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  • Jon Knowles

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) is my greatest hero. She changed the world for all the women of the world by making it possible for them to have coitus without becoming pregnant. For thousands and thousands of years, women had to have children or go without marriage or having coitus. And the patriarchal world liked it that way. Sanger overturned most people’s thinking about that and gave women a way to control their own reproduction — the pill. This may have been the most important contribution to human rights in the 20th century. But Sanger is not everyone’s hero. Far from it. For example, New York City had a commission to name important New York women to honor with public memorials. Sanger, arguably the most important woman in world history, was not on the list. The reason is that the anti-reproductive rights movement successfully smeared her reputation with outright lies and misrepresentations in order to besmirch her brainchild, Planned Parenthood. It continues to produce falsehoods that she was a racist and a eugenicist who believed society should force certain women to not have children. The truth is that Sanger believed that all women should decide for themselves whether or not to have a child. But these lies about her are attractive to many and are now part and parcel of some women studies programs across the country. Even Planned Parenthood itself has mostly given up defending her. With current challenges to Roe v Wade, it believes it has bigger fish to fry.

There are many people who couldn’t care less about history. Sanger matters little to them. Nor do Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) and FDR (1882–1945). It also matters little to them that two of the women New York has honored, Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), believed that women and men should only have coitus when they wanted children — Voluntary Motherhood. Sex was not important to them, which makes them favorites of the anti-reproductive rights movement.

Sociologist Dorothy Roberts reported in her 1997 book, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty:

Even in her most eugenical book, The Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger did not tie fitness for reproduction to any particular racial group. It appears Sanger was motivated by a genuine concern to improve the health of the poor mothers she served rather than a desire to eliminate their stock. Sanger believed that all their afflictions arose from their unrestrained fertility, not their genes or racial heritage.

Sanger believed that women had to control their own bodies before they could afford to worry about for whom to vote. Many people who appreciate history admire her for that. They also stand up for her inarguable role in gaining that right for women around the world. Read more about Sanger in Book Two. Or read Ellen Chesler’s Woman of Valor — Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America or Jean H. Baker’s Margaret Sanger — A Life of Passion. Let’s do what we can to keep Sanger’s memory alive and true.

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