Birth Control Pioneer Dies
Margaret Sanger Slee Succumbs In Tucson Rest Home At Age 82
By Marilyn Johnson
Margaret Sanger Slee, founder of the birth control movement and hailed as one of the most courageous women of her time, died yesterday afternoon at Valley House Convalescent Center.
She was 82 years old when she died and she had given more than 50 years of her life to the cause of Planned Parenthood.
Mrs. Slee is known all over the world as Margaret Sanger, her name when her world-wide crusade began in 1912.
She was born Margaret Higgins on Sept. 14, 1883 in Corning, New York, and was educated as a nurse at White Plains, N.Y. Hospital.
As a young nurse working on the lower East Side of New York City, Margaret Sanger saw thousands of poverty-stricken wives facing years of childbirth and the danger of death . . . and she resolved to assist them.
In her life-long campaign to bring knowledge of birth control, a term she coined herself, Mrs. Sanger fought powerful opposition, including that of the U.S. Government. She served one 30-day jail sentence and her husband later served a similar period.
In 1912, after she had been married 12 years to architect William Sanger and had borne two sons and one daughter, Margaret Sanger started her crusade. She had little or no help, not even from physicians who privately admitted the justice of her cause.
A small publication, "The Woman Rebel," started by the young nurse, advanced the limitation of families. The booklet enraged Anthony Comstock, author of the censorship law bearing his name. In 1913 Comstock caused Mrs. Sanger to be indicted by the U.S. Government on nine counts of violating the Comstock Law, which classified disseminating information about contraceptive materials as "lewd and obscene."
The government later dropped the charges, as petitions in behalf of Mrs. Sanger flooded court officials and President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1916 Mrs. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in Brooklyn, and she lived to see more than 600 Planned Parenthood clinics around the nation.
She was arrested eight times in various cities for speaking about birth control during the years of her crusade. Her indomitable will never failed her, and as the years passed she began to receive awards and honorary degrees for the same activities that had previously brought her court indictments.
The University of Arizona presented her with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1965. In the words of UA President Dr. Richard A. Harvill, she had made "notable contributions to the improvement of family life and to the study of population problems, and had earned the gratitude of people all over the world."
William R. Mathews, editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, described Mrs. Sanger as "One of the world's most noted women. Indeed," Mathews continued, "her accomplishments in behalf of womanhood made her one of the great women of history."
Mrs. Sanger was the first foreign woman to address the upper house of the Japanese Diet (Parliament) and was awarded the Third Class of the Precious Crown by Japan.
In 1925 Mrs. Sanger organized the Birth Control Conference in New York, the World Population Conference in 1927 and was president emeritus of the International Planned Parenthood Federation when she died.
Pearl Buck, author and humanitarian, described Mrs. Sanger as "one of the most courageous women of our times," and added, "Her name will go down in history as one of that company of pioneers who have not been afraid to do what was to be done, in spite of the prejudices and powers of their time."
Fifty years ago Mrs. Sanger was warning the world of a bomb that many fear more than nuclear power — the population bomb. She fearlessly faced imprisonment, condemnation and ostracism to force the world to listen to her message.
Dr. Darwin Neubauer, president of the Pima County Medical Society, called Margaret Sanger Slee "a truly remarkable woman. She began 50 years ago," he said, "when overpopulation was not yet a serious threat, to call attention to what is now one of the world's great problems."
To many persons both her name and her views were objectionable. Yet in the eyes of the world and grateful women everywhere, she lived and died respected and revered as a prophet in her own time.
Her longtime friend, former ambassador to the Court of St. James, Lewis W. Douglas, said:
"Margaret Sanger Slee was a great lady, a great patriot and one of the brave leaders of a great cause. I had for her a deep personal affection as well as great admiration.
"Her contributions are incalculably great, and they will increase with the passage of the years."
Mrs. Slee's marriage to Sanger ended in divorce. She married J. Noah H. Slee, owner of the Three-In-One oil concern, who died in Tucson in 1943. Her daughter Peggy, died in 1916.
She is survived by two sons, both physicians — Dr. Stuart Sanger of Tucson and Dr. Grant Sanger of New York City.