This Day in World History
October 26, 1916
Margaret Sanger arrested
Birth-control champion Margaret Sanger and two other women were arrested on October 26, 1916, when police entered the Brooklyn, New York, birth-control clinic that Sanger had started.
Sanger began working as an obstetric nurse in New York’s poverty-ridden Lower East Side early in the 1900s. There, she became aware of the connection between poverty, high fertility, and high death rates for infants and mothers. Convinced that something needed to be done, Sanger became a crusader for birth control—and the coiner of that term. She began her campaign in 1912 and began publishing materials on the subject two years later. On October 16, 1916, Sanger opened the Brooklyn clinic, assisted by a sister who was a nurse and a woman from Chicago who knew Yiddish and could speak with the many Jewish women they hoped to serve. One hundred women came to the clinic the first day. Ten days later, the police arrested Sanger and her two colleagues. After her release, Sanger reopened the clinic and was arrested again. After she reopened a third time, the police shut the clinic down for good.
All three women were convicted of causing a public nuisance. Sanger appealed her conviction. While the state appeals court upheld it, the ruling opened the door to doctors to assist women with birth control for reasons of general health. Sanger continued her work, but not until 1936 did U.S. federal courts rule that birth-control information was not obscenity and thus could be transmitted across state lines.