Skip to main content

Margaret Sanger: A Biography Of The Champion Of Birth Control

June 2024
1min read


by Madeline Gray Richard Marek Publishers 13 photographs, 494 pages, $15.00

Margaret Sanger’s stunning achievement is indisputable. For forty years she fought for women’s right to control the number of children they would have. And she won. An admiring doctor once said of her, “How many people start a crusade and finish it in their own lifetime.” She was a brilliantly effective speaker, a canny publicist, and she could wheedle and charm money out of a stone.

She was also difficult. Just how difficult becomes clear in this revealing new biography. Madeline Gray, quoting extensively from previously unpublished letters to Sanger’s husbands and lovers, shows how vain and egotistical she could be. She neglected her children, she lied whenever it suited her, she was repeatedly unfaithful to both her husbands, and she was livid if any other star emerged in the birth-control movement. For instance, her sister once received such sympathetic publicity when she went on a hunger strike in prison that Margaret thereafter excluded her from the movement, announcing that the sister’s health had been permanently impaired.

But Margaret was honest and tender with Havelock Ellis, who loved and advised her. He persuaded her to stick to birth control and not mention abortion, which she also favored. And he taught her to dress decorously: “The more radical one’s cause, the less flamboyant one should look.”

Margaret Sanger’s tangled life—both radiant and mean—makes a fine story.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate