“When the marvel of the spring came to the desert, you saw the cactus and the flowering, saw the brown floor change to delicate pale yellow, stood in awe of nature daring to live without water. You were reminded of the futility of wearing out your life merely providing food and raiment. Like the challenge of death, which so many of the people there were gallantly facing, the desert itself was a challenge.” – Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography
Margaret Sanger in 1959, with friend Grace Sternberg, returning to the United States after a trip to New Delhi, Sanger's final overseas trip.
Margaret Sanger moved to Tucson in the 1930s and soon thereafter decided to live here full time, believing that the warm climate was conducive to good health. During Sanger’s years in Tucson, she latched onto any health fad or other technique she thought might improve her health. She exercised and experimented with various diets, including fasting on juice; eating a combination of yogurt, wheat germ, and honey; taking vitamin E supplements; and eating papayas (which she had shipped from Hawaii) for their alleged “restorative substances.”
In 1949, however, Sanger suffered a heart attack, and her son Stuart, a doctor, injected her with Demerol, a recently introduced painkiller not considered addictive at the time. The next year she had a second heart attack, resulting in another long convalescence at the hospital. Her addiction to Demerol intensified; she got Stuart to write prescriptions for her, and would sometimes falsely claim that bottles of the drug had fallen and shattered, which would require further prescriptions to be written. If a nurse refused her demand for Demerol, Sanger would inject it herself. Her son tried to wean her from the drug by collecting empty bottles and filling them with a diluted concentration of the drug, slowly increasing the proportion of water to Demerol until the solution was pure water. This was effective for a while, but eventually Sanger realized she had been duped and endeavored to get her hands back on the drug. She went through other doctors, firing them when they would decrease her dosage, and eventually took to self-administering injections of pure water every 30 minutes. Her addiction, it seemed, was both to the drug itself and the psychological comforts of the injection. Continue reading
Posted in History
Tagged addiction, Alan Guttmacher, arteriosclerosis, Demerol, heart attack, John Rock, Margaret Sanger, nursing home, Pima County, senility, St. George's Church, Stuart Sanger, Tucson
Editors’ note: Happy Women’s History Month! We’re excited to celebrate with you by continuing our series on the life of Margaret Sanger.
Margaret Sanger, and a few guests, at her home in the Tucson Foothills, circa 1941.
If you’ve lived in Tucson, it’s likely that you’ve passed by one of Margaret Sanger’s erstwhile residences. In the 1930s she lived in Tucson’s Foothills and by the next decade she lived on Elm Street, close to the Arizona Inn and the university. About 10 years later, she helped to design a new house in the Catalina Vista neighborhood.
In one of Sanger’s autobiographies, she tells of the pull Tucson exerted on her:
“[I]n the winter, remembering Arizona from the time I had been there with Stuart, [I] went out again in response to the summons of the desert. My husband and I found a house near Tucson of adobe, trimmed in blue.”
This adobe house was in the Foothills of Tucson, purchased in April 1933. Sanger and her husband, J. Noah, had a famously contentious relationship and maintained separate apartments within their home; Sanger’s was on the ground floor in the front area of the house.
Though enchanted by the desert’s beauty, Sanger and her family also pinned their hopes on the climate’s supposed restorative powers. Sanger’s son Stuart had already moved to Tucson, and was hopeful that the climate would help to heal an enduring ear infection. Sanger’s husband hoped it would alleviate his arthritis (and was also drawn by Arizona’s lack of income tax at the time). For her part, Sanger sought relief from her bronchitis, and also believed the climate would put her at a decreased risk for tuberculosis. Continue reading
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Tagged architecture, Arizona Inn, Arthur Brown, Catalina Mountains, Catalina Vista neighborhood, Elm Street, Frank Lloyd Wright, Grant Sanger, J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger, Pima County Republican Women's Club, Santa Catalina Mountains, Stuart Sanger, Tucson, Tucson Arts Festival, Tucson Medical Center, Woman's Republican Club of Pima County
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
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Tagged Arizona Inn, birth control, birth control pill, Catalina Mountains, Clinica Para Las Madres, Hermosillo, J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger Slee, Mexico, Nogales, Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, population growth, Stuart Sanger, the Pill, Tucson, Tucson Medical Center, Tucson Mother's Health Clinic, Tucson Watercolor Guild, watercolor