The birth control crusader, feminist, and reformer Margaret Sanger was one of the most controversial and compelling figures inthe twentieth century. This first volume of The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger documents the critical phases and influences of an American feminist icon and offers rare glimpses into her working-class childhood, burgeoning feminism, spiritual and scientific interests, sexual explorations, and diverse roles as wife, mother, nurse, journalist, radical socialist, and activist. These letters and other writings, including diaries, journals, articles, and speeches, most of which have never before been published, have been selected and assembled with an eye to telling the story of a remarkable life, punctuated by arrests and imprisonments, exile, love affairs, and a momentous personal loss–a life consumed with the quest for women’s sexual liberation. Because its narrative line is so absorbing, Volume 1 may be read as a powerful biography. Volume 1 covers a twenty-eight-year period from her nurse’s training and early socialist involvement in pre-World War I bohemian Greenwich Village to her adoption of birth control (a term she helped coin in 1914) as a fundamental tenet of women’s rights. It traces the intersection of her life and work with other reformers, activists and leaders of modernity on both sides of the Atlantic, including Havelock Ellis, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Emma Goldman, Max Eastman, and Eugene Debs, as well as many leading radical artists and writers of the day. It highlights her legislative and organizational efforts, her support of the eugenics movement, and the alliances she secured with medical professionals in her crusade to make birth control legal, respectable, and accessible. This volume also includes letters from women desperately in need of fertility control who saw Sanger as their last hope. Supplemented by an introduction, brief essays providing narrative and chronological links, and substantial notes, the volume is an invaluable tool for understanding Sanger’s actions and accomplishments.
Volume II documents a difficult period for Sanger as she faced sustained political opposition to getting birth control legislation passed. Documents will track the unsuccessful efforts of her Congressional lobbying group, the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control, as their repeated efforts to amend the Comstock Act, as well as failed efforts to incorporate birth control into New Deal public health programs. It also will trace efforts to expand the reach of birth control clinics to rural and African-American women as well as Sanger’s decision to shift from legislative to judicial reform. The success of the 1936 U.S. v. One Package decision overturned a major portion of the Comstock Law, resulting in Sanger’s reluctant decision to reunite her Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau with the ABCL in 1939 to form the Birth Control Federation of America, an organization managed by public relations professionals, which in 1942 became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The volume will close with the growing threat of war in Europe and Sanger’s efforts to assist the flight of German sex reformers and physicians.
Final editing on Volume II is underway with publication planned in February 2007 by the University of Illinois Press.
Two additional volumes are planned as well.