This iconic photo shown above features Margaret Sanger, surrounded by colleagues and supporters, emerging from the Brooklyn Court of Special Sessions during the Brownsville Clinic trials of Margaret Sanger, Fania Mindell and Ethel Higgins Byrne on January 7, 1917. The trial received widespread media attention as it heard arguments about the legality of the first birth control clinic ever opened in America. The clinic, which Margaret Sanger opened at 46 Amboy Street in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, was raided and closed after being open only nine days. Featured in this photo along with Sanger are some of the progressive women of the era.
We have been only able to identify a few of the people pictured. Can you help us identify the rest? Please leave suggestions in the comment section below!
Directly behind Sanger (#3) at the edge of the photo, Fania Mindell (#1) stares into the camera. Mindell was a recent Jewish Russian immigrant who was very involved in the Brownsville Clinic and was arrested along with Sanger Oct. 16, 1916 for distributing “obscene literature” that informed women about contraception. The conviction was reversed on appeal. A publication about her husband, author and actor Ralph Roeder, would describe Mindell as having “more energy and vehemence and animation than any four people put together.”
In the middle of the photograph surrounded by her children (#7,12-15), Rose Halpern (#8), holds a sixteen-month old baby. A Lithuanian immigrant, she was a Brownsville resident and early patient at the clinic who organized other mothers to come out in a show of support for Sanger and her colleagues. According to a New York Times article covering the trial, “There was also a poorly clad woman with six children ranging in age from sixteen months to ten years, who said she was Mrs. Rose Halpern of 375 Bradford Street, Brooklyn, and that she had come as a “demonstration” of the need of information on birth control among the poor. Her husband was a garment worker and made only $17 a week to support this large family, she said.”
The woman standing behind Rose Halpern with her eyes closed under her hat is probably Ethel Byrne (#16), Sanger’s sister, who was also arrested in the Brownsville Clinic and later imprisoned in Blackwell’s Island workhouse. Following the example of the English suffragettes, she went on a hunger strike, fasting for five days before being force-fed through a tube by the prison staff. She was released from prison after eleven days and granted pardon after Sanger negotiated with New York governor Charles Whitman.
The woman standing in the middle of the crowd facing Sanger with flowers on her hat is Bella Zilberman (#6) of 919 Avenue O, Brooklyn, a social activist, peace advocate, and supporter of Sanger. A New York Tribune piece from the trial mentions her criticizing the judges decision to jail Sanger and her colleagues, and supporting Sanger’s theories about family limitation.
We have found another version of this image online at www.corbisimages.com that shows even more spectators.
Can you help us figure out who any of the others are? Do you recognize any of the faces?
[A hint: According to a New York Tribune article, the group of women who escorted Sanger included: Gertrude Minturn (Mrs. Amos) Pinchot, Marion B. (Mrs. Frank) Cothren, Charlotte Wyeth (Mrs. Louis) Delafield, Martha Bensley (Mrs. Robert) Bruere, Rose Pastor (Mrs. J.G.) Stokes, Jane (Mrs. Ira) Eastman, Mrs. John H. Williams, Miss Jessie Ashely, Miss Elizabeth McCalmont, Hannah Dunlop (Mrs. William L.) Colt, Mrs. Nora Blatch De Forest, and Miss Helen Todd.]
For more information, check out more images from this day at www.corbisphotos.com.