Category Archives: History

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: Reclaiming the Spotlight

Photo credit: Arizona Historical Society

“The first thing when you opened your eyes, before actual dawn, you beheld the gold and purple and then the entire sky break into color. In the evening the sunsets were reflected on the mountains in pink-lavender shades; sometimes the glow sprayed from the bottom upward, like the footlights of a theater, until the tips were aflame. Sunset vanished as quickly as the sunrise, never lingering long.”
– Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography

Margaret Sanger’s more laid-back years in Tucson saw her with the free time to try out new things, such as cooking and painting. Another role in which Sanger indulged was as the hostess of some of Tucson’s most lavish parties. This was partly an attempt to reclaim some of her former celebrity – she missed the attention and sought once again to be in the spotlight, if only locally. Continue reading

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: The Golden Years

At least since the days of the Wild West, Tucson has seen some of history’s most infamous characters. These days, the city celebrates this past with events such as Dillinger Days, which commemorates John Dillinger’s apprehension and arrest in downtown Tucson. Some controversial figures didn’t merely pass through town but instead made Tucson their home, including the namesake of the Margaret Sanger Health Center and inductee into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame: Margaret Sanger.

In the 1930s, when Sanger first came to Tucson, the town was known for its healthful climate – a reputation that drew Sanger here early in the decade when her son, Stuart, was suffering from an ear infection. “Arizona was so unlike any place I had been before; you either had to be enthralled by it or hate and dread it,” Sanger wrote in her autobiography. “But I knew there was a delight in the cool nights and the translucent, sunny days with a lovely tang in the air.” The following spring, her son in better health, “we packed our bags once more in the little car and drove away, looking back regretfully at the indescribable Catalinas, on which light and clouds played in never-ending change of pattern.”

This first stay left a favorable impression in Sanger’s mind, and in 1935 she returned with Stuart, who this time was suffering from an eye infection. His doctor wanted to operate but Sanger thought he could be cured by a fasting regimen, in which she joined him. The alternative treatment wasn’t successful – but during this time Sanger decided she liked Tucson so much that she and her husband, J. Noah Slee, thought about making it their permanent home. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood’s Founder

September 14 marks the birthday of Margaret Sanger, founder of the modern birth control movement. Born Margaret Higgins in 1879 in Corning, New York, Sanger would become a trailblazer and set the stage for women to control their reproductive destiny.

Margaret was the sixth of eleven children. She watched her mother struggle with the challenges of childcare and frequent pregnancies, and it made a permanent mark on Margaret’s mind. Feminist author Gloria Feldt tells us:

Margaret’s earliest childhood memories were of crying beside her mother’s bed after a nearly fatal childbirth. Anne Higgins, a devout, traditional Catholic, did die at age 50, worn out from frequent pregnancies and births.

Margaret’s father was a freethinker, a stonemason, a charmer who loved to drink and spin a tale but was less than a dependable provider. Margaret knew poverty; she identified with the struggles of women. Her experiences formed her sensibilities about the moral rightness of birth control. And she had that freethinker streak that allowed her to break boundaries.

Part of the Higgins’ family’s problems stemmed from the fact that Michael Higgins was very vocal in his opposition to the Catholic church. Corning was a predominantly Catholic community, and Higgins’ opinions made it hard for him to secure commissions as a stonemason. It also made the Higgins children the subject of ridicule amongst their peers. This may have been a blessing in disguise, however, because it helped the Higgins children rely on each other for companionship. And when Margaret was ready to launch the birth control movement many years later, her sister would join the fray. Continue reading

Rev. Mike Smith: Progressive Christianity and a History of Pro-Choice Activism

He may no longer have the beard and shoulder-length brown hair that adorned his head in the 1970s, but Reverend Mike Smith hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm for social justice and reproductive rights. For four decades, Smith has been a stalwart pro-choice advocate, and those in Southern Arizona who have worked with him have been inspired by his indomitable spirit.

Smith’s personal connection to the fight for reproductive rights began when he was a seminary student in California. In 1965, he took part in the march from Selma to Montgomery that is considered by many to be the climactic event of the Civil Rights Movement. This experience opened his eyes to the potential clergy have to make the world a more humane place, and for Smith, the struggle for civil rights encompassed reproductive freedom. “Out of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, abortion was just an obvious part of that for me,” says Smith. Continue reading