Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America

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Ellen Chesler's 1992 biography of Margaret Sanger is acclaimed as definitive and is widely used and cited by scholars and activists alike in the fields of women's health and reproductive rights.

Chesler's substantive new Afterword considers how Sanger's life and work hold up in light of subsequent developments, such as U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging the constitutional doctrine of privacy and international definitions of reproductive ...

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Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America

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Ellen Chesler's 1992 biography of Margaret Sanger is acclaimed as definitive and is widely used and cited by scholars and activists alike in the fields of women's health and reproductive rights.

Chesler's substantive new Afterword considers how Sanger's life and work hold up in light of subsequent developments, such as U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging the constitutional doctrine of privacy and international definitions of reproductive health as an essential human right.

Chesler illuminates Sanger's turbulent personal story, as well as the history of the birth control movement, in an intimate biography of a visionary rebel. Indispensable reading for the generations of women who take their reproductive and sexual freedoms for granted. Photos. National publicty and advertsing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Authoritative, readable and rippling with the energy of the life it conveys." — Daniel J. Kevles, The New York Times Book Review

"The Sanger portrayed by Chesler is compelling, and persuasively counters the tendency of earlier biographers to either eulogize or condemn...Chesler's exhaustive scholarship has yielded not only a fuller picture of Sanger but new knowledge about the history of birth control." — Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, Boston Sunday Globe

"Woman of Valor's chief virtue is a sweeping and authoritative grasp not only of Sanger's life but of the political detail and maneuvering behind it." — Ruth Brandon, The Washington Post Book World

"Chesler illuminates Sanger's rich personal and public life with a sophisticated understanding of psychology and history, yet the book reads like a good novel." — Sylvia A. Law, Professor of Law, New York University

"A major contribution to women's history." — Library Journal

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Former Columbia University Faculty Fellow Chesler succeeds admirably in bringing the extraordinary career and controversial personality of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) to life in this skillfully researched and objective biography. Sanger, a political radical, devoted herself to ensuring women's access to contraception after observing the plight of the poor as a public health nurse. An astute organizer, she fought against the opposition of a conservative political and religious male establishment, building a national and international birth control movement. Chesler explores the negative as well as the positive aspects of Sanger's character, noting that she was known to manipulate people and sometimes modified her views to achieve her ends. A strong believer in her own right to a fulfilled sex life, Sanger married twice and took many lovers, including Havelock Ellis and H. G. Wells. This is an outstanding biography of a feminist reformer whose achievements changed the lives of women forever. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Library Journal
The contemporary social debate over women's reproductive rights provides a timely backdrop for this major new biography of Margaret Sanger and her struggle for birth control. Sanger spent 50 years organizing a movement and advocating for birth control rights that are taken for granted in today's Western world. Chesler believes that Sanger's impact on women's lives has not been adequately appreciated or documented. This biography succeeds admirably in filling the gap with a new look at Sanger's private and public life. Interwoven in this account are discussions of the sweeping social and political developments of the 20th century. Chesler presents a Margaret who rejected the conventional restrictive female role and, while living a hidden and unconventional private life, worked publicly to push society into accepting new rights for women. This work is carefully documented and, while not as breezy a read as some biographies, is a major contribution to women's history. Recommended for academic and public libraries.-- Judy Solberg, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park
Kirkus Reviews
A splendid biography of the woman who fought for more than half a century to bring birth control to America. Planned Parenthood clinics are once again in the thick of political turmoil over a woman's right to choose abortion. It would probably all seem dishearteningly familiar to Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Higgins Sanger, who devoted her life to securing for women the legal right to prevent pregnancy by choosing contraception. In this lively volume, scholar Chesler (formerly of Barnard and CUNY) gives us a portrait of a complex personality who took on a strait-laced society in which the public mention of sex, even in marriage, was against the law. Sanger, born in 1879, battled not only to save the lives of the millions of women who died from illegal abortions and streams of uncontrolled pregnancies, but to give women the freedom to enjoy their own sexuality. She certainly enjoyed hers. No thin-lipped crusader, Sanger was attractive, witty, and bright, with two husbands and a parade of lovers that included Havelock Ellis and H.G. Wells. Her politics and rhetoric were honed in turn-of-the-century leftist movements—Emma Goldman, John Reed, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were early allies—but she quickly narrowed her focus, urging that when women gained control of their bodies and hence their lives, social and economic change would follow. She made mistakes and she made enemies, the Roman Catholic Church not the least of them, but her tenacity saw the obscenity laws fall, the Pill introduced, and family planning become an international movement. A riveting warts-and-all portrait of a courageous and determined woman who, in a time of foment, wrought fundamental changes inthe human social condition. (Photos—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416540762
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/16/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 700,783
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

ELLEN CHESLER is distinguished lecturer and director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Initiative on Women and Public Life at Roosevelt House, the new public policy center of Hunter College of the City University of New York. Woman of Valor was a finalist for PEN's 1993 Martha Albrand prize for the year's best first work of nonfiction.

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Table of Contents

Introduction     11
The Woman Rebel     19
Ghosts     21
Love and Work     44
Seeds of Rebellion     56
The Personal Is Political     74
Bohemia and Beyond     89
A European Education     105
The Frenzy of Renown     128
The Company She Kept     150
The Lady Reformer     177
New Woman, New World     179
The Conditions of Reform     200
Organizing for Birth Control     223
Happiness in Marriage     243
Doctors and Birth Control     269
A Community of Women     287
Grande Dame, Grandmere     311
Lobbying for Birth Control     313
Same Old Deal     336
Foreign Diplomacy     355
From Birth Control to Family Planning     371
Intermezzo     396
Last Act     414
Woman of the Century     443
Afterword     469
Notes     493
Selected Bibliography     617
Acknowledgments     637
Index     641
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great book on an amazing woman

    This was a great biography of an amazing woman whose life saw and shaped the evolution of the birth control movement. The book was well researched, and the addition of so many pictures brought the book to life.<BR/><BR/>The book is fairly long so it took me awhile to read but it was worth it. The whole life of Margaret Sanger was covered. Both her personal and public life was explained and shown. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the birth control movement or Margaret Sanger. The book offers a great deal of information about both.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 28, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Meticulously researched and footnoted, this somewhat ponderous t

    Meticulously researched and footnoted, this somewhat ponderous tome (about 670 pages including the notes
    and index) does not make for a quick beach read. It's fascinating to learn how very many of the rights modern
    women take for granted come from the work of this brave and dedicated woman, who began the movement and
    started the clinics that eventually morphed into Planned Parenthood, both in the USA and internationally.

    People - even doctors - didn't even TALK about the phrase (ssssh) BIRTH CONTROL a hundred years ago.
    Sanger changed that, brought an awareness of the need to offer women reproductive choices other than
    abstinence, too many babies, or illegal and risky abortions.

    Sanger's reputation has been much besmirched in the last few decades by those who hate that women are
    making their own choices as to when - or whether to become mothers. As Chesler presents her, Sanger was
    far from perfect; she made enemies as well as friends and supporters. She was loath to give up the glory/credit
    for work that others joined in as well. (Sanger may have been one of the earliest pioneers of name branding.) 

    Redheaded, witty and attractive, she did not believe in monogamy (at least for herself) and engaged in countless
    affairs, including one with writer H.G. Wells, somehow managing it that none of her men became jealous of her
    other lovers or husbands; they were all happy, or at least content, having a tiny bit of her time and attention.
    Whether you believe this disgustingly immoral or not, it's still an amazing feat for anyone to pull off. She was not
    a good mother, neglecting her children for the cause of B.C.

    But she was not a supporter of Nazism, race eugenics, or racism - those are all LIES propagated by those with
    an axe to grind. She wasn't even really in favor of abortion, though she grudgingly agreed that in some cases
    there was a medical necessity.

    This book will inform you of all you ever wanted to learn about Margaret Sanger (and more), and if you have a
    question or wonder how or why the author interpreted something, it's all deeply footnoted. The ending feels a
    bit rushed; perhaps because the author was conscious of it already being a very long book, or perhaps
    because Sanger made less news and had fewer letters and interviews in her declining years following several
    heart attacks. Worth the read, for anyone interested in women's history.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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