The Margaret Sanger Papers


Free Speech League (1911-1918?)

First organized free speech group in America. The Free Speech League was organized in New York City in 1902 by libertarian attorney Theodore Schroeder to combat censorship and promote First Amendment rights of free speech and a free press. Formally incorporated in 1911, its directors included Bolton Hall, Edward B. Foote, Jr., Lincoln Steffens and Hutchins Hapgood with Leonard Abbott as president, Branch Whitlock as vice-president and Schroeder as secretary. Convinced that obscenity existed "only in the minds of those who believe in it," the League produced a series of publications, statements and manifestos arguing for the abolition of all obscenity laws. The League's agenda included rallying public support and providing financial and legal aid for efforts to oppose or challenge the censorship work of vice agents like Anthony Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Among those it supported was Margaret Sanger who defied the federal Comstock Law with her publications, The Woman Rebel and Family Limitation. It also helped raise public awareness and financial support for William Sanger's trial. The Free Speech League faded out of existence during World War I when Schroeder turned his attentions to psychology.
References: Paul Avrich, The Modern School Movement (1980); Paul Boyer Purity in Print (1968); and Samuel Williams, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990).