Margaret Sanger longed for a daughter after the birth of her two sons. She wrote in her Autobiography, “I yearned especially for a daughter, and twenty months later my wish came true.” Peggy, who was born on May 31, 1910, “was so satisfactory a baby” that Margaret was not disappointed when the doctor told her that, due to her illness, she could not have any more children. Peggy contracted polio in 1913 but survived, although her left leg was permanently affected.
In her Autobiography, Sanger shares several tales of Peggy’s childhood. On Cape Cod during the summer of 1913, their veranda
faced the Bay, and when the tide was high the water came up and lapped at the piles on which the cottage was built. Stuart, Grant, and Peggy used to sit on the steps and dabble their toes. At low tide they had two miles of beach on which to skip and run; it was a wonderful place to play, and all summer we had sunrise breakfasts, sunset picnics.
Later that year, during the family’s trip to Europe, they sublet an apartment on the Boulevard St. Michel across from the Luxembourg Gardens, “where Grant and Peggy could play” — and what a playground that would be!
After returning to America with the children, Sanger began to publish The Woman Rebel, which naturally drew attention from the press. At one point, when Sanger was talking with a group of reporters,
Peggy, who had never seen a derby before, took possession of their hats and sticks, and in the hall a little parade of children formed, marching up and down in front of the door. One of the gentlemen was so furious that I hid Peggy in the kitchen away from his wrath.
In 1947, Sanger was named the “Ideal American Mother” by the League of American Womanhood, and it is easy to see why when one considers the amount of concern she had for her children. Even caught up in all the drama surrounding her publication of The Woman Rebel, she could not postpone certain things, “the most important among them being to provide for the children’s future… temporarily, I sent the younger two to the Catskills and Stuart to a camp in Maine,” while she made provisions for their schooling for the next year on Long Island.
This happiness was all too suddenly brought to a close; Peggy Sanger died of pneumonia and infant paralysis on November 6, 1915. Sanger wrote in her Autobiography of a persistent feeling of dread while she was away, of fear that
something was wrong with Peggy. Night after night her voice startled me from deep sleep and left me in a state of agitation until I received the next letter containing news that all was going well. I tried to dismiss this fear and would have it partially submerged, but always the same troubled voice rang in my ears, ‘Mother, mother are you coming back?’
All of her problems related to The Woman Rebel and the impending trial were “suddenly swept aside by a crisis of a more intimate nature, a tragedy about which I find myself still unable to write, though so many years have passed.” Her Autobiography was first published in 1938, 23 years after Peggy’s untimely death.
She wrote poignantly that
the joy in the fullness of life went out of it then and has never quite returned. Deep in the hidden realm of my consciousness my little girl has continued to live, and in that strange, mysterious place where reality and imagination meet, she has grown up to womanhood. There she leads an ideal existence untouched by harsh actuality and disillusion. Men and women from all classes, from nearly ever city in America, poured upon me their sympathy. Money for my trial came beyond my understanding… women wrote of children dead a quarter of a century for whom they were still secretly mourning, and sent me pictures and locks of hair of their own dead babies. I had never fully realized until then that the loss of a child remains unforgotten to every mother during her lifetime.
In a letter dated December 7, 1915, just a month after Peggy’s death, Sanger’s friend, Emma Goldman, wrote,
I really think it is impardonable on your part to blame yourself for the death of Peggy. I am sure that it is due only to your depressed state of mind as I cannot imagine anyone with your intelligence to hold herself responsible for something that could not possibly have been in your power… Please, dear, don’t think me heartless. I feel deeply with your loss but I also feel that you owe it to yourself and the work you have before you to collect your strength. After all dear, it is a thing which has passed and cannot be redeemed whereas you need your vitality.
Although the letter from Sanger to which this letter is a response has not been found, it is clear that Sanger blamed herself for Peggy’s death and deeply mourned the loss of her daughter.
Peggy continued to be mentioned in Margaret Sanger’s journals. Peggy’s birthday is noted, and on the anniversary of her death in 1938, Sanger wrote, “Peggy’s anniversary into Life!” In 1944, concerned about Stuart and anxious to hear positive news, she wrote,
Ive always said since Peggys death that life could not hold me long if another of my children went before I do — I still feel that way.