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The Birth Control Movement Essay

1472 words - 6 pages

The Progressive Era was a period of social and political reform beginning in the post Gilded Age 19th century and lasting through WWI. Industrial and urban growth of early 19th century America while representative of opportunity and future advancement simultaneously posed many difficulties for working class citizens. Prior concerns over the conditions of working class citizens were multiplied and magnified by overpopulated and impoverished urban communities. During this era many new Progressive agendas were introduced with the goal of reforming dated and unregulated policies, the most prominent of these, the birth control movement. The documents from chapter six of Constructing the American Past show that at its core, the birth control debate was a multifaceted social dispute with, religious political and racial influences.
Margaret Sanger’s monthly publication The Woman Rebel released its first issue in 1914, creating a nationwide dispute concerning the publication and distribution of birth control devices. However, Sanger’s initial goal went beyond simply legalizing the distribution of contraceptives; her aim was to create “radical social change, embracing the liberation of women and of the working class” (6, 1.120). In document one, the essay “Why the Woman Rebel?” Sanger makes a strong political statement on the social implications of legalizing birth control. Drawing heavily from the plight of the working class Sanger makes her case on the grounds that the legalization of birth control is the first step to the liberation of the disenfranchised working class at the hands of capitalism. The essay is a rebellious prose intended to inspire “revolt”, a call to arms for the case for birth control. Later in Sanger’s career she takes on a much more “Progressive” tone, straying away from earlier radical dialogue, relying on evidence and reason, a staple of the Progressive movement. In document three from The Case for Birth Control Sanger’s rhetoric changes, relying on facts, statistics, and knowledge based reasoning. Document three proves to be a much more reliable and comprehensive argument than document one. Sanger advocates small families for the working class as a means to eliminate poverty (due to large families), illegal abortions, child labor, and to protect the health of women “from overwork and the strain of too frequent child bearing” (6, 3,124) The argument shifts from a pseudo-socialist agenda to simply the right of a woman to control her own body and choose her own destiny.
Following the release of The Woman Rebel, Anthony Comstock spearheaded an anti-birth control campaign with the aid of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, “vice” as Comstock described it “intemperance, gambling, and evil reading”(6,1,122). Document 2 is an interview with Comstock by Mary Alden Hopkins of Harper’s Weekly on the issue of birth control and the laws against its distribution and publication. Comstock approaches the birth control...

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