Born into an Irish working class family on Sept 14, 1879 in Corning, New York, Margaret Sanger is known for her crusade to legalise birth control which later spurred the movement for women’s liberalisation. As a young girl Margaret witnessed her mother’s slow death worn out after 18 pregnancies and 11 live births. Later while working as a nurse and midwife in the poorest neighbourhoods of New York city before World War I she saw women deprived of their health, sexuality and ability to care for children already born. She was appalled at the death from self-induced abortions.

Contraceptive information was suppressed by clergy-influenced, physician accepted laws. It was this injustice that inspired Sanger to defy the church and the state. In 1914 she launched a feminist monthly The Woman Rebel which advocated birth control.

Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger [Illustrations by: Amarjeet Malik]

In a series of articles called “What every girl should know” and finally through neighbourhood clinics that dispensed woman-controlled forms of birth control (a phrase she coined) Sanger put information and power into the hands of women.
In 1916 she opened the US’s first family planning clinic in Brooklyn and was arrested for creating public nuisance. She later escaped to Europe to avoid severe criminal penalties after being indicted for inciting violence and promoting obscenity. Her case was dismissed after her return to the States but she continued to push legal and social boundaries by initiating sex counseling and organising the first international population conference. Her struggle with law dramatized her cause and won doctors the right to dispense birth-control information to their patients.

In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She spread her wings to as far as Japan and India where organisations she helped start still flourish. Sanger was past 80 when she saw the first marketing of a contraceptive pill, which she helped develop. Sanger’s brave and joyous life included fulfilling work, three children, two husbands and an international network of friends and colleagues. She was charismatic and never abandoned her focus on women’s freedom. She lived as if she and everyone else had the right to control her or his own life. By word and deed, she pioneered the most radical and humane political movements of the century. She died on Sept 6, 1996 in Tuscon, Arizona.