Newsletter #4 (Winter 1992/1993)

Willowlake: Sanger's Refuge in Fishkill

In 1923, J. Noah Slee, Margaret Sanger's second husband purchased 110 acres in Fishkill, a small town nestled in New York's Dutchess County as a wedding gift for Sanger. Sanger spent months planning the construction of a beautiful Tudor-style mansion on the banks of a man-made lake. The design was inspired by the British manor-house Wantley once owned by British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and other houses Sanger had seen in her travels in Europe. Called Willowlake, the estate, located a few hours from New York, served as a summer retreat for Sanger from the struggle of dealing with the birth control movement. Sanger regularly travelled back and forth between Willowlake and New York, inviting associates and friends to spend long summer weekends on the beautiful grounds.

Recently, the owner of Willowlake, Gennaro Andreozzi, kindly permitted the staff of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project to visit the grounds and house. It was a great opportunity to see where Sanger lived and hear some of the lore surrounding the house from Mr. Andreozzi. Despite the drizzle, we were able to wander around the estate, stopping to see the cottage that Sanger used for writing. Sanger sold the house in 1949. New owners in the 1950s transformed it into an East Coast Dude Ranch which boasted several celebrity guests, including movie star swimmer Esther Williams. During the 1960s the house was sold to the Land family, of Polaroid Land camera fame. Mr. Andreozzi purchased the house from the Land family in the 1970s.

While in Fishkill, we took the time to visit Margaret Sanger's grave, at a nearby cemetary. Sanger is buried between J. Noah Slee, her second husband and her sister Anna Higgins, and a few steps away is the grave of long-time housekeeper Miss Daisy Mitchell. Interestingly enough, the birth date on the gravestone was incorrect. Sanger sought to shave some years off her age, telling everyone she was born in 1883 not 1879. Her efforts were successful, not unusual for a woman so effective at redefining herself. Sanger's grave was strangely peaceful for the resting place of a woman who caused so much controversy.