Newsletter #3 (Fall 1992)
Documenting a Friendship
Juliet Barrett Rublee (1876-1966), the free-thinking wife of well-to-do lawyer and advisor to the Wilson and FDR administrations, George Rublee, was unquestioningly Margaret Sanger's closest friend and confidant. Sanger and Juliet Rublee met in 1916, when Rublee became active among a group of socialites who helped defray Sanger's Brownsville trial costs by forming the Committee of 100. Rublee emerged from this episode as one of Sanger's most trusted friends and a life-long advocate of birth control.
Following the Brownsville episode, she lent her support to several of Sanger's efforts, including the New York Women's Publishing Company and the American Birth Control League (ABCL). Thereafter, Rublee's public support of birth control was unflagging. In 1921, after Sanger was arrested and prevented from holding a public meeting entitled "Is Birth Control Moral?" at New York's Carnegie Hall, Rublee, defending Sanger's right to free speech, forced her own arrest. The charges against both Sanger and Rublee were later dropped. Rublee remained loyal to Sanger during the bitter power struggle that emerged within the ABCL; when Sanger was forced out in 1928, Rublee resigned her position in protest taking her considerable financial support with her.
Juliet Rublee lived an extravagent and exotic life in the 1920s and 1930s. She provided financial backing for a treasure hunt off the coast of Italy in 1926. When the expedition failed, Rublee was kidnapped by the Italian expedition crew and had to be ransomed by her husband. A few years later she wrote and produced a silent film on the 1910 socialist revolution in Mexico entitled Soul of Mexico, filmed on location from 1928-1932. Though critical success eluded her, Rublee's devotion to film, art, and dance was undimmed. Also fascinated by the spiritual world, she and Sanger often traded their dreams in letters.
Unlike Sanger, Juliet Rublee was born into a life of wealth and privilege, yet the two formed a particularly warm and intimate union which was documented in over 250 handwritten letters. Though both women wrote intensely personal letters and marked them "destroy on reading," each saved many. Rublee's concern over the secrecy of the letters was reflected in April of 1936 when she wrote "The only reason I want my letters destroyed is from fear that J.N. [Sanger's second husband, J.Noah Slee] or some secretary would pick them up and read about things not meant for them." For her part, Sanger often sent Rublee intimate letters that she had received from others, ostensibly for safekeeping, but more likely to share them.
Though close, the two friends did not always agree on matters. Active politically in the 1930s, Rublee argued bitterly with Sanger over the necessity of U.S. intervention in European affairs. Rublee saw U.S. involvement as essential to countering Nazi oppression, while Sanger, the mother of two sons of draft age, initially supported the America First Committee which encourged isolationism. Yet the friendship sustained and would last until Sanger's death in September 1966. Rublee died just months later.
The Rublee – Sanger correspondence probably offers the most intimate view of Margaret Sanger's feelings about her life, her family and her friends, as well as the birth control movement. That she derived such an enormous level of emotional and spiritual sustenance from her friendship with Juliet Rublee seems to sustain the historian Nancy Cott's contention that for early 20th century feminists, female friendships were the "consoling counterpoint...for relationships with men."
Juliet Rublee's letters to Sanger formed an important part of the personal correspondence that Sanger deposited in the Sophia Smith Collection. However, Smith never received Sanger's letters to Rublee. Despite Sanger's increasing reliance on secretaries to type and prepare copies of her correspondence, most of her letters to Rublee were handwritten and never copied. Serendipitously, in 1979 a large cache of Rublee's papers (including 166 handwritten Sanger letters) were found discarded in a trunk in Cornish, NH. Paul Danz, who found the letters, sold much of this collection to the Dartmouth University Library. Unfortunately, the cache did not include letters from Sanger written between 1947 and 1961. Sanger's biographer, Lawrence Lader, was given a smaller collection of letters by Sanger to assist him in his research and he has generously provided the project with copies of his letters.
In January of 1992, Barry Oldam, a private collector in Denver contacted the project with word that he had purchased another cache of Rublee material from Paul Danz. He has promised the project photocopies of any Sanger-Rublee correspondence within his collection. We hope to reconstruct the entire run of Sanger-Rublee correspondence in our microfilm edition, to fully document a long and close relationship between two remarkable women.