MARGARET SANGER: A Biography of the Champion of Birth Control by Madeline Gray

MARGARET SANGER: A Biography of the Champion of Birth Control

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She was impulsive, flamboyant, provocative; a selfish manipulator, she could, at 69, still regret that a certain handsome Cardinal was bound by vows of celibacy. Yet Margaret Sanger, for all her unattractive personal excesses, did pursue the cause of birth control and champion it as a women's rights issue, co-finance research on the pill and see, briefly, its first fruition. Gray's biography offers Margaret uncanonized, a more rounded portrayal than Emily Taft Douglas' somewhat burnished version (Margaret Sanger, 1970), more like the egocentric crusader of David Kennedy's Birth Control in America (1970). Gray, who had access to letters, other personal papers, the children of family and friends, provides a thoroughly detailed accounting of the men in her life: two husbands, numerous lovers (including H. G. Wells and Hugh de Selincourt), and mentor Havelock Ellis, whom she referred to as The King. Her string of admirers never lost interest--she dangled several simultaneously, in view of each other--but associates found her less entrancing. She even turned on attorney Morris Ernst after the landmark 1936 case on pessaries--she refused to share the limelight. Here we see both the smiling newspaper headliner--opening the Brownsville clinic, meeting Gandhi--and the spiteful, ungrateful administrator who could savage Marie Stopes or ruthlessly dismiss a longtime secretary. She aged ungracefully, throwing expensive parties and exclaiming, ""I am rich. I have brains. I shall do exactly as I please."" Gray sees Sanger's discrepant public and private Selves, the gradual formulation of her policy, and the often harsh side effects of her tactics, with untroubled openness. She doesn't do as well with the background figures and historical context, but the view of her subject is unobstructed.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1979
Publisher: Richard Marek--dist. by Putnam