Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contribution to society and historical and scientific fields. This has been celebrated in March every year since 1987.
Many countries celebrate this month with big demonstrations and some countries even give out presents to women to celebrate womanhood.
This year International Women’s History Day will be celebrated on March 8th.
The chosen topic of this blog post is Margaret Sanger, who changed reproductive rights greatly in the 1950s and 1960s.
Margaret Sanger was a pioneer of the movement towards birth control and reproductive rights for women, pushing for them to have control of their bodies and making their own choices around reproduction. This was in a time when women’s healthcare was a taboo subject that was dictated by the enforced role of being a mother. This in turn limited women in making their own decisions surrounding fertility and pregnancy.
Her decision to spear-head this movement was sparked by her mother’s premature death and illness proposed to be caused by her having eleven pregnancies. Sanger witnessed the physical toll that having eleven pregnancies had on her and desired to make a change for women to claim ownership of their own choices.
At the time of Sanger’s work, it was illegal for the government or anyone to share birth control information. She was working as a nurse at the time and witnessed the poverty of large families struggling to sustain a life with the amount of children they had; there were issues surrounding hunger and overpopulation in their homes that were making women increasingly ill. This was at a time where medicine and prenatal/postnatal healthcare was limited, thus there were prominent levels of miscarriages and self-completed abortions, which caused women to be extremely ill or die. After witnessing this, Sanger believed that having a chance for women to control the number of children they had would be imperative to preventing the cycle of women’s poverty carrying on.
While she was limited in what she could do while following the law, she decided to advocate for the sick women and provide birth control for them, aiming to repeal the Federal Comstock Law (which prevents birth control information from being distributed). Throughout this reappealing she wrote The Woman Rebel, prompting an arrest warrant for breaking the law.
Sanger believed that ‘No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.’ In 1916 she opened the first ever birth control clinic in Brooklyn, leading to her arrest and spending 30 days in jail. While she was not able to appeal for her conviction, the courts ruled that physicians can prescribe contraceptives for women solely for medical reasons. Although, this was not a complete sweeping permission, it had a significant impact that allowed for her to open a clinic in 1923 that would become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The pill, named Envoid, was approved in 1960 and changed the career prospects for women immensely, allowing them to delay motherhood until they were 30 and enabling them to study for careers such as medicine or law (which took 5 years or more within this time); careers which were inaccessible to women previously. After taking the pill they comfortably knew that their studies would not be delayed.
Sanger’s activism for reproductive rights is inspiring to many, and at the time sparking a huge revolution in women’s reproductive rights and over-turning damaging laws, allowing for the legalization of birth control in 1965 by the Supreme Court.
The pill has impacted people who get periods by allowing them to have the chance to prevent pregnancy and control menstruation.
The women’s movements allowed for better childcare rights and better health care for women, considering their wants and needs more than before.
The pill | National Museum of Australia (nma.gov.au)
The tiny pill which gave birth to an economic revolution – BBC News
Margaret Sanger – Women’s Rights, Birth Control & Significance (biography.com)