1914: Family Limitation
Author/Editor: Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger’s Family Limitation is a brief pamphlet that does just what it says on the packet—explain how to limit family size through birth control. Controversial from its first writing, when opponents were troubled by the uncoupling of sex from reproduction (and perhaps by the discussion of sexuality at all) to the present, when Sanger’s views of eugenics and race trouble modern readers, Sanger’s work has had an undeniable impact on the 20th century. Besides reproductive health, Sanger’s other concern was free speech.
Family Limitation, then, is a particularly apt representation of that work as the brief, practical manual triggered 3 obscenity charges and a charge of “inciting murder and assassination”. Eventually the charges were dropped, but this was a first encounter with the courts. Sanger went on to face and foment several court cases, finally leading to one that rejected the Comstock law in 1936 and made it possible for doctors to supply birth control.
For any woman who has been able to control her own fertility, and any person who has benefited from that possibility for women, this is essential reading to see how the conversation around birth control has changed in the last century—and to see how some technologies remain essentially identical.