The Margaret Sanger Papers

Sanger, William (1873-1961)

Architect and artist. Margaret Sanger's first husband (married 1902), two sons and one daughter; married Vedya Merz (1924) one daughter. Son of German-Jewish immigrants, William Sanger was an architect with an interest in radical politics. After a few years of unsatisfying suburban domesticity in Yonkers and then in Hastings-on-Hudson, William Sanger and his family moved to New York City, where he introduced his wife Margaret to the bohemian world of radical artists and activists. They both joined the local Socialist Party and participated in such radical events as the 1913 Paterson Strike Pageant. A draftsman for the fashionable firm of McKim, Mead and White, William Sanger grew bored with architecture and wanted to become a painter. Though often financially overextended, Sanger was impressed by the European art he saw at the 1913 Armory Show and wanted to study modernist art in Paris. In October 1913 the Sanger family went to Paris, where Margaret Sanger researched contraceptive techniques while William Sanger rented a studio and studied painting. At the end of the year, when Margaret and their three children (Stuart, Grant and Peggy) went home, William Sanger stayed on to continue his painting. The marriage had by this time grown increasingly strained. Though drawn to the avant garde in art and politics, William Sanger held very traditional views on marriage and domestic arrangements. As his resentment grew over his wife's increasing involvement in the birth control cause which kept her away from home, Margaret Sanger felt constrained by his domestic demands and jealousy over her relationships with other men. When the outbreak of war in Europe forced William Sanger to return home in 1914, the couple separated. William Sanger, however, continued to support Margaret Sanger's commitment to birth control. When one of Anthony Comstock's agents tricked William Sanger into giving him a copy of Margaret Sanger's pamphlet, Family Limitation, in the hopes of getting Sanger to reveal his wife's whereabouts, William Sanger refused to comply. Tried and convicted, he served thirty days on Blackwell's Island. Though they remained separated, the couple were united in their grief over the death of their youngest child, Peggy. William Sanger also contributed drawings and sketches to Sanger's journal, The Birth Control Review. Reluctant to give up on his marriage to Margaret Sanger, despite her determination to end the union, he would not consent to a divorce. Separated since 1914, Margaret Sanger was finally able to file for divorce in 1921 on grounds of desertion. William Sanger's career as a painter was not successful and he was forced to take a position as an architect with the New York City Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity.
    Copyright for documents authored by William Sanger must be secured from: Joan Sanger Hoppe, P.O. Box 613, North Egremont, MA 01252.
References: Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (1992); Martin Green, New York 1913: The Armory Show and the Paterson Strike Pageant (1988); Lawrence Lader, The Margaret Sanger Story (1955); Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (1938).