Newsletter #14 (Winter 1996/1997)

Our Margaret Sanger – Olive Byrne Richard

In 1959, Ellen Watumull prepared a two-volume tribute to her friend, Margaret Sanger and presented it to her at the Sixth International Conference on Planned Parenthood in New Delhi. Excerpted below is the entry contributed by Sanger's niece, Olive Byrne Richard. The entire two-volume tribute has been filmed as part of the MSM S77:720-1130.


So long as I can remember, my Aunt Margaret always did Christmas things for me and my family. . . . More than any of the material things she gave me, was a feeling of "belonging" to someone. It happened in a single incident and came about this way: I was twelve years old and a student in a convent school, sent there because there was nobody left in my father's family to make a home for my brother and me. I knew my mother's large family mostly through gifts at Christmas and birthdays but seldom saw any of them. So I was completely surprised one day when the headmistress of the school sent for me and said: "There is a woman here who says she is your aunt and she wants to see you." She added, "You don't have to see her, you know." Having no reason to suspect the latter remark, I said, "Oh, I don't mind."

Forthwith I was ushered into a room where two priests, a bishop, a battery of nuns and my Aunt Margaret awaited me. I was a dumpy kind of child with a freckled face and wearing a most unbecoming school uniform, but that beautiful woman came to me, swept me up into her arms and said, "Oh, you lovely darling."

As no one had ever made such an extravagant gesture of love to me before, I was overcome with shyness and could not speak. But a wonderful glow filled me so I thought I would cry, and I was afraid they might send her away if I did.

I don't remember the details of the short visit, not at the time did I wonder about the presence of the high church dignitaries. I only knew that now I really belonged to a family and was pretty and a darling.

That visit to her sister's daughter cost Margaret Sanger three days of determined effort against all the local strength of the Catholic Church. She made her initial request to see me to the headmistress of the school and it was passed on to higher authorities until the matter arrived in the bishop's office. His "Certainly not!" was just a red flag to a woman who had engaged in larger battles than this. She secured legal advice and threatened to charge the school with abduction if they continued in their refusal to let her see me; thus the roomful of clerical guardians when I met and fell in love with Aunt Margaret.

Now it seems ridiculous that they could have thought she might instruct me, a child of twelve, in the rites of birth control. But those were the days when birth control was a dirty word and she who propounded it, a scarlet woman. (Volume II, pp. 236-237).