-scale=1.0,maximum-scale=1.0" : "width=1100"' name='viewport'/> Plum Street Chili: Heroes of Feminism Series - Introduction to Alice S. Rossi and the Hero Margaret Sanger

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Heroes of Feminism Series - Introduction to Alice S. Rossi and the Hero Margaret Sanger

Introduction to this Long Book Review of The Feminist Papers by Alice S. Rossi

Alice S. Rossi is a Founder of the National Organization for Women. I had a paperback copy of her book that I bought long ago when it and I were new. A link to her obituary is below.


My friend Ocean was the inspiration behind this series. I will have Ocean speak for herself. She posted this statement of intent in a comment:

Click Me!
"I've read some great books on the history of the women's rights struggle in the past few years. Apparently, there were a lot of unbelievably stupid women who believed such nonsense as "women aren't interested in voting, because they have their men to do the voting for them." Some of the right-wing female fruitbats (love that term!) today are just as moronic, if not more so, than the anti-suffrage women in the 1850's.

During the summer, I came across a great collection of feminist essays at my public library called THE FEMINIST PAPERS, edited by Alice S. Rossi. I think it's well worth reading some of these essays, if your public library has a copy. Hell, I would seriously encourage ALL girls and women to read some of the great essays this book offers. I think too many women of younger generations have no idea what battles the women in the 19th and early 20th century had to fight to both get the right to vote AND to use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Reading essays by some of these women, including Margaret Sanger, could help more young women understand that electing an anti-choice candidate would be disastrous for women. As President Obama has said, "we've been there, we've done that, we're NOT going backward, we're going forward."

From:  THE FEMINIST PAPERS, "The Right To One's Body: Margaret Sanger," by Alice S. Rossi, 1973


"Without the means to prevent, and to control the timing of, conception, economic and  political rights have limited meaning for women.  If women cannot plan their pregnancies, they can plan little else in their lives during the long period from age twelve to fifty, while they are 'at procreative risk.'  So long as sexual pleasure could not be enjoyed without the anxiety of a possible pregnancy, women seeking wider and more demanding participation in professions or politics really had an either-or choice of marriage or a career, while those who attempted the combination did so with a sense of anxiety that can be anathema to creativity in work.  Sexual abstinence has never been a banner that could attract very women or men, even in the nineteenth century, much less the twentieth.

As perhaps the greatest champion of woman's freedom to control her own life and body, Margaret Sanger has a central place in any overview of feminist history and thought.  From the first issue of her magazine, Woman Rebel, in March 1914, to the financial and organizational support she gave to research in hormonal anovulants in the post-World War II period, her life was dedicated to a passionate single-minded commitment to bring the best birth-control methods to ever larger numbers of women around the world. . . .

Sanger's vision was not narrowly focused on the dissemination of birth-control devices.  She believed that the whole modern movement toward new sex ideas was bound to be challenged by the conservative forces of society.  In her view, sex morals for women had been one-sided, purely negative, inhibitory, and repressive, 'fixed by agencies which have sought to keep women enslaved; which have been determined ... to use woman solely as an asset to the church, the state and the man.'  [Sanger 1920]"

Ocean - Editor's Note: Because the original introduction to Margaret Sanger's essay is quite long, I thought it would be more helpful to readers to quote what I believe to be the most important points.  Anyone who would like to read the entire introduction can read it in THE FEMINIST PAPERS, if it can be found at the reader's public library or online.

"My Fight For Birth Control," by Margaret Sanger, 1931


    "One day a woman by the name of Margaret Whitehurst came to us.  She said that she was the mother of two children and that she had not money to support more.  Her story was a pitiful one -- all lies, of course, but the government acts that way.  She asked for our literature and preventives, and received both.  Then she triumphantly went to the District Attorney's office and secured a warrant for the arrest of my sister, Mrs. Ethel Byrne, our interpreter, Miss Fania Mindell, and myself.

    The crusade was actually under way!  It is no exaggeration to call this period in the birth control movement the most stirring period up to that time, perhaps the most stirring of all times, for it was the only period during which we had experienced jail terms, hunger strikes, and intervention by the Chief Executive of the state.  It was the first time that there was any number of widespread, popular demonstrations in our behalf. . . .

    The arrest and raid on the Brooklyn clinic was spectacular.  There was no need of a large force of plain clothes men to drag off a trio of decent, serious women who were testing out a law on a fundamental principle.  My federal arrest, on the contrary, had been assigned to intelligent men.  One had to respect the dignity of their mission; but the New York city officials seem to use tactics suitable only for crooks, bandits and burglars.  We were not surprised at being arrested, the shock and horror of it was that awoman, with a squad of five plain clothes men, conducted the raid and made the arrest.  A woman -- the irony of it!   I refused to close down the clinic, hoping that a court decision would allow us to continue such necessary work.  I was to be disappointed.  Pressure was brought upon the landlord, and we were dispossessed by the law as a 'public nuisance.'  In Holland the clinics were called 'public utilities.'

    When the policewoman entered the clinic with her squad of plain clothes men and announced the arrest of Miss Mindell and myself (Mrs. Byrne was not present at the time and her arrest followed later), the room was crowded to suffocation with women waiting in the outer room.  The police began bullying these mothers, asking them questions, writing down their names in order to subpoena them to testify against us at the trial.  These women, always afraid of trouble which the very presence of a policeman signifies, screamed and cried aloud.  The children on their laps screamed too.  It was like a panic for a few minutes until I walked into the room where they were stampeding and begged them to be quiet and not to get excited.  I assured them that nothing could happen to them, that I was under arrest but they would be allowed to return home in a few minutes.  That quieted them.  The men were blocking the door to prevent anyone from leaving, but I finally persuaded them to allow these women to return to their homes, unmolested through terribly frightened by it all.

    Crowds began to gather outside.  A long line of women with baby carriages and children had been waiting to get into the clinic.  Now the streets were filled, and police had to see that traffic was not blocked.  The patrol wagon came rattling through the streets to our door, and at length Miss Mindell and I took our seats within and were taken to the police station. 

    As I sat in the rear of the car and looked out on that seething mob of humans, I wondered, and asked myself what had gone out of the race.  Something had gone from them which silenced them, made them impotent to defend their rights.  I thought of the suffragists in England, and pictured the results of a similar arrest there.  But as I sat in this mood, the car started to go.  I looked out at the mass and heard a scream.  It came from a woman wheeling a baby carriage, who had just come around the corner preparing to visit the clinic.  She saw the patrol wagon, realized what had happened, left the baby carriage on the walk, rushed through the crowd to the wagon and cried to me:  'Come back!  Come back and save me!'  The woman looked wild.  She ran after the car for a dozen yards or so, when some friends caught her weeping form in their arms and led her back to the sidewalk.  That was the last thing I saw as the Black Maria dashed off to the station. "

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