The National Archives at New York City

Teachable Texts from the National Archives at New York City

Margaret Sanger: The Woman Rebel

Description

At the turn of the last century, wide knowledge of common sense birth control strategies was extremely poor. Millions of immigrants and the urban poor suffered in silence and ignorance of ways to limit the size of their families.

Inspired by the tragic early death of her own mother (who Sanger believed was weakened by 18 pregnancies) and her experience as a nurse on the Lower East Side, Margaret Sanger tried to fix those problems. Coining the term "birth control" and launching the publication the "Women Rebel," Sanger began to inform women in articles with titles such as "The Prevention of Contraception" and "Are Preventive Means Injurious?". Unfortunately at the time, dissemination of that information through the mail was illegal due to the obscenity laws of the day.

In several cases of the United States v. Margaret Sanger, one can uncover the controversy that Sanger began and the eventual impact she would make. (Some information adapted from American Experience: The Pill)

Document

Discussion Questions:

  • According to the indictments, for what crime was Margaret Sanger formally accused?
  • Why was she accused of committing this crime? Would her actions be considered a crime today? Why or why not?
  • In one of the indictments, how does Margaret Sanger describe the purpose of the Woman Rebel?
  • What selections from the Woman Rebel are described in the indictments? What can you predict about their content?
  • How does the document describe the articles of her pamphlet? What does that reveal about the beliefs of the time period?
  • According to the nolle prosequi document, why wasn't Sanger prosecuted for her actions?

Extension Activities

  • Sequencing Skill: Make a timeline of major events in which the people's freedom of speech were tested by the courts and the government.
  • Debate the Issue: Does a person have the full right to speak their mind and spread those beliefs today? Would a person be charged with a crime for a similar action?
  • Compare and Contrast: After further research, how do the accomplishments of Margaret Sanger measure up to other female activists, such as Susan B. Anthony? Who had the bigger impact on society? Why?

Standards

  • National History Standards
    • Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
      • Standard 3A: The student understands social tensions and their consequences in the postwar era.

  • NY Standards
    • SS1.C.3. Study about the major social, political, economic, cultural, and religious developments in New York State and United States history involves learning about the important roles and contributions of individuals and groups.

  • NJ Standards
    • 6.1.12.C.8.b Relate social, cultural, and technological changes in the interwar period to the rise of a consumer economy and the changing role and status of women.

Additional Resources:


Contact Us

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