Causes: The Birth Control Movement


Margaret Sanger, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-29808

Women in the reform movement also worked on many issues related to sexuality, marriage, and childbirth. Some reform women worked to censure pornography, abolish prostitution and “white slavery” (today called trafficking in women), and raise the age of sexual consent. Other women worked to hold men to the same standards of sexual conduct as women, promoted sexual education, and asserted the right of wives to refuse sex within marriage.

Many women sought “companionate marriages,” in which husbands and wives would treat each other as equals. Birth rates fell, and although divorce remained rare, it became an option for some women. Other women choose not to get married at all.

The birth control movement was founded during the Progressive Era. In the 1870s, the Comstock Laws had outlawed the distribution of birth control information and devices through the mail. In the 1910s, nurse Margaret Sanger began publishing articles on birth control, and founded the National Birth Control League (NBCL). While Sanger was in Europe, the NBCL was reorganized by Mary Dennett and eventually converted into the Voluntary Parenthood League.

Margaret Sanger surrounded by supporters, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-105460

In 1916, Sanger opened a birth control clinic in New York. She and a few of her supporters were subsequently arrested and convicted under the Comstock Laws. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Sanger continued to advocate for the right of women to access birth control information and devices. In 1922, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (ABCL). Many years later, the ABCL was converted into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.





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