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Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement: Topics in Chronicling America

Womens' rights activist, Margaret Sanger spearheaded the U.S. birth control movement in the early 20th century. This guide provides access to material related to "Margaret Sanger" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

Photograph of Margaret Sanger. March 13, 1915. The Day Book (Chicago, IL), Image 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“Woman Rebel” Margaret Sanger spearheaded the birth control movement in the United States, coining the term “birth control” and opening the first birth control clinic in the country. Her activism directly targeted the Comstock Laws, which made it illegal to disseminate birth control information. A prolific writer and lecturer, Sanger overcame many obstacles to pave the way for women’s rights in the United States. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

March 13, 1915 William Sanger is arrested for distributing wife’s pamphlets on contraception. Margaret Sanger returns from London to stand trial beside him in New York.
May 12, 1915 Spurred by the arrest of William Sanger, New Yorkers form the Birth Control League
September 10, 1915 William Sanger’s conviction and jail sentence causes a riot in the Court of Special Sessions.
November 29, 1915 The widely publicized Bollinger baby case may carry the birth control fight to Congress.
January 18, 1916 Margaret Sanger stands trial undefended in federal court for circulating information on birth control, considered obscene matter.
April 1, 1916 Margaret Sanger is freed of charge that she circulated obscene matter. She begins to visit and organize birth control societies throughout the US.
October 21, 1916 Margaret Sanger establishes semi-secretly in New York the first out-and-out birth control clinic in the United States, and plans on opening many more across the US.
December 27, 1916 New York physicians do not suggest a change in the state law favoring birth control, and disapprove of doctors aiding in family limitation.
December 29, 1916 Judge John Stelk speaks at the Chicago Woman’s Club, voicing his support of the birth control movement.
January 27, 1917 Mrs. Ethel Byrne, following a five day-long hunger strike at Blackwell’s Island prison, is forcibly fed.
January 29, 1917 Margaret Sanger and Fania Mondeil are charged with circulating birth control information. Both expect to be convicted, and both have promised to hunger strike.
November 14, 1921 Margaret Sanger and Mary Winsor are charged with disorderly conduct for Town Hall meeting on birth control, but they are exonerated.
December 2, 1921 Juliet Rublee is arrested for violating a law prohibiting the promulgation of recipes for birth control.
February 20, 1922 Margaret Sanger receives permission to land in Japan to speak at “Kaizo” magazine, but only upon the condition that she does not attempt birth control propaganda.
May 14, 1922 In Japan, rumors spread that Margaret Sanger and birth control is an American plot to decrease the population of Nippon so the United States can seize the island empire.