1916 October 16

Margaret Sanger Opens First Birth Control Clinic in America


Birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. on this day in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. She opened it with her sister, Ethel Byrne, who was a registered nurse. More than 100 women and about 20 men were lined up outside the two-room office on Amboy Street when Sanger opened the door. The clinic served 448 people that first day. Later in the week, however, a police matron working undercover came to the clinic and was served. As a result, Sanger was arrested for operating the clinic in violation of New York state law on October 25, 1916. She was convicted, and on February 2, 1917, she rejected a plea deal under which she would not be sent to jail if she agreed to obey the law. As a result, she was sentenced to a month in jail, where she spent her time reading to illiterate inmates.

Sanger had many run-ins with the law during her long career. Her magazine, Woman Rebel, was banned from the U.S. mails on April 2, 1914. On a number of occasions during her career, planned speeches on birth control were banned in several cities: see May 22, 1916; April 16, 1929. Sanger died on September 6, 1966.

Sanger’s organization, the American Birth Control League, evolved into today’s Planned Parenthood Federation (see January 18, 1939).

Watch the 1957 Mike Wallace interview with Margaret Sanger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J4cTGZ1Pdw

Learn more: Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in Americ(1992)

Learn about the long history of birth control: http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/companion.asp?id=18&compID=53

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

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