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