Margaret Sanger: Feminism and Family Planning


By: Nathan Chandler

4 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

For decades, Margaret Sanger's ideas on feminism and family planning have been flashpoints for both liberals and conservatives. She set out to provide contraceptives for poor women -- and wound up enmeshed in all sorts of controversy. How much do you know about Sanger and her life?

Margaret Sanger was a feminist and women's rights activist. What term did she bring to the English language?

Sanger was a proponent of birth control, the idea of giving women control over their capacity for reproduction. She was one of the first American women to publicly address the topic of reproductive rights.


In her young life, Sanger took up which profession?

Sanger became a nurse and spent much of her early career working in New York City. There, she became more politically involved, working especially in the area of progressive women's rights.


How many pregnancies did Sanger's mother have?

Sanger's mother became pregnant 18 times in her lifetime and gave birth to 11 live children. Sanger herself had three children. It's no wonder that Sanger was obsessed with the issue.


What was Sanger's father like?

Her father was a hard-drinking man who rarely made the kind of living necessary to support a huge litter of children. Sanger's experiences with too many siblings and not enough money heavily influenced her life's course.


Sanger lived in Greenwich Village and wrote a newspaper column. What was her column called?

She wrote a blunt, candid column called "What Every Girl Should Know." It was meant to educate women about their bodies and how to control pregnancy.


How did Sanger personally feel about sex?

Sanger thought sex was a powerful force that could be enjoyable for both men and women. But she felt that the reproductive aspects shouldn't be left to chance.


What did the Comstock Act force Sanger to do in 1914?

Sanger published a book about family planning -- a deed that violated the Comstock Act, which restricted public discussions of topics such as contraception. She fled the country for England.


Sanger knew nothing about diaphragms until she visited which country in 1915?

She visited Amsterdam (in the Netherlands) in 1915 and saw a family-planning center where diaphragms were available. She began shipping the contraceptive devices to the U.S. even though it was against the law.


Sanger opened the nation's first birth control center. Where did she open the center?

In 1916, she opened the birth control center, a first for America, in the middle of Brooklyn. She was derided by the public and arrested about a week later.


Sanger encouraged people to make reproductive decisions based on what factor?

Sanger was discouraged when people had too many children and not enough money to support them. She wanted women to have children only if they could afford to properly care for them.


How did Sanger feel about masturbation?

Sanger had negative views on masturbation, especially as a compulsive behavior. She wrote that some of the most troubled people she met were hooked on masturbation.


What is "eugenics"?

In the 1920s and 30s, the concept of eugenics (controlled breeding) caught on in many places around the world, particularly in Germany. The idea was to have the most "fit" people in society reproduce while limiting the ability of "unfit" people to have children.


Sanger directed most of her work towards which concept?

Her biggest concern was one of simple control. The idea was that no woman should be forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy.


Sanger was a supporter of "positive eugenics."

She was more aligned with what was called negative eugenics, the idea of reducing the likelihood that "unfit" people would reproduce, a fact that was meant to improve heredity and health for society's benefit.


Sanger abhorred homosexuality.

In a time when many people were very uncomfortable with homosexuality, Sanger was OK with the concept. She realized that homosexuals were simply different than heterosexuals.


What factor ultimately drove Sanger to embrace the idea of contraceptives?

As a nurse, Sanger frequently treated women who endured the repercussions of illegal back-alley abortions. Sanger felt it would be better to prevent pregnancies in the first place rather than resort to barbaric abortion techniques.


Why did Sanger publicly align herself with some of the concepts behind eugenics?

The eugenics movement of the 20s and 30s gained traction at the same time that Sanger was touting the benefits of family planning. She intentionally rode the eugenics wave in part because she thought it would help forward her own ideas about birth control.


How many times was Sanger arrested for her views on women's rights?

Sanger was arrested at least eight times during her life. She was not afraid to confront the status quo regarding women's rights (or the lack thereof).


Most eugenicists of Sanger's era were racists who wanted to leverage the concept to eliminate minorities.

Many famous people of her era, from Teddy Roosevelt to H.G. Wells, believed that selective breeding might be a benefit to humanity. Only a few (cough, Germany) really cared about the idea of eliminating certain classes of people.


Sanger was a prolific writer. How did she approach controversial topics?

Sanger was very direct -- and not at all shy -- in sharing her beliefs and value system. It's one reason why she was constantly targeted by those who opposed her ideas.


Why did Sanger focus many of her birth control activities on minority communities?

Minority communities in the cities then (and now) were often poor and suffered from a lack of sex education. Sanger hoped to give those communities more control over their own lives by limiting unwanted pregnancies.


Sanger famously agreed with the principles behind the Nazi eugenics program.

Sanger never sided with Nazi Germany's ideas about eugenics. She believed that individuals, not the state, should control reproductive rights.


Sanger helped to found an organization that served as a forerunner to Planned Parenthood. What was the organization called?

She helped to create the American Birth Control League. She was also president of the league for more than half a decade.


The black community has a conflicted view of Sanger's work. How did Martin Luther King Jr. perceive Sanger?

In the late 1960s, King aligned himself with Sanger's research. He credited her with doing good work for the black community and also for finding a way to fight the establishment.


Sanger once spoke to a women's branch of the Ku Klux Klan.

She actually did speak during a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. She wasn't there to condemn black people, though. She simply saw it as an opportunity to chat about birth control.


After speaking to the women involved in the KKK, Sanger wasn't entirely impressed with the females who were present. She later called them what?

Sanger wasn’t exactly blown away by the intelligence of the women involved with the KKK. She later called them children because they had such glib views of the world.


Sanger won a Nobel Prize during her storied career.

She never won a Nobel Prize. However, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to her lifetime of work for women's rights.


Sanger angered a lot of people during her life. How did she die?

Sanger died of heart failure in 1966. She 86 years old.


Sanger was a proponent of forced sterilization.

Sanger was sometimes ineloquent in her descriptions of birth control. But she did not want the government to enforce any sort of compulsive sterilization program.


Sanger died in 1966. When did the Supreme Court approve nationwide abortion rights?

Six years after her death, Roe v. Wade helped to legalize abortion. Sanger's crusade against back-alley abortions ended in a victory for her concepts regarding women's rights.


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