Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Debt of Gratitude: Margaret Sanger Pioneer of the Future

Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the FutureMargaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future by Emily Taft Douglas is also a history of reproductive freedom for American women. It was a bit frightening to read about Comstock's utterly sincere and reverential contempt for women, and how many people casually dismissed the death and suffering of women through uncontrolled pregnancies. Sanger started as a nurse and saw the devastating medical effects of children spaced too closely together, as well as the social problems of family size far exceeding the capability of parents to support.

I hadn't known that Sanger fled the country to avoid her first trial, focusing attention on her cause but also leaving her children behind to the care of her family and friends. Luckily she had a large extended family to help out (the stress and poverty of that large family was one of the life experiences that reinforced to her the importance of safe birth control). She spent a lot of time learning about the methods of birth control in various countries and fighting to bring back the effective ones to America. The underhanded tactics used by the government to try to stop the spread of information was chilling, proving again how unimportant the lives of women were to many influential people.

Sanger's crusade for birth control was both personal and political -- she emphasized both the individual suffering and the economic and politic effects of uncontrolled population growth. Some of the arguments sound sinister now, after the horrific use made of concerns about "race purity" and "substandard children" but most of the discussion takes place before the terms became tainted. She also learned about and embraced the free love theories of many sex researchers, which means there is probably a scandalous biography out there as well; this one respects the privacy Sanger maintained for herself. Even her second marriage didn't become public knowledge for several years. This is an interesting albeit uncritical story about a complex woman who greatly improved the lives of millions of people (women and men and countless children) through her work.

I came to this book through the bibliography of Ghost in the Little House, and it will be fun to see where this Stream of Suggestions leads next.

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