“On the other hand, the mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among whites, is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”

~W.E.B. DuBois, Professor of Sociology, Atlanta University.  “Black Folk and Birth Control.”  [Margaret Sanger’s] Birth Control Review, Volume XXII, Number 8 (New Series, May 1938, the “Negro Number”), page 90.

The Early Years

margaret sanger racist planned parenthood founder

Margaret Sanger was born in 1879 in New York, one of 11 children born into an impoverished family. Her mother was Catholic, her father an atheist. Her mother had several miscarriages and died at an early age. Though the cause of death was listed as tuberculosis, Margaret always attributed her early death to the fact that her mother was weak from bearing so many children. This deep-seated disdain for large families would encompass her life and contribute to a belief that women should limit—or be limited—in the number of children they have.

Sanger eventually went to nursing school, then married and had three children. She and her husband became immersed in the bohemian world of Greenwich Village, where they lived. It was at this time that she joined the Women’s Committee of the New York Socialist’s Party and began to advocate for the sexual education of women. Though she never finished nursing school, Margaret began working as a nurse in a poor immigrant section of NYC, where she grew to believe in—and teach—the importance of birth control. She also began to write about these beliefs in a column entitled “What Every Girl Should Know.”

Then, in 1914, she started her own publication which advocated for women using birth control. Because she mailed out this publication, she was in violation of the Comstock Act, which made it illegal to disseminate immoral materials through the mail. Facing possible jail time for her actions, Margaret fled to England, where she continued to do research on birth control and contrive a plan to disseminate it.

In 1915, knowing that the charges in the US had been dropped against her, Margaret returned to the US, and, a year later, opened the first birth control clinic in the states. A little over a week later, she was arrested and spent 30 days in jail for again being in violation of the Comstock Law. Sanger would later appeal the conviction, which would not be overturned. However, the judge in the case did make an exception to the law that would allow doctors to prescribe contraception for medical reasons. This opened the door for the future legalization of birth control. ….