Synopses & Reviews
Undoubtedly the most influential advocate for birth control even before the term existed, Margaret Sanger ignited a movement that has shaped our society to this day. Yet her star has waned. A frequent target of so-called family values activists, she has also been neglected by progressives, who cite her socialist leanings and purported belief in eugenics. In this captivating biography, the renowned feminist historian Jean H. Baker rescues Sanger from such critiques and restores her to the vaunted place in history she once held.
Trained as a nurse, Sanger saw the dangers of unplanned pregnancy and pioneered the first family planning clinic, the forerunner to Planned Parenthood. The movement she started spread across the country, eventually becoming a vast international organization with her as its spokeswoman. Baker demonstrates that Sangers staunch advocacy of womens privacy and freedom extended to her personal life as well: after abandoning the trappings of home and family for a globe-trotting life, she became notorious for the sheer number of her romantic entanglements. That she lived long enough to witness the advent of “free love” and the creation of the birth control pill—which finally made planned pregnancy a reality—is only fitting.
“Breathtaking . . . [Bakers] writing is . . . elegant and, more significantly, she has subtly managed to turn her narrative into a redemptive argument, reframing Sanger as an intensely feminist—if politically opportunistic—reformer.”
—Womens Review of Books
“Baker doesnt rose-tint when it comes to Sangers difficult personality . . . and she remains an engaging writer even in her subjects later years, where many biographies wilt . . . [Baker] has a knack for the well-chosen detail[.]”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Bakers biography succeeds in taking readers on a fascinating journey into the world of the 1920s and 30s, when the Comstock laws made even the act of distributing information about birth control a crime. The strength of Bakers book is in her ability to contextualize Sanger within her own time, which may prompt even her harshest critics to reassess her legacy. Baker makes it clear that Sanger believed, above all else, that every woman should have the right to control all aspects of her reproductive life through the diligent use of birth control.”
“Baker accepts her subject, warts and all, and believes that by situating her in the context of her own times, Sanger emerges as a far more complex and sympathetic figure than her latter-day critics acknowledge.”
“Baker mixes impressive research and her own fierce analysis into an engaging narrative.”
—The Boston Globe
“Bakers book is a thorough and engrossing portrayal of the relentless passion that drove Sanger to fight for the rights of women to access safe and easy birth control.”
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Best known as an advocate for spearheading the birth control movement, Margaret Sanger was an often-polarizing figure whose life Baker, a historian at Goucher College, expertly parses . . . This unbiased account underscores the ferocity of the fighter and the necessity of the fight.”
“Baker ably illuminates the time period, making clear the attitudes that Sanger confronted and the political and religious forces that were arrayed against her . . . A wealth of information about the birth-control movement and the dedicated woman who was long at the center of it.”
“Here is a lucid, compelling story about a long, complicated, and ultimately society-altering American life. For too long, the womens movement has paid too little tribute to brave but difficult Margaret Sanger. Jean H. Baker has finally, firmly, and unforgettably placed her within the pantheon of feminist history.”
—Harold Holzer, historian and former press secretary to Bella S. Abzug
“It is a mark of the still controversial nature of birth control that Margaret Sanger remains a controversial subject. Now, finally, she has the biography she deserves. Jean H. Baker has restored Margaret Sanger to history and history to Margaret Sanger.”
—Ellen Dubois, Professor of History, UCLA
“Jean H. Bakers fine book gives us a believable Margaret Sanger—brave, shrewd, attractive, and flawed.”
—Dorothy Ross, Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emerita of History, Johns Hopkins University
Margaret Sanger became one of the most vocal advocates for birth control at a time when the mere mention of such things was considered not only taboo but a felony. She pioneered the first family-planning clinic—the forerunner to Planned Parenthood—and became a lightning rod for the cause. In recent years, though, Sanger has been largely cast aside by the movement she spawned. In this lively biography, the historian Jean H. Baker argues convincingly that Sanger deserves the vaunted place in feminist history she once held.
Trained as a nurse, Sanger saw the dangers of unplanned pregnancy and made contraception her cause. Married and a mother at a relatively early age, she abandoned the trappings of home and family for a globe-trotting life as the figurehead of a movement. Notorious for the sheer number of her affairs, Sanger epitomized the type of “free love” that would become mainstream only at the very end of her life. That she lived long enough to see the creation of the birth control pill, which finally made planned pregnancy a reality, is only fitting.
About the Author
Jean H. Baker is the author of Sisters: The Lives of Americas Suffragists (Hill and Wang, 2005) and many other books on American history. She is currently a professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.