The 1920s Birth Control Movement

This morning in my Historical Perspective on Women lecture, we discussed the 1920s Birth Control Movement. The 1920s were a decade in which women began to be recognized as objects of sexuality, meaning women were used as pawns in marketing schemes for a lot of companies selling consumer goods.

There was a lot of pressure on women to be physically attractive and highly sexual, hence the development of birth control.

The 20s were a time in which opinions of sex begin to change. In the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, sex was considered to be solely for reproductive purposes, whereas in the 20s sex was starting to be considered as a means to express intimacy and physical attraction with a spouse.   (Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, Georgina Sackville)

Until 1969, birth control and abortion were illegal in Canada, and in the US, birth control and abortion to forbidden topics of discussion for a majority of the 19th and 20th centuries. This prompted a lot of discussion regarding who had the ability to determine what a woman does with her body, and it was agreed that it was women who possessed such power (duh).

Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, and Georgina Sackville were advocates for the benefits of birth control, Sanger being American, Stopes being British and Sackville being Canadian, and these three women were the figures that encouraged societal acceptance and access to birth control.

Sanger was determined to find a way to have birth control accessible and affordable to women in America. She became a nurse after her own mother died from having too many children too close together, a common cause of birth mortality, and even sent women contraceptives in the mail illegally to promote her cause. She opened her own birth control clinic with her goal being to see the development of a pill that would prevent pregnancy, so she received aid from a specialist in human reproduction who created the first birth control pill called Enovoid. In 1965, after the creation of Enovoid, it was agreed in America that the pill and other contraceptives were to become legal, all thanks to Sanger.

Stopes was the British version of Sanger, and was interested in human sexuality. She became a trusted figure women in Britain could write to and ask questions about pregnancy. Stopes opened Britain’s first family planning clinic in 1921.

Sackville was the Canadian version of Sanger, and during WWI she and her mother established a home for working and unwed mothers in Calgary. She argued contraceptives should be a personal option in marriage and that the legal system had no right to be involved. She was furthermore an author in defense of contraceptives.

It is so interesting to learn about women who made such a difference in women’s lives throughout history, and furthermore encouraged the development of women’s rights.Thanks to Sanger, Stopes and Sackville, women now have much more choice and say in their bodies and their rights, and it is essential to acknowledge what these three women did for the future of women in our world.

– Lauren

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