Birthcontrol and the Work of Margaret Sanger

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"A free race cannot be born" and 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"(Sanger A 35). Margaret Sanger (1870-1966)said this in one of her many controversial papers. The name of Margaret Sanger and the issue of birth control have virtually become synonymous. Birth control and the work of Sanger have done a great deal to change the role of woman in society, relationships between men and woman, and the family. The development and spread of knowledge of birth control gave women sexual freedom for the first time, gave them an individual identity in society and a chance to work without fearing they were contributing to the moral decline of society by leaving children at home. If birth control and Sanger did so much good to change the role of women in society why was birth control so controversial?

Although birth control and other forms of contraceptives did not fully become legal until the 1960's they had been developed nearly seventy years earlier in the forms the are still prevalent today (Birth

Control in America). The modern condom, or "...rubber was invented in 1870, but [it] was not the thin latex type…" that is currently prevalent in our society (Hoag Levins 2). An early form of the birth control pill, which Margaret Sanger advocated, was also in existence in the very late 1800's (Birth Control in America). Contraception was considered an ethical issue, in that the majority of Americans believed it was a form of abortion and therefor it was considered amoral (Birth Control in America). The laws of Sanger's day "...forced women into celibacy on one hand, or abortion on the other" (Sanger B 3). Why did it take so long to spread and legalize something with the potential to better the lives and life styles of women and families in the early 1900's? It could be partially attributed to the attitude of politicians of the time. President Theodore Roosevelt said "...that the American people would be committing racial suicide"(Birth Control in America). Roosevelt shared a belief, held by the majority of politicians at the time, that families of America should act, as Roosevelt put it "servants of the state; and should provide Children to build national strength" (Birth Control in America). This feeling in America was at the time when the industrialization was at its peak in the US and beginning to take hold else where in the world. This in turn had prompted an arms race. There for many countries felt children were an important part of building a stronger military. National pride to all countries was important. European countries were competing for space and power do to what Germany called "The War of the Cradle"(Birth Control in America). This meant the German government had begun instilling national pride and building its nationalism from the ground up. This was at the brink of World War One. However, it was not only for nationalism that the impoverished were encouraged to reproduce. It was because children meant inexpensive labor for the new industrial factories that were springing up all over urban America and the world.

There was also the "ethical" argument against birth control that seems to be mostly tainted with male pride. It appeared to some people to be

"...increasing isolation and mobility of the individual family" (Birth

Control in America). It allowed people to control the size of their family

thus controlling their life style as well. Fewer children meant less work

more money and more time for women. With Margaret Sanger's work, and birth

control the family was reshaped in size from seven or eight children to

what is more common today, which is two to three children.

Birth control has always been present in society even if it was just a

matter of "Backyard" abortions, with coat hangers. These could lead to

fatal complications (Birth...
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