birth control, Brooklyn, Brownsville, Carnegie Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt, Google Maps, Mapping, Maps, margaret sanger, New York, New York City, sanger
I’m not a New Yorker. I’d never even visited New York City before beginning my internship here in May. (Don’t worry, I see why everyone loves it so much, and I’m certain that I’ll be back in the not-too-distant future!) The subway system confused me for the first week or so, but I was grateful that the grid layout of the streets made sense. Slowly, I’ve figured out how to get from Point A to Point B with minimal hassle.
Walking home one day from my internship, I wondered how Sanger experienced New York. She spent some of the most important years of her career living in this city, after all, when she wasn’t traveling to spread her message. As soon as I began plotting relevant locations on a map, I realized that Sanger ranged far and wide across New York City in her quest for legal, accessible birth control. The same woman who made public appearances and gave lectures at such places as Carnegie Hall, The Plaza, and the Waldorf-Astoria sought out the bleakest neighborhood of Brooklyn to open her first birth control clinic. She finally settled on Brownsville, which she described in her Autobiography as
particularly dingy and squalid. Block after block, street after street, as far as we could see in every direction stretched the same endless lines of cramped, unpainted houses that crouched together as though for warmth, bursting with excess of wretched humanity.
I tried to include as many places as possible where Sanger lived or worked, the offices of organizations that she was associated with, and locations where she gave important speeches. I also made sure to include the important New York City landmarks — Carnegie Hall, The Plaza, the Waldorf-Astoria, and others — where Sanger gave speeches or held meetings. However, I do not pretend that this is a complete listing of every address we know of that Sanger was associated with! I have included 49 addresses.
Apart from the obvious places of interest, such as Sanger’s residences and the Brownsville clinic, a few places with which Sanger was associated were particularly interesting to me. One of these, the Gamut Club, located at 69 W. 46th Street, was founded in 1913 by actress and feminist Mary Shaw. The club held weekly Tuesday dinner meetings with guest speakers. Sanger spoke in February 1920 and was introduced by Mary Shaw; she spoke again on March 26, 1924, together with Dorothy Bocker, on the question of “Should All Women Be Mothers?” One of the primary activities of the Gamut Club was its production and sponsorship of plays dealing with feminist topics, including both original short plays by Mary Shaw, such as the radical “Parrot Cage,” as well as popular plays that were centered on women, like George Bernard Shaw’s controversial play Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Several important events for Sanger took place at the American Woman’s Association club house, at 353 W. 57th Street. The American Woman’s Association was founded in 1921 by Anne Morgan, daughter of J. Pierpont Morgan. Miss Morgan called the AWA ”a training school for leadership, a mental exchange” where women ”can hear what other women are doing.” The cornerstone of the club house, on 57th Street, was laid in 1928, and the building was completed in 1929. It had 1,250 rooms for women, in addition to a swimming pool, gym, meeting rooms, a restaurant, music rooms, and terraces. In 1941, bankruptcy forced the club house to close; the building was converted into the Henry Hudson Hotel, which rented rooms to both men and women. The AWA passed out of existence by 1980. On November 12, 1931, the organization awarded Sanger its Medal of Achievement; Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the event. Less than a year later, on April 20, 1932, the AWA held a testimonial dinner in Sanger’s honor, at which H. G. Wells called her “the greatest revolutionary bacteriologist the world has ever known.”
There are a few options for accessing this information. First, I created a map using Google Maps. This shows each location and, if you click on a blue place-marker, a short blurb about what happened there. A Google Doc spreadsheet provides the address, year(s), what type of event took place there, and the same short blurb. This would be useful to look at just Sanger’s residences or just places she gave lectures. I also used MyHistro to create a timeline; this website allowed me to add images (although unfortunately not all events have images) and allows you to view the events in chronological order.
You can view the map here, the Google Doc spreadsheet here, and the timeline at MyHistro here. I’d welcome and appreciate any feedback or contributions!
For more information on the Gamut Club, see P. Cobrin, From Winning the Vote to Directing on Broadway: The Emergence of Women on the New York Stage, 1880-1927 (Associated University Presses, 2009), pp. 62-92. For more on the American Woman’s Association club house, see C. Gray, “Streetscapes/The Henry Hudson Hotel, 353 W. 57th Street; From Women’s Clubhouse to WNET to $75 a Night,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 1998.