If there is one thing I have learned during my time here at the Sanger Papers, it is that Sanger was not afraid to go to extreme lengths for her cause. This level of dedication and devotion to the birth control movement inevitably landed her in jail multiple times, as birth control was not effectively legalized until 1965.
I recently came across an interview of Sanger during one of her first stints in jail, after the raid of her Brownsville Clinic in 1916, and found it to be incredibly inspiring. The reporter started off the article by noting how “remarkably fresh” she appeared, despite having spent the night in horrible prison conditions. Sanger truly could withstand anything.
Sanger started off the interview by describing the horrible conditions of her prison cell.
“I’m glad you came,” she said, “but before we begin to discuss my arrest I wish to tell you something. Please- for my sake and for the sakes of the other women detained here- let me describe the horrible conditions of this jail. I do not see how the people of Kings County can tolerate such conditions. The blanket which covers my iron cot is dirty. Creatures of all manners and kinds invaded my cell. They came in vast numbers. There is no soap with which to wash my hands. I am only mentioning a few of the defects. Put me on record, please, as saying the women of Kings County should invade this place and clean it out.”
Then, she discussed her actual imprisonment and expressed her conviction to keep fighting.
“Now I can talk of my arrest. How do I regard it? As an invasion of my personal rights. It is an outrage and the day will come when this community will realize that Margaret Sanger long ago tried to show it the light. I shall continue in my work. After my trial and the final disposition of my case I am going back to my clinic.”
“They cannot stop me by placing me under arrest. Some time or other I will have regained my liberty. Then Margaret Sanger is going back to violate that law all over again. The charge in the newspapers that I was exhibiting and offering for sale a box of pills is a vicious lie.”
Sanger also referred to the way in which she was caught—by selling birth control devices (probably a diaphragm) to a female detective.
“I admit we did sell to the woman detective. We knew who she was. Mrs. Byrne, my sister, is a hot-headed Irish girl and she deliberately urged the detective to buy. We framed the two dollar bill and wrote across the bill. ‘Received from a spy.’ It was laughable to see the woman’s face when she returned and saw how she had been tricked.”
“That woman detective is beyond me. Perhaps she did only her duty, but personally I would rather scrub floors for my bread than earn it by fighting my sisters.”
For the full article, see http://sangerpapers.org/sanger/app/documents/show.php?sangerDoc=422082.xml
For a related article, see:
Why I Went to Jail, Feb. 1960