1917 May 6

Private — and Only — Showing of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Film


About 200 people on this day watched a private showing of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s film, Birth Control. They were the only people ever to see the film. It was scheduled to open in the Park Theater the following night, but New York officials banned it as obscene and it was never shown publicly. No copy of the film is known to exist today.

The film depicted episodes drawn from Sanger’s own career as a nurse. In one, an impoverished woman begged her doctor for information about birth control, but he declined saying, truthfully, that it would be illegal. She begged nurse Sanger for information. Apparently, she did not receive the information and later, unable to prevent another pregnancy, died during the birth of child. Such personal experiences inspired Sanger to launch her birth control crusade.

Sanger in the spring of 1917 had just served a month in jail for operating the first birth control clinic in the U.S. She opened the clinic in Brooklyn New York, on October 16, 1916, and was arrested a week later. She was convicted of violating New York State law, and after refusing a deal that would keep her out of jail, was sentenced to a month in jail on February 2, 1917. After her release, she produced the film Birth Control.

Sanger’s career as a birth control advocate was filled with many dramatic events. Her magazine, Woman Rebel, was banned from the mails on April 2, 1914. She was prevented from speaking on a number of occasions: See for example, October 25, 1916 and April 16, 1929. A planned trip to Japan in 1949 was cancelled because of sensitivity over birth control on August 30, 1949, but she had a triumphal visit several years later.

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

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

And more: https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/margaret-sanger/

Watch a documentary on Sanger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ndQXLx3pdA

Learn more about her life and career: https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/margaret-sanger/

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