Margaret Sanger

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Margaret Sanger Slee
Sanger 1916.jpg

Born September 14, 1879
Corning, New York
Died September 6, 1966
Tucson, Arizona[1]
Spouse William Sanger,
James Noah H. Slee[1]

Margaret Sanger (September 14, 1879 - September 6, 1966) was an American feminist and eugenics activist who founded the American Birth Control League. She retired from the organization in 1940 and it eventually became Planned Parenthood. Her main success was in bringing discussions of Birth Control into the public arena. She argued that a major reason to promote birth control was to stop abortions. She was vigorously denounced by the Catholic Church because of her position on birth control.

Early life

Sanger was born on September 14, 1879 in Corning, New York as Margaret Louisa Higgins[2] to Michael Hennessey Higgins and Anne Purcell Higgins.[3] Her brothers and sisters were: Ethel, Henry, John, Joseph, Lawrence, Mary, Nan, Richard, Robert, and Thomas.[4][5]

Among Sanger's siblings, her brother Robert("Bob") was a well known football player who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.[6] Her sister Ethel Higgins Byrne was a radical feminist activist like Margaret was.[7]


Her father Michael was an atheist and an outspoken Georgist activist. He had read Henry George's work Progress and Poverty and supported the Single Tax movement.[8] The influence of George was so profound in the Higgins family that one of Sanger's brothers was named Henry George McGlynn Higgins. This is significant in not only the obvious Henry George naming, but the second middle name of "McGlynn" is a reference to Edward McGlynn, a popular Catholic priest in New York who was excommunicated for his outspoken support of Georgist ideals.[9]

Her mother Anne had 18 pregnancies, with 11 of them being born.[10] In her autobiography, Sanger recalled that even as a child she blamed big families as the main reason for society's ills. She wrote:

Large families were associated with poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty, fighting, jails; the small ones with cleanliness, leisure, freedom, light, space, sunshine.

The fathers of the small families owned their homes; the young-looking mothers had time to play croquet with their husbands in the evenings on the smooth lawns. Their clothes had style and charm, and the fragrance of perfume clung about them. They walked hand in hand on shopping expeditions with their children, who seemed positive in their right to live. To me the distinction between happiness and unhappiness in childhood was one of small families and of large families rather than of wealth and poverty.[11]


Sanger argued for woman's liberation from the domination of men. She advocated economic independence and withdrawal from the traditional family unit, particularly marriage. She wrote “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” [12] (see self-realization).

Margaret Sanger and her two sons.

Birth control activism

Margaret Sanger and Otto Bobsein coined the term "birth control".[13][14] In October 1916, Sanger opened and (illegally) operated the first birth control clinic in the United States, in Brooklyn, New York. It was raided by the police, and shut down. Sanger was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment for distributing contraceptives, which were illegal at the time.

In 1917, Sanger established the magazine Birth Control Review.

Margaret Sanger Award

Planned Parenthood annually gives awards to those who support them and the top award they give is called The Margaret Sanger Award.[15][16] Alan Guttmacher, who was a President of Planned Parenthood from 1962 to 1974 and who was also former Vice-President of the American Eugenics Society,[17][18] stated: "We are merely walking down the path that Ms. Sanger has carved out for us." [19][20] Similarly, Faye Wattleton, who was the president of Planned Parenthood until 1992, stated that she was "proud" to be "walking in the footsteps" of Margaret Sanger.[21]

Eugenics and racism

Margaret Sanger campaigned for eugenic controls to enforce what she called "race hygiene" and was a member of the American Eugenics Society and the English Eugenics Society.[22][23][24]

Margaret Sanger associated with racists[25] and in 1926, she was the guest speaker at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Silverlake, New Jersey.[26] She had a very deep hatred for other races that demonstrated a greater fecundity, such as the Chinese.


Sanger died in Tucson, Arizona on September 6, 1966.[1]


Dr. William Moulton Marston developed the character Wonder Woman through his inspiration of Sanger.[27]

Statements by Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger in 1961
  • "The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it." [28]
  • "Those least fit to carry on the race are increasing most rapidly. People who cannot support their own offspring are encouraged by Church and State to produce large families. Many of the children thus begotten are diseased or feebleminded; many become criminals. The burden of supporting these unwanted types has to be borne by the healthy elements of the nation. Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilization are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born." - Statement of the American Birth Control League[29]
  • "The mass of significant Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is [in] that portion of the population least intelligent and fit and least able to rear children properly." - Margaret Sanger - The "Negro Project" quoting W.E.B. DuBois with the omission of one word [30]
  • "Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit. Both are seeking a single end but they lay emphasis upon different methods."[31][32]
  • "Organized charity is itself the symptom of a malignant social disease. Those vast complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and is perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents. My criticism therefore, is not directed at the ‘failure’ of philanthropy, but rather at its success" - Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization [NY: Brentano's, 1922], (p. 108).[33]
  • "To each group we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun."[34]
  • "Of all lands China needed knowledge of how to control her numbers; the incessant fertility of her millions spread like a plague. Well-wishing foreigners who had gone there with their own moral codes to save her babies from infanticide, her people from pestilence, had actually increased her problem. To contribute to famine funds and the support of missions was like trying to sweep back the sea with a broom." [35]
  • In Margaret Sanger's book The Pivot of Civilization she also called for the elimination of "human weeds," for the segregation of "morons, misfits, and maladjusted," and for the sterilization of "genetically inferior races." [36]


  • Douglas, Emily Taft (1970), Margaret Sanger; Pioneer of the Future, New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston
  • Peterson, Jefferis Kent (2007), Abortion - A Liberal Cause?, Erik Rauch (MIT) Retrieved on 2007-07-25
  • Sanger, Margaret (1920), Women and the New Race, New York, NY: Truth Publishing Company Facsimile retrieved on 2007-07-24


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Margaret Sanger Is Dead at 82; Led Campaign for Birth Control
  2. Margaret Sanger
  3. A to Z of American Women Leaders and Activists
  4. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America
  5. Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion
  6. Robert A. "Bob, The Hig" Higgins
  7. Dorothy Day: Champion of the Poor
  8. Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion
  9. Henry George Dr. Edward McGlynn & Pope Leo XIII
  10. Women Criminals: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues [2 volumes: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues]
  11. The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger
  12. II. Women’s Struggle for Freedom
  13. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America
  14. The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective: The Birth Control Classic
  15. Allan Rosenfield Receives the Reproductive Rights Movement's Highest Honor - Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Margaret Sanger Award
  16. PPFA Margaret Sanger Award Winners
  17. What is Roe v. Wade?
  18. Eugenics Watch
  19. What the Facts Reveal About Planned Parenthood
  20. The Inherent Racism of Population Control By Paul Jalsevac
  21. The Inherent Racism of Population Control By Paul Jalsevac
  24. Angry White Female: Margaret Sanger's Race of Thoroughbreds
  25. Peterson 2007
  26. Peterson 2007 citing Douglas 1970, p. 192
  27. The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired By Both Suffragists And Centerfolds
  28. Sanger 1920, p. 63, see also Transcript.
  29. Birth Control: What it Is, how it Works, what it Will Do
  31. Eugenics, Race, and Margaret Sanger Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?
  32. Birth Control and Racial Betterment, by Margaret Sanger
  34. Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (1938) p. 217 online
  35. The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger, p. 347
  36. Who Was Margaret Sanger