The Baby Boom Goes Bust
In Ancient Egypt, birth control took such bizarre forms as cervical plugs consisting of cotton padding wadded with crocodile dung. But in 19th century America, virtually the only method available to women, particularly prostitutes was abortion.
At one time, there was a brisk trade in abortions on the same level as there was for midwifery, until physicians up in arms over the intrusion on their territory, had the practitioners outlawed. From then on, birth control meant either abstention, withdrawal, or douches, of which, only the last one was available to a married woman without her husband's cooperation.
By the latter part of the century, the women's movement had taken on renewed life, as wives and mothers sought not only the vote, but more freedom in their daily lives, and a say in their own reproductive health.
One of the women at the forefront of the movement, was Margaret (Higgins) Sanger, born in 1879, in New York. Whether she was following in the footsteps of her father whose politics were known to be rather free-wheeling, or whether she was influenced by her mother's death at age 50, after 18 pregnancies, Sanger would become a leading light in the fight for women to have a say in when and how often they gave birth.
After marrying architect William Sanger, she bore three children of her own, but continued to write and distribute material on female health and sex education, particularly amongst the poor. But a 1914 article in The Woman Radical, got her indicted for violating federal postal obscenity laws and she fled to England. While en route, she cabled her publisher to distribute 100,000 copies of her pamphlet "Family Limitation".
Although she stayed overseas for a year, studying the clinics in Holland that fitted women with diaphragms, Sanger returned in 1915, when her husband was arrested for distributing one of her pamphlets.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger, along with her sister who was also a nurse, opened the first birth control clinic in America, modeled on those she had seen in Holland. The clinic was shut down after nine days, and they were both arrested. But although the clinic door had closed, another opened. Thanks to the controversy, birth control was now a public issue.