1921 November 11

First American Birth Control Conference

 

The first national birth control conference in the U.S. was organized by birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger and began at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on this day. The official list of sponsors included such notables as Winston Churchill, a member of the British Parliament and future Prime Minister, and the celebrated American novelist Theodore Dreiser. The conference was schedule to end with an event featuring several speakers on Sunday, November 13, 1921, but it was abruptly ended when New York City police intervened and removed Margaret Sanger and one other speaker from the stage. Sanger was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

Sanger was finally able to give her speech, “The Morality of Birth Control,” on November 18, 1921.

The fight for public access to birth control devices and information was a long one. See, for example, the notorious 1973 Comstock Act (passed on March 3, 1873), which outlawed the distribution of devices and information for many decades. Margaret Sanger, the greatest birth control advocate in American history, opened the first birth control clinic in America on October 16, 1916. She was arrested a week later and served a one month jail term for her crime. The Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law banning birth control devices on June 7, 1965, and established a constitutional right to privacy. Congress passed the first law providing federal funds for family planning services on December 24, 1970.

Learn more about America’s most famous birth control advocate: Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (1992)

Read: Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (2007)

Watch historian Linda Gordon discuss the history of birth control: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ2ymfXxN5c

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