On March 20, 1933, Margaret Sanger was one of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s guests of honor at the annual dinner and “stunt party” of the Woman’s National Press Club. Eleanor Roosevelt, who had become First Lady only a few weeks earlier on March 4, had already broken with tradition by being the first First Lady to hold her own press conferences. Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, she “set a new precedent by accepting an invitation to see herself satirized by the press.”
Among the guests of honor were Ettie R. Garner, the wife of Vice President John Nance Garner, the wives of all Cabinet members (except Anna Wilmarth Thompson Ickes, the wife of Harold Ickes), Senator Hattie Caraway (Ark.), the first woman elected to the Senate, and Representatives Florence B. Kahn (Calif.), Edith Nourse Rogers (Mass.), Virginia Jenckes (Ind.), and Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy (Kan.). Other influential women attending were Grace Abbott, the head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, Elinor Fatman Morgenthau, the wife of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and, of course, Margaret Sanger.
Among the many skits described, one stands out, it being Women’s History Month, as it was described in the New York Times:
The Senate of the future–all women–was then presented by a few of the newspaper women regularly covering the Capitol, showing a brisk, business-like Senate solving a depression a hundred years hence. They solved unemployment by giving barbecues and Sunday School picnics, buying up the surplus food and feeding it to the hungry people, while the farmers bought things that had to be made in factories and everyone went back to work.
They raised money by raffling off the Commerce Building, ‘at 10 cents a share so nobody would have to pay too much for it.’ They stopped the Far-East war by giving a 1,400 piece jigsaw puzzle to the soldiers. They solved the liquor problem by putting alcoholic beverages in the ‘spinach category,’ forcing children to take whiskey, gin and champagne until they hate it.
For Sanger, who was in the midst of lobbying Congress to remove birth control from the list of obscene materials that could not be mailed in the United States, the night was likely an entertaining diversion. The idea of an all-woman Senate must have been tantalizing, as her most recent legislative bill, Senate 4436, had just been killed in the Judiciary Committee at the end of January. She was undaunted and promised not to give up the fight, telling a New York Herald Tribune reporter:
Of course, I’m glad the bill has had the dignity of a report. . . . It’s the first time in sixty years that it has come before the full Judiciary Committee. This is a step forward, but I think that under the circumstances, with the economic uncertainty of millions of families, we might have had less quibbling over things that are in the future and that no one knows about. The present needs have been disregarded. If you only knew the work and struggle we have put in to get as far as we have. . . . I suppose we’ll have to grow old and totter to the grave to get that bill passed.
Sanger never did get her birth control bill passed, either in the House or the Senate. She won the right to mail contraceptives and contraceptive information through a court challenge, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937.
For more on these events see: “Last-Ditch Fight In Birth Control Contest Nears,” New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 30, 1933, “Press Women Give Annual Frolic,” New York Times, Mar. 21, 1933, “First Lady Satirized by Press,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 21, 1933, and “Mrs. Roosevelt Will Attend as Honor Guest, Stunt Party Given by Woman’s Press Club,” Washington Post, Mar. 19, 1933.