Newsletter #56 (Winter 2010/2011)

But You Can Call Me.....

“It would have saved trouble had I remained Perkins from the first, this changing of women's names is a nuisance we are now happily outgrowing.” – Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1935

Editors of women’s papers confront a challenge editors of men’s papers don’t always have to consider: variants on their subject’s name. Margaret Sanger signed documents as “Margaret Higgins” (her birth name), “Margaret Sanger” (after her marriage in 1902), “Mrs. William Sanger” (very occasionally), and for a brief time, “Bertha Watson” (the alias she used during her 1914-1915 exile).

Following her marriage to J. Noah Slee in 1922, she continued to use “Margaret Sanger” most of the time and almost always in public, but usually went by “Mrs. J. Noah Slee” or “Mrs. Margaret Slee” when traveling or if she wanted to remain under the radar, such as in 1932 when she snuck into Italy despite a ban on her imposed by Mussolini. This gave Sanger a bit of a Batman/Bruce Wayne existence she seemed to delight in, as it often tripped up opponents, old lovers and others trying to track her down on board a ship or in a hotel. Some newspapers, in an attempt to be thorough and accurate, supplied two names, implying that the woman had two distinct lives. The New York Times referred in 1934 to “Margaret Sanger, who in private life is Mrs. J. Noah Slee.” (May 27, 1934).

Sanger also got a kick out of being mistaken for Margaret Sangster, the popular Victorian-era American poet of Christian verse:

“Sometimes, in the dusk of evening,/ I only shut my eyes,/And the children are all about me,/A vision from the skies”

Sangster probably would have keeled over dead because of the frequent name mixup had not she already died in 1912, a couple of years before Sanger’s became notorious as the “Woman Rebel.” Despite the poet Sangster’s well-reported death, the birth control reformer Sanger continued to be confused with her; even as late as 1936 the Los Angeles Times reported a talk given on birth control by that well-known “Margaret Sangster” (Apr. 10, 1936).