Category Archives: Feminism

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

The once-seen movie

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

On May 6, 1917 about 200 people watched a private showing Margaret Sanger’s film, Birth Control. Sanger had scheduled it to open publicly the next night, but New York officials banned it as obscene and it was never shown publicly.

Discomfort regarding sexually-related topics has long been part of American culture. A result of that attitude is that access to reproductive information and obstetric treatment for American women been limited socially as well as legally.

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Comstock Act

On March 3, 1873 the Comstock Act [named after Anthony Comstock, a U.S. postal inspector] [Case Western article] amended the Post Office Act . Within that act it was illegal to send any “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices and information. In addition to banning contraceptives, this act also banned the distribution of information on abortion for educational purposes.

Vestiges of the act endured as the law of the land into the 1990s. In 1971 Congress removed the language concerning contraception, and federal courts until Roe v Wade in 1973 ruled that it applied only to “unlawful” abortions. After Roe, laws criminalizing transportation of information about abortion remained on the books, and, although they have not been enforced, they have been expanded to ban distribution of abortion-related information on the Internet.  [Britannica article]

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger, 1879 – 1966, despite her eugenics statements, is in many ways the most important American in terms of reproductive heath care for American women.

Sanger watched her mother Anne die  at the age of 49 after she had gone through 18 pregnancies (with 11 live births) in 22 years.

In 1911 she and her husband moved to New York City where, as a visiting nurse, she saw the devastating effects of poverty on health, particularly women’s health.

As an aid to this heath issue, Sanger believed that women needed access to reproductive health information. Her activities in support of that belief were often illegal.

For example: in March 1914,  Sanger produced The Woman Rebel  [NYU atricle] which instructed women on times when it would be wise for them to avoid pregnancy, such as in the case of illness or poverty. She did not give any instructions regarding specific methods for contraception, but the New York City postmaster banned the journal under the Comstock Law category of “obscene, lewd, lascivious” matter.

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Clinics

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Despite intense social and legal opposition, on October 16, 1916 Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne [electric beanstalk article] opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in Brooklyn. The clinic served 448 people that first day. Ten days later the vice squad raided and shut down the clinic. The squad arrested Sanger and Byrne and confiscated all the condoms and diaphragms at the clinic.

On November 1, 1921  the American Birth Control League was created through a merger of the National Birth Control League and the Voluntary Parenthood League. Led by Sanger, the new league became the leading birth control advocacy group in the country. The American Birth Control League eventually became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. [Sanger did not like the term planned parenthood and continued to use the phrase “birth control.”

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Birth control pill

Margaret Sanger’s long term goal was a birth control pill, yet laws against any form of birth control continued to be enacted and upheld in court [February 1, 1943, in Tileston v. Ullman [Cornell article], the Supreme Court upheld a Connecticut law banning the use of drugs or instruments that prevented conception.]

In the early 1940s, researchers began to discover chemicals that could affect ovulation and on April 25, 1951,Margaret Sanger managed to secure a tiny grant for researcher Gregory Pincus from Planned Parenthood.  Pincus begins initial work on the use of hormones as a contraceptive.  Within a year his research supports the idea, but Planned Parenthood decided not to support further research because it was too risky. In 1953 Sanger was able to gain financial support for Pincus’s research. In 1955 human clinical trials proved that the “pill” was 100% effective.

It was still six years later before the Food and Drug Administration approved the pill. It first went on sale in December 1960. Despite continued social, legal, and religious opposition, by 1964 some four million women were using the drug.              

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

Griswold v. Connecticut

On June 7, 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut (Oyez article), the Supreme Court struck down the one remaining state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married couples.

After an adult lifetime of fighting for women’s heath rights, Margaret Sanger died on September 6, 1966. [NYT obit]

Margaret Sanger Birth Control
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Women Strike for Peace

Women Strike for Peace

photo credit: The New York Historical Society

As the nuclear arms race escalated so did the number of groups who protested that expansion. And as the US participation in Vietnam’s civil war increased, the same became true.

Abzug & Wilson

Bella Abzug (left) and Dagmar Wilson (right) founded Women Strike for Peace on November 1, 1961 by when they organized an anti-nuclear weapon protest.


First Conference

At its first national conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1962, Women Strike for Peace adopted the following declaration: “We are women of all races, creeds and political persuasions. We are dedicated to the purpose of general and complete disarmament. We demand that nuclear tests be banned forever, that the arms race end and the world abolish all weapons of destruction under United Nations safeguards. We cherish the Historical Introduction right and accept the responsibility to act to influence the course of government for peace. We join with women throughout the world to challenge the right of any nation or group of nations to hold the power of life and death over the world.” (from >>> Swarthmore edu)

Dorothy Marder

Dorothy Marder

From the same site:  Dorothy Marder (1926-2007), was a social realist photographer active during the politically energetic 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  In her photography Dorothy Marder captured the peace, anti-nuclear, social justice, women’s liberation, lesbian/gay pride, and disability rights movements, especially in New York City and Washington, DC.  For many years, she was the photographer for the women’s peace group, Women Strike for Peace.  Marder’s work has appeared in numerous alternative-press publications, as well as in books, and even a documentary film.  Dorothy Marder was not only a photographer, but also a self educated artist and dedicated activist, whose strong passionate for life was reflected in her art.

Here is a slide show with some of her Women Strike for Peace work:

Women Srike for PeaceWomen Srike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Srike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for PeaceWomen Strike for Peace

Long after the 60s

From WikipediaWSP remained a significant voice in the peace movement throughout the 1980s and ’90s, speaking out against U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Persian Gulf states. On June 12, 1982, Women Strike for Peace helped organize one million people who demanded an end to the arms race. In 1988 they supported Carolyna Marks in the creation of the Unique Berkeley Peace Wall, as well as similar walls in Oakland, Moscow, Hiroshima and Israel (a joint Jewish and Palestinian children’s Peace Wall). In 1991, they protested the Iraq-Persian Gulf War; afterwards, they urged the American government to lift sanctions on Iraq. In the late 1990s Women Strike for Peace mainly focused on nuclear disarmament.

It was on this date, March 26, in 1969 that Women Strike for Peace demonstrated in Washington, D.C., in the first large antiwar demonstration since President Richard Nixon’s inauguration in January.

More important was the fact that Paul Findley, a Republican from Illinois, had inserted into the daily Congressional Record the 31,379 names of the United States dead in Vietnam.  [>>> NYT article]

WSP remained active through the 1990s.

Women Strike for Peace
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Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

March 4, 1815 – December 17, 1864

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

Early life

On March 4, 1815, Myrtilla Miner was born in North Brookfield, NY. She was one of 13 children in a poor farming family. Often in ill health, she found comfort in reading and studying. With great persistence and financial difficulty, she graduated from the Young Ladies Domestic Seminary  with a teaching degree. She taught in Rochester, NY and Providence, R.I., before accepting a position in the late 1840s in Whitesville, Mississippi.

There she taught at a school for the daughters of plantation owners. There, too, she saw the desperate conditions under which slaves lived. An educator to her core, she naively asked the slave owners if she could start a school to teach the slave girls to read. Myrtilla Miner did not realize that such a benefit was against the law.

Sickness sent her back home to New York, but in 1851 with the encouragement of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (abolitionist known for his “Beecher Bibles” (guns) that he sent to Kansas abolitionists) and a contribution from a Quaker philanthropist, Miner opened The Colored Girls School in Washington, D.C.

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

Myrtilla Miner

Enrollment grew with the help of continued Quaker contributions as well as a $1000 contribution from Harriet Beecher Stow (the daughter of the Reverend) from her Uncle Tom’s Cabin royalties.

The school offered primary schooling and classes in domestic skills, but its emphasis was always on training teachers. By 1858 six former students were teaching in schools of their own. The school closed during the Civil War and Miner moved to California because of poor health.

She suffered a carriage accident in 1864 and died on December 17, 1864 shortly after her return to Washington, D.C.

On January 29, 1865, among the many deaths listed under “The Dead of 1864” the New York Times reported, “MINER, Miss MYRTILLA, an authoress and philanthropist, died at Washington, D.C.”

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

After Miner’s death

The Civil War ended and the school reopened as the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth. From 1871 to 1876 it was associated with Howard University. In 1879, as Miner Normal School, it became part of the District of Columbia public school system.

Myrtilla Miner
c 1909…First graders from the Miner Normal School in Washington, DC brushing their teeth)
Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner

Washington Normal School

Similarly, Washington Normal School (later Wilson Teachers College) was established in 1873, as a school for white girls. In 1929, Congress converted both schools into four-year teachers colleges.

In 1955,  after the US Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the two colleges merged to form the District of Columbia Teachers College.

On August 1, 1977, the Board of Trustees announced the consolidation of the District of Columbia Teachers College, the Federal City College, and the Washington Technical Institute into the University of the District of Columbia. M

Feminist Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner
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