Essay on american history: margaret sanger and birth control

America as a country has a very rich history of people who dreamt of achieving great things, then woke up to accomplish them and in so doing changed America and the world for good. Many of their accomplishments outlived them and even got better with time. Margaret Sanger is one of those polarizing significant Americans’ who is either seen as a heroine or a nuisance depending on who you speak with. Today, women see birth control as an opportunity to be smart with her body in making the right choices. However the story was different just a century ago when it was not strange to see a woman with ten to fifteen children and she took the biblical command to “ go forth and multiply” as law. The woman who made this mind-set change possible was Margaret Sanger. Unfortunately just as with any decision that alters life in any of its forms, Margaret still continues to come under scrutiny today.
The ability to control the reproduction and fertility of the woman has always been a cause of concern. The Egyptians as early as 1850 BC recommended contraceptive recipes. These recipes were also discussed in ancient Asia. Margaret grew up in an America that was both progressive and conservative, looking to Great Britain on occasions for legal guidance. Before she began her career that would see her get to be the leader of the American Birth Control Movement, the general consensus was that God alone could control new life. The fact that she felt that decisions could be placed in the hands of women was seen as blasphemous by many groups. The fact that she makes these decisions at a time when the women seemed content with the status quo by delivering as many children as humanly possible is what makes Margaret a pacesetter today.
As a feminist who spoke out about the unfair rates of working women and treatment of women in general as she realised that much could not be accomplished if the working woman spent all she had on her ever increasing family – a family that increased without control. As a nurse Margaret had seen many women getting ill as they tried to self-abort. This began the controversy of birth control. Through discouragement, and prison and everything in between she eventually had her first American Birth Control Conference in 1921. In this conference she had people of no mean repute like physicians, suffrages and reformers. Sanger stood by two deep beliefs – she believed that women should have a power over their bodies and that birth control should be made available to all.
While many of her critics claim that birth control does not in any way create a utopian society as those children born into health and love could still prove to be more evil than the eleven children a woman may have given birth to. There is no denying the fact that Margaret spear headed a movement that would ultimately make life easier to live. Although not many people have been at cross hairs with the Catholic Church, Margaret fought with the Catholic Church and the United States judiciary. She also had to contend with the Marxist party and Josef Stalin as all these organizations accused her of murder at most and of being a nuisance at least. While they opposed her they did so for varying reasons
The Catholic Church – saw birth control as murder and a direct disobedience of the commandments of the scripture. They did everything they could to reject her advances and did not let their members participate in her events. This did not deter Margaret who was raised by a catholic mother that had eleven children and died at the age of 48. Margaret believed that the Catholic Church killed her mother and she was not prepared to watch them kill another woman.
The United States Judiciary – the birth control movement was taking place in America during the times of the Comstock Act of which she violated through her speeches. She was arrested eight times as a result. Her clinic that catered specifically towards birth control was also raided. She bemoaned the fact that a similar clinic was opened in the Netherlands to celebrations while it was seen as a nuisance in the United States.
Stalin and the Marxist Party – while other detractors could have been galvanized as a result of religious, moral or legal disagreement, the Marxist party was none of that. The Marxist’s enmity stemmed from a philosophical standpoint and how Margaret’s dealings made her a symbol of Malthusian principles and this threatened Marxism and their belief of what a socialist utopia would look like. Stalin opposed birth control and saw it as an abomination; a stance that would be carried on by his comrades even after his death.
Margaret was so focused on seeing birth control become a reality in America that she went ahead to map out how she planned to do it in four steps – agitation, education, organization and legislation. Today there are many benefits of birth control even though there is still the spirited debate on whether people should be given the power to take lives. And while she may not have known it in her day, today we look at her words and reasons and she seems almost prophetic when she claimed that if nothing were done the pressures of population would affect world affairs. While many people have given different reasons behind Margaret’s zeal and fight for birth control, it cannot be denied that as she fought for women and the ability to make a choice she made living easier as she gave them a voice. As she said in her autobiography, “ Mothers can you afford to have a large family? Do you want any more children? If not, why do you have them? Do not kill, do not take life but prevent”


Sanger, Margaret. An Autobiography. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1939. E-Book.
http://books. google. co. uk/books? id= vJGwNqzhCPQC&pg= PA11&source= gbs_toc_r&cad= 4#v= onepage&q&f= false
Gross, Clover. “ Margaret Sanger: Feminist Heroine, Public Nuisance or Social Engineer?”
The Faculty of Humboldt State University. 2006.
http://humboldt-dspace. calstate. edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2148/74/Gross. pdf? sequence= 1