Born Margaret Higgins, she was the sixth of eleven children born into poverty to an Irish Catholic working-class family in Corning, New York. She saw firsthand the effects of constant childbearing on women and blamed her mother's eighteen pregnancies (seven ended in miscarriage or stillbirth) for her early death.
Around this time, Sanger started advocating for women's right to what she called "birth control." She even made up the term. She also joined the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist Party and the Liberal Club. Meanwhile, she hung out with the likes of Emma Goldman and Upton Sinclair.
During this time, Sanger worked as a nurse in poor NYC neighborhoods. She saw firsthand the effects of botched abortions done at home or in illegal clinics by "doctors." She started writing this newspaper column to educate women about pregnancy prevention.
She started her own magazine to continue to educate women about birth control. According to the Comstock Act of 1873 (check out our discussion in the "Compare and Contrast" section), it was illegal to send information about contraception through the mail, so Sanger got in some hot water and fled to Europe to avoid jail time.
Charges were dropped, so Sanger returned to the United States with smuggled diaphragms and went around the country educating women about birth control.
One guess who opened this clinic. (If you said "Margaret Sanger" you get a gold star.)
It was raided on its ninth day and Sanger and her sister did a month's jail time for distributing contraceptives. Her appeal was important, though. While her conviction wasn't overturned, the court changed the law to allow doctors to prescribe contraceptives—but only if there was a medical reason why a woman shouldn't get pregnant and only if she was married.
Also, Sanger started another magazine.
This organization would eventually become Planned Parenthood.
This was the first legal birth control clinic in the United States. Doctors provided birth control and studied its impacts on women's health.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Sanger started working through legal channels to get laws about birth control changed. Her main goal was for doctors to be able to legally distribute birth control.
The U.S. Court of Appeals allowed contraceptive devices to be imported.
After a long retirement, Sanger made a big comeback.
Sanger dreamed of a magic pill that would prevent pregnancy. She recruited Gregory Pincus, a human reproduction expert, to work on it and Katharine McCormick, an heiress, to fund it.
Enovid, the first oral contraceptive pill, was approved by the FDA.
This U.S. Supreme Court case made birth control legal for married couples.
Sanger died in Arizona, having lived to see her dream of a "magic pill" come true.
This U.S. Supreme Court case made birth control legal for anyone: married, in a long-term relationship, or single and ready to mingle.
One of the U.S. Supreme Court's most recognized and controversial decisions, Roe v. Wade ruled that a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy is covered under the constitutional right to privacy.
However, it didn't end the debate over abortion, and attempts to challenge it continue to this day.