Tag Archives: Feminism

Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

June 8, 1891 — February 20, 1996

The podcast 99% Invisible inspired this blog entry. I strongly suggest you listen to the well-told story as well as read my brief bio about this person who many have seen but few know.  [99% Invisible…producer Avery Trufelman]

Civic Fame” atop the New York Municipal Building, 1913
Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

Rochester, NY

Audrey Marie Munson was born in Rochester, NY in 1891, but moved with her mother to New York City after her parents divorced. It was there that photographer Ralph Draper saw 15-year-old Audrey. Her beauty inspired him to ask Audrey’s mother, Katherine, if he could introduce Audrey to sculptor Isidore Konti. Konti was equally enchanted.

Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

Audrey’s visage blooms

In short order, Audrey’s visage blossomed in scores of New York City locations. From the Keith New York City blog: When wealthy patrons needed an angel for their mausoleum, Audrey sprouted wings. When the Hotel Astor on Times Square wanted a statue of The Three Graces for their lobby, Audrey danced as a trio. When Wisconsin built a new capitol building, Audrey stood atop its dome. When a monument to the USS Maine was commissioned, Audrey graced its base in stone and its top in gold. And when the Municipal Building was constructed in 1913 to house Greater New York’s city government, a 25-foot-tall Audrey was perched 580 feet above the city streets.”

Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

San Francisco

She was also the Muse for the sculptures of the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. It invited her to pose and soon Audrey was everywhere.

While in California, she became part of the nascent film industry. Munson’s relaxed attitude toward nudity, though contrary to norms of the day, allowed her to became the first woman to appear fully nude in a non-pornographic moving picture, Inspiration. Her limited acting ability (sometime they used a stunt actress for non-nude scenes) ended her movie career and she and her mother moved back to NYC.

Dr Walter Wilkins

In 1919 Katherine and Audrey Munson rented a room in the home of a Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins became infatuated with the model, but Audrey did not reciprocate and before the doctor could act on his infatuation, Audrey and Katherine moved.

Shortly afterwards, Wilkins killed his wife. Though he initially claimed that burglars had killed her, investigations, included speaking with Munson and her mother, revealed his guilt.

from the March 25, 1919 edition of the New York Times

Wilkins was sentenced to death, but hung himself in jail.

Victims of scandal 

The scandal destroyed Audrey Munson’s career and she and her mother moved back to upstate New York. They barely could earn livings and life in the small town for the nationally famous model was difficult. It didn’t have the city life that Audrey had become accustomed, nor did its rural citizens have the relaxed attitude toward such modeling the Munsons had.

On May 27, 1922, depressed, Audrey tried to kill herself by ingesting mercury bichloride. Emergency medical treatment saved her, but soon after her mother committed her to Saint Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg, New York.


Though briefly released many years later to live in an old folks home, her continued contrary behavior forced authorities to send her back to Saint Lawrence.

She died there on February 20, 1996. 105 years old.

The Most Visible Person You Have Never Seen. Short film on Munson. Directed by Leslie Napoles.

Visible Invisible Audrey Marie Munson

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


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

Eugenics Aftermath

July 21, 2020: Planned Parenthood of Greater New York announced that it would remove the name of Margaret Sanger, a founder of the national organization, from its Manhattan health clinic because of her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement.”

Sanger had long been lauded as a feminist icon and reproductive-rights pioneer, but her legacy also included supporting eugenics, a discredited belief in improving the human race through selective breeding, often targeted at poor people, those with disabilities, immigrants and people of color.

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement. [NYT story]

Margaret Sanger Birth Control

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:

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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