913) and in 1914, launched “The Woman Rebel” newsletter describing actual methods for contraception, there she started to use, for the first time, the term birth control. Her publications caused a sensation and were considered illegal due to the information about contraception, so she left for Europe and stayed there for a while, studying the methods and options of birth control available in Europe.
    After her return, Sanger opened the first Family Planning and Birth Control Clinic in Brooklyn in 1916 and got arrested several times. In 1918 her appeal changed the law to allow doctors to prescribe contraception, and in 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League. Over the years, she founded more organizations, opened birth control clinics, and in 1948 helped to found the International Committee on Planned Parenthood, which evolved into the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
    She lectured all over the world and wrote several books about birth control. Her last achievement before she died in 1966, was to support the research of the birth control pill (which was funded with a donation by Katharine McCormick) and get it to public use in 1960.

    “Every woman is the absolute mistress of her own body”

    “Every woman is the absolute mistress of her own body”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her second husband smuggled diaphragms from Europe into New York through Canada. He later became the first legal manufacturer of diaphragms in the US.
    • Her sister, Ethel Byrne, got arrested with her in 1917. She was sentenced to 30 days in a workhouse, but went on a hunger strike. She was the first woman hunger striker in the US to be force-fed.
    • She supported preventing pregnancies and objected to abortions, “Do not kill, do not take life, but prevent.”
    • The character of Wonder Woman was inspired by Sanger.
    • Her papers can be found at New York University’s history department and Smith College.
    • Several clinics and places are named after her, like Margaret Sanger Square in NYC’s NoHo area, and Planned Parenthood headquarters on Bleecker Street in NYC.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America established an award to honor her legacy.
    * Nominated as the Humanist of the Year in 1957 by the American Humanist Association.
    * Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 31 times.
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1981)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

    No Records Found

    Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.

    Google Map Not Loaded

    Sorry, unable to load Google Maps API.


  • Woman Tags: Educator, NYC Women

    Margaret Sanger & the Birth Control Movement Preview

    Full Program Airs Sunday, January 11 at 4:30pm ET. For More Information:

  • Margaret Sanger sculpture by Joy Buba. Presented in the National Portrait Gallery. Photo credit - WWP team.

  • Citations and Additional References:
    NWHM website.
    Wikipedia page.