Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


Rise of Women

Margaret Sanger and Women's Health

Margaret Sanger, an outspoken proponent of birth control, believed that given women's economic and physical vulnerability—especially among rural women-they must be able to control the number of children they have. Sanger labored for decades to get information to women about safe contraception and venereal disease. This effort challenged the predominant cultural belief that to keep women ignorant was to keep them virtuous. Vilified by the church and once arrested by the state, Sanger dauntlessly promoted women's freedom from lifelong childbearing.

In Motherhood in Bondage, Sanger presents letters she had received from women across the country crying out to her for help. These women, some having been married at the age of twelve or thirteen and having had ten or more children by their late twenties, spoke of the health problems, poverty, isolation, fear, abuse, and despair they experienced as a result of their "incessant pregnancies and childbearing."

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Photograph of residents of Granger, Texas
Photograph of residents of Granger, Texas
Jno P. Trlica

Jno P. Trlica photographed the residents of Granger, Texas in his studio throughout the 1920s. In rural and urban areas, large families like this one were not uncommon.

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