Born in Corning, New York, Margaret Sanger (1883–1966) became a public health nurse and a pioneer in the birth-control movement when contraception and any publications dealing with it were illegal. Her concern about prevention of repeated pregnancies and the heavy toll of sickness and premature deaths they caused among working-class women was aroused when she worked in the poorest neighborhoods of New York early in the twentieth century. She traveled to Europe and trained in aspects of human sexuality with Havelock Ellis. Upon returning to the United States, she embarked on a campaign to improve access to family-planning information for women in their childbearing years. In 1915 she was indicted for sending birth-control pamphlets through the U.S. mails, and in 1916 she was arrested for conducting a birth-control clinic in Brooklyn. She set out her manifesto on family planning in many books and pamphlets, including What Every Girl Should Know (1913). This contained chapters on girlhood; puberty; the sexual impulse; reproduction; some consequences of ignorance and silence (such as venereal diseases); and menopause. There were oblique but not direct references to ways that the risk of pregnancy could be reduced, but these and her frankness about taboo topics such as masturbation were enough to make her reviled among leaders of the medical and nursing professions of the day.
JOHN M. LAST
Sanger, M. (1927). What Every Boy and Girl Should Know. New York: Bretano's.
—— (1938). Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.