Newsletter #36 (Spring 2004)

Early Sanger Letters Found

In December we received ten new Sanger letters covering the start of the birth control movement. The letters were written between 1914-1916 by Margaret Sanger to Hazel McLean Dreis (1890-1964), an internationally known bookbinder who was associated with leftist circles in Berkeley, CA in the 1910s and possibly with the radical journal Land and Liberty, edited by W. M. Owen in Hayward, CA. The letters were in the possession of one of Dreis’s friends, whose family sent them to us.

Radical poet J. Edward Morgan gave McLean’s name to Sanger, who wrote to her on April 12, 1914 to ask if she would, as "a rebel woman," write a piece for Sanger’s monthly Woman Rebel, which had just been launched in March. It does not appear McLean sent Sanger anything for publication, but Sanger’s initial letter sparked a friendship.

Over the next two years Sanger kept McLean informed about the government’s suppression of the Woman Rebel, her indictment and exile in Europe. "I have been indicted," Sanger wrote McLean in October 1914 "& trial will be set in a few days – I have been secretly informed that I am to get the limit – But I don’t believe it – I still hold that jail is not my goal – but the work is to be done & I am going to do it – someplace." She sent McLean bundles of Family Limitationsto be distributed in the Bay area. From Liverpool, Sanger told McLean about her plans to meet the exiled Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and her first conversation with Lorenzo Portet, the successor to Francisco Ferrer as head of the Modern School movement, who would soon become Sanger’s lover. Upon her return to the U.S., Sanger described seeing her children after a year-long separation. She related that her five-year-old daughter Peggy told her "You had a different face before you went away." Older brother Grant quickly said "Yes but we like this one too." Sanger added: "I’m not sure its very complimentary but someway horrible experiences will leave their mark."

Hazel McLean and Sanger finally met each other when Sanger came to San Francisco in June 1916 as part of a cross-country tour. "It was a joy to meet you & find you so lovable & big," Sanger wrote to her from Portland, OR on June 18. Back in New York in August, Sanger again praised McLean for her "character, beauty & brains - How can a movement be anything without individuals with ‘guts’–"

These marvelous letters have been added to the Sanger Papers in the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College and will be included by the Project when it publishes a set of addendum reels to the Collected Documents Series of our microfilm edition. If any of you have any Sanger letters or writings, or know someone that does, please contact us. Nothing is too little, or too late!