Newsletter #21 (Spring 1999)

Our Margaret Sanger: Katharine Dexter McCormick

Occasionally we include entries taken from "Our Margaret Sanger" a two-volume collection of reminiscences and tributes prepared by Ellen Watumull and presented to Sanger at the Sixth International Conference on Planned Parenthood in New Delhi in 1959. These volumes have been filmed as part of the MSM S77:720-1130.

The tribute below, contributed by philanthropist, suffragist and birth controller, Katharine Dexter McCormick, was written just following the culmination of their work together in funding research on an oral contraceptive for women, the success of which led directly to the innovation of "the pill." Starting in the early 1950s, Sanger orchestrated the various links and working associations necessary to carry-out research on the contraceptive use of steroids and secured McCormick's enthusiasm and substantial monetary support. Maybe more remarkable than the money put up by McCormick or the direction provided by Sanger was the faith shown by both aging feminists in a project criticized and ridiculed by many in the medical world.

A biography of McCormick by Armond Fields is currently in the works, and a novel about McCormick, Riven Rock by T. Coraghessan Boyle, was published last year by Viking Penguin to very favorable reviews. The book revolves around Katharine Dexter's marriage to Stanley McCormick, millionaire heir to the International Harvester fortune, who became schizophrenic shortly after their marriage.

"Margaret Sanger – Birth Control – Birth Control – Margaret Sanger"

By Katharine Dexter McCormick

The two names are inseparable – they are almost identical. Without the sharply felt sympathy that Margaret Sanger had for the women and children in the crowded quarters of New York's poor, the idea of birth control might not have been born until the overwhelming populations of the world's nations forced the issue upon the world at large. It was her woman's recognition of this crying need of women and children that led Margaret Sanger to her swift and accurate appraisal of what must be done to alleviate such unnecessary suffering, and it was her prompt readiness to sacrifice herself to achieve the end she saw as immediately practicable that started the idea of birth control and gave Margaret Sanger the leadership which we recognize so proudly today.

The clarion bell of her imprisonment awoke me, as it did others, into the definite realization of what must be done, and with this realization came the awareness that a battle lay ahead. In the years that followed, how little understanding and sympathy met Margaret Sanger's solitary figure as she unremittingly and dauntlessly pursued her course. Too few listened to her then – too few joined her pressing efforts to procure the legal changes that otherwise blocked any final achievement of her purpose. The unchanged, still-inscribed laws of Massachusetts and Connecticut bear witness to the difficulties she encountered.

Today, Margaret Sanger's unabated determination has finally overcome the obstacles that faced her, and we see on all sides the effects of her perception, foresight and effort to make life better and easier for all who live it. How joyously we join to acclaim her as one of the great benefactors of humankind! (MSM S77:965-967.)