Murphy’s Law: Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) created more societal change during her lifetime than any other woman since Isabelle of Spain. Her father was a freethinker named Michael Hennessey Higgins, a walk-a-way Catholic who became an out-loud atheist as he raised his family in Corning NY. The first time the Catholic Church attacked his daughter Margaret occurred when she was pelted with tomatoes while only a child as she went with him to hear the “Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll speak. A local priest had arranged for his flock to appear and scatter the gathering. It wouldn’t be long before she would irritate the politically powerful Catholic Archbishop of New York City, Patrick J. Hayes, who first banned her to speak, and later, had her birth control clinics raided. He couldn’t stand the thought of her giving knowledge to women about their bodies and he was insulted by her anti-Christian remarks such as “children ought to come into this strange little planet of ours by choice, not by chance.” The same Catholic Church (along with others) continues to attack her memory and her legacy, The Planned Parenthood Federation.
Her mother, always weak, died young from bearing and birthing and raising 11 children. Just a century ago, serial pregnancies were the norm because there was no method of controlling conception other than “having him sleep on the roof.” Margaret lived her life to change that. As a nurse she searched for a method to control conception and thereby achieve “birth control.” She published all the information available and mailed it everywhere. In the 1870’s a religious fanatic named Anthony Comstock teamed up with the YMCA and got Congress to pass a series of laws that forbade disseminating information dealing with birth control via the mail, as it would be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, and indecent” to allow it to be discussed. She defied those laws, openly and covertly. She used an alias; she smuggled in Dutch diaphragms; and, through her leadership and funding, she brought us the pill. She opened clinics to give out birth control information and devices. The religious police would close one down and two new ones would pop-up. For this she would be jailed time after time, and once, while facing a term of forty-five year’s imprisonment, she fled the country. Those who condemn Margaret Sanger and her endowment to humanity always claim that they are highly principled people. Some folks can be so principled that they turn anal, and start nosing in other folk’s privacies, in an effort to control them.
Margaret Sanger never gave exclusivity to her body to anyone, including her two husbands. Among her lovers was H.G. Wells who had this to say of her: “Alexander the Great changed a few boundaries and killed a few men. Both he and Napoleon were forced into fame by circumstances outside of themselves and by currents of the time, but Margaret Sanger made currents and circumstances. When the history of our civilization is written, it will be a biological history and Margaret Sanger will be its heroine.”
To place this woman into perspective, biographer Emily Taft Douglas wrote: “When she started her crusade, in 1914, federal, state, and local laws were all arraigned against her. She was jailed eight times. The medical profession denounced her, the churches excoriated her, the press condemned her, and even liberal reformers shunned her. She entered the fight alone, a frail young woman without much education, with no social or financial backing, with nothing but conviction.”
She would die in 1966 in Tucson Arizona. She brought birth control to America, and as religion permits, to the world. She turned around the medical profession, the courts, and even the legislatures, as she made family planning a rational alternative to the sick notion that some perverse god insists on having an overpopulated world. Late in life she wrote what motivated her activism – “No woman can call herself free who does not own or control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Her motto would have put a smile on Michael Hennessey Higgins – “No Gods-No Masters.”
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“Margaret Sanger” is copyright © 2000 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
The electronic version is copyright © 2000 Internet Infidels with the written permission of John Patrick Michael Murphy.