Topic Guide for National History Day 2002: Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History

The National History Day Topic for 2002 is Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. For a detailed description of the National History Day Program and this year's topic, see the History Net.

Below are suggested topics that relate to Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement:

Margaret Sanger's Crusade for Birth Control

Family limitation, in one form or another, has been practiced from the earliest time, but it took the efforts of one woman, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), to forge a worldwide movement for birth control that refocused its message towards the needs of women and the public health. Focusing on Sanger as a leader who revolutionized women's reproductive rights and role in society through her efforts at legislative and social reform. Projects can also focus on various efforts to reform the laws prohibiting birth control laws, using the resources of the Sanger Papers.

One could argue that one result of Sanger's quest for safe, legal and effective birth control was a revolution in women's roles in society. Examine the lives of women before and after Sanger's crusade to determine how they were changed and what the impact of those changes were.

Sanger's agitation for birth control began as a radical call for a new society (revolution). It drew and continues to draw opposition from the medical profession, religious leaders and lawmakers (reaction), but within just a few years, birth control was widely accepted and its adherents were in the mainstream of reform. Examine the specific situations and events that spurred Sanger to take up her revolutionary challenge, how she brought it to the mainstream, and the reactionary forces that opposed her.

Examine the social forces and individuals who combined to develop the birth control pill, which revolutionized women's contraceptive choices. Include reactions to the pill.

2002 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (Margaret Sanger was its founding president), which sought to reform existing approaches to population and population control. Examine its changing roles and responsibilities over its first half-century.

Related material on this site

See our biography of Margaret Sanger for an outline of her life and career, as primary and secondary sources about her work and the birth control movement. Our newsletter articles are a good place to look for highlighted events of her life and evaluation of their impact.

You may also want to consult the Sanger Documents on the World Wide Web section of this site for access to primary source material mounted by libraries and other scholarly institutions. Woman and the New Race (1920) is a particularly valuable source on Sanger's feminist arguments for birth control.

Primary Source Material on the Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition

There are over 120,000 Sanger documents on microfilm. You will need to narrow your search to include only those that cover your topic most directly. The two-series microfilm published by the Sanger Project is organized in chronological order, and its reel guide provides access to documents by personal and organizational name. If your topic focuses on a specific person or event you will be able to locate relevant documents

Another good place to look for general information is in Sanger's speeches and articles. Many of these provide autobiographical information as well as Sanger's arguments for birth control. Check our microfilm descriptions for the nearest library that holds copies of the microfilm; they can also be ordered on interlibrary loan. Speeches and articles are located on Library of Congress reels 128-131, Smith College Collection Series reels S70-S73, and Collected Documents Series reel C16.

Selected Secondary Sources

In addition to the general birth control histories listed on our bibliography on Margaret Sanger, some of these works will be helpful.

Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in 19th Century America, 1994.

Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 2002.

Carol McCann, Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945, 1994.

James Reed, The Birth Control Movement in America: From Private Vice to Public Virtue, 1978