Forty-five years after her death, the reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger remains a polarizing figure. Conservatives attack her social liberalism while liberals shy away...

Forty-five years after her death, the reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger remains a polarizing figure. Conservatives attack her social liberalism while liberals shy away from her perceived advocacy of eugenics and her supposed socialist tendencies. Though she was a pivotal 20th century figure, Sanger’s own voice has been drowned out by the cacophony of controversy.

As renown feminist historian Jean H. Baker writes in Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, “She has been written out of history, thereby easily caricatured and denied the context required for any fair appraisal of her life and work.” In Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, Baker strips away the layers of myth and inaccuracy to reveal how truly radical Sanger’s ambitions were.

A staunch advocate of the freedom and privacy of women, Sanger was determined that family planning must be seen as a basic human right. To that end, she opened clinics, challenged the obscenity laws and wrote explicit pamphlets on contraceptives. Undaunted by a stint in jail and constant bouts with the law, Sanger did everything in her power to help women take control of their reproductive lives.

Baker’s portrait of Sanger is fascinating because it captures the broad sweep of Sanger’s ambitions for the movement, but also because it illustrates how, to an extraordinary degree, Sanger did precisely what she said she would do. In 1931, in her autobiography Sanger wrote: “I resolved that women should have the knowledge of contraception. I would tell the world what was going on in the lives of these poor women. I would be heard. No matter what it cost. I would be heard.” And she was.

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