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One of Margaret Sanger’s earlier publications, a copy of Family Limitation, recently made an appearance on the new HBO show, Boardwalk Empire. When a character on the show, who also happens to be named Margaret, is worried about being pregnant, she pulls out the Sanger pamphlet.  The Margaret Sanger Papers Project Microfilm has a run of the oft-revised  pamphlet, and the project has an original of the 1920 10th Edition run of this pamphlet and thought it might be fun to reproduce some of it here for interested readers.

“Every mother feels the wrong that the state imposes upon her when it deprives her of information to prevent the bringing into the world of children she cannot feed or clothe or care for.” (Page 1)

“I feel there is sufficient information given here which, if followed, will prevent a woman from becoming pregnant unless she desires to do so.” (Page 1)

Some of the subject headers may seem a bit unnecessary in these times, but back then pamphlets like this were invaluable. For instance, “DOUCHE A CLEANSER – NOT A PREVENTATIVE” (Page 7) seems like a fairly obvious statement to make now, but back then many women douched with Lysol, who’s advertisements were coded to sneakily imply that a Lysol douche was a valid method of contraception.

For example, one advertisement shows a relaxed and happy looking mother surrounded by her two children. At one point the copy printed along with the advertisement says, “this effective antiseptic is three times stronger than powerful carbolic acid.” This is a hidden message meant to imply contraceptive use, since  carbolic acid was commonly known to kill sperm at the time when this pamphlet was published.

This fact is even mentioned in the pamphlet, on page 16, where Sanger writes, “the male sperm is destroyed by the weakest solution of carbolic acid.” This statement is made in reference to a tip included in the pamphlet that advises women to use a contraceptive sponge or “cotton plug” soaked in carbolic acid and glycerin to prevent pregnancy.

Earlier in the pamphlet Sanger dismisses douching with carbolic acid as a wise contraceptive option because, “When one understands how conception takes place, it can be seen at once that it is quite possible for a woman to be in a state of pregnancy before she leaves the bed, or before she can reach a douche.” (Page 7)

Although the practical information in the pamphlet may be somewhat outdated in our modern times (for instance, we no longer use carbolic acid as a method of birth control at all), many sentiments expressed within are timeless. For instance:

“Don’t wait to see if you no not menstruate (monthly sickness) but make it your duty to see that you do.” (Page 5)

“Women must learn to know their own bodies and watch and know definitely how regular or irregular they are.” (Page 5)

No one can doubt that there are times where an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent contraception. This is the only cure for abortions.” (Page 5)

There is current among people an idea that conception can take place only at certain times of the month. […] Do not depend upon this belief, for there is no scientific foundation for it.” (Page 6)

“A mutual and satisfied sexual act is of great benefit to the average woman, the magnetism of it is health giving. When it is not desired on the part of the woman and she has no response, it should not take place.(Page 7)

We will leave you with some scans from the document.

Further Reading:

1917 6th Edition of Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger.
Jersey Shore, The Early Years by Alessandra Stanley from the New York Times, September 16th 2010.