The Margaret Sanger Papers

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Reliable birth control, socially sanctioned and widely available has been one of the most significant preconditions for change in the 20th century. In the United States, the increasing acceptance of contraception over the last eight decades is the result of a long and significant battle, a struggle in which women were active agents. Among the most pivotal actors in the development of birth control, a term she helped coin in 1914, was Margaret Sanger. From the publication of The Woman Rebel in 1914, through her leadership of the American Birth Control League and National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control, to her efforts to support research to develop the first birth control pill, Margaret Sanger dedicated herself to making birth control safe, effective, widely available, respectable and legal. Sanger also sought to move the issue of birth control onto the global stage, bringing her message to Europe and Asia and helping to found the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 1952. Committed to insuring that every woman had both the knowledge and right to practice birth control, Sanger is best known for her battles over the right to legally distribute contraceptive information and open birth control clinics. Yet her decision to press for medically sanctioned birth control has also been critical to contemporary attitudes and debates.

The Margaret Sanger Papers Project

Located at New York University, the goal of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project (MSPP) is to locate, organize, research and publish Margaret Sanger's papers (letters, speeches, journals, organizational papers and other documents) in book, microfilm, and electronic form. We have assembled and prepared 54,000 Sanger documents, published as the Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition on 101-reels in two series: Smith College Collections (1996) and Collected Documents (1997) by University Publications of America. Both series are accompanied by printed guides each of which contains a description of the contents of each reel, an index to the authors, recipients, and document titles, brief histories of organizations with which Sanger was associated and search strategies for using the microfilm. We are now working on a reel guide/index for the 145-reel collection of Margaret Sanger's papers microfilmed by the Library of Congress. This will be integrated with the reel guides for the Project's two series into one comprehensive guide/index to all extant Sanger papers. The Project is also currently preparing The Selected Letters and Writings of Margaret Sanger, a three-volume book edition of transcribed and annotated Sanger documents to be published by Indiana University Press. And finally, the Project is developing a series of subject-focused electronic editions that document Margaret Sanger's role in the history of the birth control movement. Our participation in the Model Editions Partnership is the first step in the creation of this electronic series.

Sponsors, Funders and Staff

The MSPP is sponsored by the History Department of New York University (work on the Smith microfilm edition was co-sponsored by Smith College). The MSPP has received funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, the William Bingham Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, the H.W. Wilson Foundation, and other private foundations and individuals. The Project is headed by Professor Esther Katz, editor and director, Cathy Moran Hajo, assistant editor and assistant director, and Peter C. Engelman, assistant editor.

The MSPP Model: Margaret Sanger and The Woman Rebel

The documents gathered for this electronic mini-edition chronicle Margaret Sanger's publication of the radical, feminist journal, The Woman Rebel. The events surrounding the publication of the journal in 1914 -- including Sanger's indictment for violation of federal obscenity laws, her unlawful flight from prosecution, her 13-month exile in Europe, and her emotional return to New York in the fall of 1915 to face trial -- trace the inception of the birth control movement in the U.S. and mark a pivotal time in Sanger's life and in the history of the birth control movement. The Woman Rebel established Sanger as a dynamic and controversial feminist voice, and the leading birth control agitator in America. In the years that followed, Margaret Sanger would become an influential international leader of the birth control movement, a position she held for the next fifty years.

Goals of the MSPP Model Edition

The primary purpose of the MSPP model is to demonstrate how a scholarly edition based on images of manuscript pages could be constructed. The MSPP mini-edition brings together documents from all three Sanger microfilm series to trace the events surrounding Sanger's publication of the Woman Rebel and its legal, political, social and personal aftermath. By creating an identifying template (with names of the authors, recipients, and individuals mentioned in the document, the date of the document, the place from which it was written, and other identifying information) above the manuscript images, the editors have provided context for the documents that makes them easier to read and understand. Templates such as these were produced for our microfilm edition, but by adding hyperlinks and joining the template text to additional reference material, the MSPP has created an electronic edition that enables a much more meaningful research experience. Readers can jump directly from a document image to brief biographies of individuals addressed in the document, descriptions of relevant organizations mentioned in the document, texts of the laws involved, a chronology and information on securing copyright and reproduction rights. Readers can also search the collection for the names of all individuals, organizations, and dates in the edition, and can access the reference materials directly.

Invitation to Evaluate

Since our object is to present this sample for review, we invite your critiques. For example, because it is an image edition, the MSPP model does not provide "live-text" searching on documents, only searches on the reference materials and target text. Do you prefer to see the original document or a transcription? Are the reference materials useful and do they help to understand the larger issues involved? Would the addition of subjects to the document templates (which would allow subject searching) make the edition more useful? How do you use this electronic model? Do you see it as a replacement or an addition to traditional primary source material?

Contacting the MSPP

The Margaret Sanger Papers Project (all staff)
Department of History
New York University
53 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1098
Phone: (212) 998-8620
Fax: (212) 995-4017