1947 July 25

Mary Ware Dennett, Feminist, Birth Control Activist, and Civil Libertarian, Dies


Mary Ware Dennett was a leading feminist and birth control advocate in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920s, she was arguably Margaret Sanger’s chief rival as the recognized leader of the birth control movement.

She achieved national attention in 1929 when she was prosecuted for sending her sex education pamphlet for children, The Sex Side of Life, through the mails, in violation of the infamous Comstock Act (passed on March 3, 1873). She had written the pamphlet for her own children, and then published it after receiving many requests for copies. She was convicted at trial but the conviction was overturned on appeal, on March 3, 1930, in a major victory for freedom of speech.

Read Dennet’s account of her casee: Mary Ware Dennett, Who’s Obscene? (1930)

Read: Constance Chen, “The Sex Side of Life”: Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education (1997)

And more about the pivotal Dennett case: Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech (2016)

Watch a video on the Dennett-Sanger rivalry over birth controlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0TYgwjoc0

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