Margaret Louise Higgins was born in Corning, New York, on September 14, 1879, the sixth of eleven children. In 1896, she attended the Clawerack College and the Hudson River Institute. Then, four years later in 1900, she entered the White Plain Hospital nursing program. Two years later, she met William Sanger and they were married. They settled down in Hastings, New York, but moved back to the city, choosing New York City in 1910. There, she joined the Liberal Club and the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist Party. She also began joining strikes, like 1912's strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts and 1913's Paterson, New Jersey strike.
Also in 1912, Margaret started a newspaper column daily about sex called "What Every Girl Should Know." She began arguing for family limitation (not repeated pregnancies) and stood up against the 1873 Comstock law, arguing for birth control availability. In March 1914, she published The Woman Rebel, but it was banned. She was indicted for obscenity law violation, but she got out on bail in October, acquired the alias Bertha Watson, went to England, and released 100,000 copies of a pamphlet called Family Limitation, giving information on the use of and applying contraceptives.
In October 1915, Margaret returned to the United States to face the charges of her actions. However, all the charges were dropped when her daughter suddenly died. Soon after, she went on a tour nationwide to promote the use of birth control. In 1916, she opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brownsville in Brooklyn, New York. The clinic ended up being raided and she was arrested, but she didn't give up. In 1921, she created the American Birth Control League and in 1923, established a new, doctor-run, legal birth control clinic called the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau.
In 1929, Margaret created the National Committee on Federal Legislature for Birth Control. One year later, she formed the Birth Control International Information Center. In 1936, physicians were exempt from the Comstock Law's ban on birth control marital impartation by the United States Court of Appeals. In 1939, she combined the American Birth Control League and the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, which became what is now called Planned Parenthood. Then, in 1952, she founded IPPF, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and was its president until 1959. Lastly, in 1965, the Supreme Court made birth control available for married couples.
On September 6, 1966, Margaret Sanger died in a Tucson nursing home.
Back to Important Women