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In 1895, a young Margaret Higgins visited the Chautauqua School.

So what is the Chautauqua School?

Well, here are some necessary tidbits to get yourself acquainted:


The Hall of Philosophy, Chautauqua Institution (The Chautauqua Institution).

The Chautauqua Institution is located in Chautauqua, New York.  It was founded in 1874 as the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, by the inventor Lewis Miller (inventor of the first combine) and the Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent. The institution was originally designed as a teaching camp for Sunday school teachers but it soon broadened to include education of art, music and physical education.

Even more intriguing than the 9-week educational vacation village, is how young Margaret Higgins ended up spending part of her summer at Chautauqua.


Margaret Higgins, 14, 1893 (My Fight for Birth Control).

Previous to her visit to the school, Margaret had had an unpleasant episode at school. In June of 1895, Margaret was running late to school. She burst into the classroom two minutes after the bell had rung. Unfortunately, as Sanger describes, her teacher very much disliked her job and “sarcasm was her defense and weapon of attack.”[1]

Her teacher taunted her as Margaret put away her outer garments in the cloakroom and persisted as Margaret sat down at her desk. Not able to endure her teacher’s behavior, Margaret packed up her books and left. As she returned home, Margaret exclaimed:

I will never go back to that school again! I have finished forever! I’ll go to jail, I’ll work, I’ll starve, I’ll die! But back to that school and teacher I will never go!

Her family was extremely surprised, as Margaret had only two weeks left before she was finished with the term however, she refused to return.

So, Margaret’s parents and older sister Nan decided to give the young rebel an alternative.

This alternative would be the two-week stay at the Chautauqua School where she would “take courses, hear lectures from prominent speakers, listen to music.”[2]

Sanger would later acknowledge Chautauqua in her autobiography, Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, when recounting the presentation of her essay, “Women’s Rights,” at Chapel at Claverack:

At Chautauqua I had head the echoes of those first notes sounded by Bryan for the working classes. The spirit of humanitarianism in industry had been growing and swelling, but it was still deep buried. I believe any great concept must be present in the mass consciousness before any one figure can tap it and set it free on its irresistible way.

The family’s alternative was to dispel Margaret’s ideas on getting a job versus going back to school in the fall.


The Higgins Girls, Nan (top), Mary (right), Margaret (left) & Ethel (front), 1880’s-1890’s (Western Historical Manuscripts).

Do you think this changed her mind?


Once the fall began, Margaret remained adamant that she would not return to the school.

The family intervenes once more.

It is after this that her two older sisters, Nan and Mary, began searching for a school that would adequately prepare Margaret for Cornell. They decide upon Claverack College and Hudson River Institute and together pool their earnings, one paying for the tuition and the other purchasing the girl rebel’s books and clothes.

[1] Sanger, Margaret. Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography. New York: W.W. Norton, 1938, 34.

[2] Ibid., 34.