The practice of dream interpretation has been carried out for centuries as part of countless cultures around the world. Whether the images people see in their dreams hold any deep meaning or are simply the random meanderings of one’s subconscious is entirely a matter of personal opinion. Some individuals keep meticulous dream journals, methodically writing down their dreams from each night immediately upon waking, while others forget the events of their dreams almost immediately upon rising to begin their day. It is hard to say where Margaret Sanger stood on the subject of dream meanings, but we do know that on at least a few occasions, she felt that the contents of her dreams were worthy of being recorded. Between February 1938 and January 1944, Sanger wrote about the happenings in her dreams on five separate occasions. The dream journal entries do not make any attempts at interpretation; they are all straightforward explanations of the dreams’ events. Why Sanger chose to write down these particular dreams is hard to know, but when each dream is examined alongside the events taking place in her own life and in the world at the time, some surprising possible interpretations arise.
The first dream MS decided to record in one of her journals was written down on February 3, 1938. Inside this morbid dream, Sanger comes across a man walking his black poodle. The man and his dog are met by a pack of wolves, and the man proceeds to let his dog off its leash as they walk towards the other animals. The dog fights with the wolves for a while, and then leaps away from them. Sanger describes in gruesome detail how, “He ran round & round in circles howling bleading with part of his fur & flesh torn off. He came in front of me lay down vomited & cascaded both exits until he died–The pack came forward & devoured the carcus. I awakened.” This brutal story may very well have been nothing more than a common nightmare. Perhaps on the day before the dream occurred, Sanger absentmindedly observed a man walking his dog on the street as she passed, and from this image the gory dream was produced later in her mind. To those interested in the possibility of dream meanings, however, a few factors from Sanger’s own life around this time, paired with a look at potential symbolism behind the various figures from the dream in question, may lead to a different interpretation. When a dog is featured in one’s dream, it may serve as a symbol for loyalty, intuition, and protection. A vicious dog might represent an internal conflict, while dogs fighting may signify a conflict of interest between the dreamer and someone close to them. Wolves in dreams can symbolize hostility or an all-consuming force in one’s life.
The potential meanings of these dreams are especially intriguing when one considers the contents of a letter Margaret Sanger wrote to her close friend and fellow birth control advocate, Edith How-Martyn, just two days before the dream journal was written, and one day before the dream itself took place. In the letter, Sanger expressed her frustrations to How-Martyn over the current state of the international birth control movement. Sanger wrote, “The whole international movement needs shaking up and reorganization. There is too much grabbing and snatching at the laurels and the victories and too little recognition of the hard work done for the same.” Perhaps the gruesome images produced in Sanger’s dream a few nights later were a reflection upon her feelings toward the international movement. Could it be that Sanger herself was represented by the dog in the dream, overwhelmed by the all-consuming force in her life, the birth control movement? Were the wolves a manifestation of members of the international movement, “grabbing and snatching,” at the work of others?
On a more personal note, a common motif found in Sanger’s journal entries in the weeks leading up to the dream could serve as another potential explanation of its meaning. Beginning in January of 1938, Sanger made several entries in her journal alluding to her growing disdain for her husband, J. Noah Slee. In these entries, MS affectionately refers to Slee as, “the Sadist,” and describes his jealousy, possessiveness over her, and rude and offensive treatment of friends. In this case, the wolves in Sanger’s dream could very easily be interpreted as a symbol of her husband, as he attempted to position himself as the all-encompassing force in her life, while the dog represented her own internal conflict over the issue. The journal entry written about this particular dream is only the first in a series spanning six years.
To read the dream journal entry in full, as well as the letter and other journal entries mentioned, see The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 2: Birth Control Comes of Age, 1928-1939.