The Woman Rebel
After conducting research on European contraceptive methods and meeting with socialist theorists and French syndicalists during a 1913 trip to Paris, Sanger had returned to the U.S. convinced that women could become the primary agents of social and economic change. In March of 1914, she published the first issue of The Woman Rebel, an eight-page monthly newspaper, designed and written from her New York apartment. On its masthead, etched in crude, block letters, was the defiant slogan drawn from the Industrial Workers of the World strikes, "No Gods, No Masters." Sanger wanted the paper to be a fulcrum for uniting women around issues of class and gender oppression. She called on women "to speak and to act in defiance of convention." Her immediate aim was to challenge the laws that prevented contraceptive education and the distribution of contraceptive devices. "Birth Control," a term first coined in the pages of The Woman Rebel, provided the foundation and rallying point for Sanger's burgeoning new feminism, one that focused on sexual and reproductive autonomy for women. Sanger argued that unless a woman could be the "absolute mistress of her own body," all other gains -- suffrage, economic equality, education -- were peripheral.
The tone of The Woman Rebel was revolutionary, angry, and some charged quite shrill, but it included an array of contributions by leftist writers on labor strife, marriage, prostitution, and revolution. Sanger's own frank articles on birth control and sexuality provided the editorial focus of the paper, which quickly gained in notoriety. Not surprisingly, the paper also attracted the attention of the postal authorities in New York and piqued the censorious Anthony Comstock, self-appointed moral crusader, who had banned Sanger's articles on sexual hygiene in the New York Call in 1913. Circulation of The Woman Rebel violated a series of 1873 federal laws named after Comstock that prohibited distribution through the U.S. mails of materials considered lewd, lascivious or obscene, including any form of contraceptive information. Before the second issue of The Woman Rebel reached the press, postal authorities notified Sanger that she must cease distribution immediately.
Sanger continued publication, but rather than including specific information on contraceptive techniques in The Woman Rebel, she began writing Family Limitation, a short pamphlet that outlined the importance of birth control and gave graphic details and instruction on various contraceptive methods. In August of 1914, after continuing to defy postal authority notices, Sanger was indicted for violating obscenity statutes in three issues of The Woman Rebel, specifically for several articles on sexuality and for one titled "A Defense of Assassination" by Herbert Thorpe.