Margaret Sanger became one of the most vocal advocates for birth control at a time when the mere mention of such things was considered not only taboo but a felony. She pioneered the first family-planning clinic-the forerunner to Planned Parenthood-and became a lightning rod for the cause. In recent years, though, Sanger has been largely cast aside by the movement she spawned. In this lively new biography, the historian Jean H. Baker argues convincingly that Sanger deserves the vaunted place in feminist history she once held. Baker's nuanced account of Sanger's life emphasizes the passion of her convictions. Trained as a nurse, Sanger saw the dangers of unplanned pregnancy-both physical and psychological-and made contraception her cause. Escaping to Greenwich Village at the height of the bohemian era, she found kindred spirits like John Reed and Mabel Dodge, who urged her to channel her passion toward social good. Sanger's staunch advocacy for feminine freedom extended to her personal life as well.
Best known as an advocate for spearheading the birth control movement, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was an often-polarizing figure whose life Baker (Mary Todd Lincoln), a historian at Goucher College, expertly parses. Margaret Higgins was one of 11 children born to poor Irish immigrants in Corning, N.Y.; unable to fulfill her dream of going to medical school, she turned to nursing. Moving to New York City with her husband, Bill Sanger, and children, Sanger had her birth control epiphany in 1912 after watching a young mother of three. who'd begged for something to prevent another pregnancy, die after a botched home abortion. Sanger, who had multiple relationships throughout her life, including during her two marriages, threw herself into promoting a new sexual culture for women. Most shocking to many was the separation of sex and reproduction; she was arrested numerous times for violating antiobscenity laws. Sanger and her various birth control leagues-the precursors to Planned Parenthood-built clinics and strived to make contraception available and legal. Baker is open about Sanger's less savory traits, particularly her support of certain aspects of eugenics, and this unbiased account underscores the ferocity of the fighter and the necessity of the fight. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Hill and Wang
November 08, 2011
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