Full caption: Margaret Sanger, The Fight for Birth Control (New York: Max Maisel, 1916). HQ763.P3 pamphlet 47. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Full caption: Margaret Sanger, The Fight for Birth Control (New York: Max Maisel, 1916). HQ763.P3 pamphlet 47. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Margaret Sanger's “fight for birth control” involved many confrontations with the law. As a consequence of distributing three issues of her journal The Woman Rebel, which contained articles on sexuality, she was indicted in 1914 for violating the Comstock Act of 1873 (An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, obscene Literature and Articles of immoral Use, c. 258, 17 Stat. 598), which classified materials “for the prevention of conception” as obscene and made it illegal to send them through the mail. In 1916, she and her staff were arrested for operating the first birth control clinic, which was located in Brooklyn. Sanger was convicted in 1917. The appeals court affirmed the conviction (People v. Sanger, 166 NYS 1107 [1917]), and she served one month in the penitentiary for women in Queens, New York. As women's suffrage passed into law, Sanger gradually won support for family planning from the public and the courts. She organized the first American (1921) and international (1925) birth control conferences and formed the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control in 1929. In 1936 the United States v. One Package (86 F2d 737 [1936]) decision changed the Comstock Act's classification of birth control literature as obscene, and in 1971 Congress amended the statute to remove any trace of prevention of conception. The U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 [1965]) ended the ban on the use of contraceptives by married couples, and Eisenstadt v. Baird (405 U.S. 438 [1972]) allowed unmarried couples to use birth control devices legally. Sanger's publications and papers are held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division and the Manuscript Division respectively, but a visit to the Law Library provides an examination of the laws that relate to birth control and family planning.

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