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Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion by Jean…
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Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion

by Jean H. Baker

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Joy's Review: I learned a lot from this book! It's good to remember how far reproductive rights have come in a very short time even though it feels like, in the current political climate, things are going backwards. Sanger was an incredibly committed, energetic and passionate advocate for women's right to birth control. She even coined the phrase 'birth control'. This book is a bit over long, though as Baker rehashes and repeats Sanger's arguments against critics over and over. I also could have done with a bit less of: "then she published this and then she wrote that and then she went to this meeting". But I'm very glad I read this book. ( )
  konastories | Apr 30, 2014 |
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), founder of the American Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood, has always been a controversial figure. She attacked the Catholic Church for its position on contraception, but she also alienated many progressives because of her unrelenting radicalism and flamboyance, which seemed more in the service of her own ambition than the causes she promoted.

As Jean Baker notes in her new biography, "Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion" (Hill and Wang, 349 pages, $35), Sanger remains a target of groups opposing abortion, which accuse her of killing babies as part of a eugenics program that was Nazi-like in its effort to create a master race.

Lost in the attacks on Sanger, Baker notes, is the fact that she advocated the legalization of birth control so as to make unnecessary the crude back-room abortions that destroyed many women's lives.

What critics on the right and left forget, Sanger's latest biographer argues, is that eugenics was once a perfectly mainstream and even progressive movement supported by no less than Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and H.G. Wells. These public figures were concerned about the health of the human population and did not foresee how fascist governments would twist the desire to improve humankind into a monstrously inhumane killing machine.

Sanger could be her own worst enemy, in part because from a very early age she imbibed from her father a tendency to go it alone. She watched him attack the Catholic Church, challenge the authorities in a company town, and proclaim his socialism and atheism without worrying about what his outspoken opinions would cost him. Maggie, as Sanger was called, was her father's favorite, and Baker shows how the daughter made goodness out of her father's often counterproductive rebelliousness.

Indeed, Sanger realized that for all his forthright actions, her father also acted with considerable social irresponsibility. Drunk and often without a job, he nevertheless fathered a large family. Her many siblings, too, served as object lessons for Sanger, who later wrote, "Very early in my childhood I associated poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty, quarreling, fighting, debts, and jails with large families."

Sanger grew up not only determined to improve society, but to enjoy herself along the way -- which meant having an affair with H.G. Wells, not only a progressive thinker but also a notorious womanizer. She held her own in his company, deserving -- and receiving -- his admiration. Baker accepts her subject, warts and all, and believes that by situating her in the context of her own times, Sanger emerges as a far more complex and sympathetic figure than her latter-day critics acknowledge. ( )
  carl.rollyson | Oct 22, 2012 |
This book is more a history of the battle to develop and legalize safe contraceptive methods than it is a biography of Margaret Sanger, which makes it dry and boring in many long passages, but it left me with a greater understanding of how we got the pill, and why, and to wonder at the continuing effort of the Roman Catholic church against virtually any form of contraception. So I'm glad I read the book, as this is, amazingly enough, once again a timely political issue in an election year. ( )
  MarthaHuntley | Mar 4, 2012 |
Undoubtedly the most influential advocate for birth control even before the term existed, Margaret Sanger ignited a movement that has shaped our society to this day. Her views on reproductive rights have made her a frequent target of conservatives and so-called family values activists. Yet lately even progressives have shied away from her, citing socialist leanings and a purported belief in eugenics as a blight on her accomplishments. In this captivating new biography, the renowned feminist historian Jean H. Baker rescues Sanger from such critiques and restores her to the vaunted place in history she once held.

Trained as a nurse and midwife in the gritty tenements of New York’s Lower East Side, Sanger grew increasingly aware of the dangers of unplanned pregnancy—both physical and psychological. A botched abortion resulting in the death of a poor young mother catalyzed Sanger, and she quickly became one of the loudest voices in favor of sex education and contraception. The movement she started spread across the country, eventually becoming a vast international organization with her as its spokeswoman.

Sanger’s staunch advocacy for women’s privacy and freedom extended to her personal life as well. After becoming a wife and mother at a relatively early age, she abandoned the trappings of home and family for a globe-trotting life as a women’s rights activist. Notorious for the sheer number of her romantic entanglements, Sanger epitomized the type of “free love” that would become mainstream only at the very end of her life. That she lived long enough to see the creation of the birth control pill—which finally made planned pregnancy a reality—is only fitting.
1 vote SalemAthenaeum | Nov 10, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809094983, Hardcover)

Undoubtedly the most influential advocate for birth control even before the term existed, Margaret Sanger ignited a movement that has shaped our society to this day. Her views on reproductive rights have made her a frequent target of conservatives and so-called family values activists. Yet lately even progressives have shied away from her, citing socialist leanings and a purported belief in eugenics as a blight on her accomplishments. In this captivating new biography, the renowned feminist historian Jean H. Baker rescues Sanger from such critiques and restores her to the vaunted place in history she once held.
 
Trained as a nurse and midwife in the gritty tenements of New York’s Lower East Side, Sanger grew increasingly aware of the dangers of unplanned pregnancy—both physical and psychological. A botched abortion resulting in the death of a poor young mother catalyzed Sanger, and she quickly became one of the loudest voices in favor of sex education and contraception. The movement she started spread across the country, eventually becoming a vast international organization with her as its spokeswoman.
 
Sanger’s staunch advocacy for women’s privacy and freedom extended to her personal life as well. After becoming a wife and mother at a relatively early age, she abandoned the trappings of home and family for a globe-trotting life as a women’s rights activist. Notorious for the sheer number of her romantic entanglements, Sanger epitomized the type of “free love” that would become mainstream only at the very end of her life. That she lived long enough to see the creation of the birth control pill—which finally made planned pregnancy a reality—is only fitting.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this lively new biography, an historian argues convincingly that Margaret Sanger deserves the vaunted place in feminist history she once held. Baker's nuanced account of Sanger's life emphasizes the passion of her convictions.

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