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."

Back cover of <em>Motherhood in Bondage</em>
Back cover of Motherhood in Bondage
Margaret Sanger

Throughout Margaret Sanger's twenty-five-year-long career--first as a nurse to poor urban women and later as an activist for birth control--many women shared their personal, and often desperate, stories with her. She later published many of the letters w...

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