Margaret Sanger, ""The Woman Rebel" and The Fight for Birth Control," [Apr 1916] .

Published article. Source: Records of the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities, New York State Archives , Margaret Sanger Microfilm, C16:1035 .

"The Woman Rebel" and The Fight for Birth Control

During fourteen years experience as a trained nurse, I found that a great percentage of women's diseases were due to ignorance of the means to prevent conception. I found that quackery was thriving on this ignorance, and that thousands of abortions were being performed each year-- principally upon the women of the working class. Since the laws deter reliable and expert surgeons from performing abortions, working women have always been thrown into the hands of the incompetent, with fatal results. The deaths from abortions mount very high.

I found that physicians and nurses were dealing with these symptoms rather than their causes, and I decided to help remove the chief cause by imparting knowledge to prevent conception, in defiance of existing laws and their extreme penalty. I sent out a call to the proletarian women of America to assist me in this work, and their answers came by the thousands. I started The Woman Rebel early in 1914. The first issue of the magazine was suppressed. Seven issues out of nine were suppressed, and although sent out as first-class mail, the editions were confiscated. The newspapers--even the most radical-- declined to give this official tyranny any publicity.

In August, 1914, a Federal Grand Jury returned three indictments against me, based on articles in the March, May and July issues of The Woman Rebel. The articles branded as "obscene" merely discussed the question and contained no information how to prevent conception. But the authorities were anxious to forestall the distribution of this knowledge and knew that this could only be done by imprisoning me. I decided to avoid the imprisonment, at least until I had given out the information. One hundred thousand copies of a pamphlet, Family Limitation, were prepared and distributed, and I sailed for England.

I studied the question in England, Holland, France and Spain, and prepared three other pamphlets: English Methods of Birth Control, Dutch Methods of Birth Control, and Magnetation Methods of Birth Control.

After these had been mailed to the United States, I returned to take up the fight with the authorities. The latter had, in the meantime, set a Comstock trap for William Sanger and railroaded him to jail for 30 days. Nevertheless they postponed my case time and again, although I was anxious to face the issue and get the decision of a jury. They noted the widespread agitation in favor of birth control. They saw that interest had been thoroughly aroused. Never had there been an issue that had so aroused the entire country. Letters at the rate of 40 to 50 a day poured in upon the authorities and educated them.

Finally, it was decided by Federal Judge Dayton, United States District Attorney Marshall and Assistant United States District Attorney Content to acquit me, instead of allowing a jury to do it. This decision is fully as important a precedent for future work as the decision of a jury would have been.

Hundreds of requests have been made to me to revive The Woman Rebel; but I feel that it has already accomplished its purpose--to arouse interest. Now more constructive work is needed, in meeting the people directly and interesting them in establishing free clinics in those sections where women are overburdened with large families.

MARGARET SANGER, 163 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project