Many biographies of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are extremely sympathetic to their subject, some to the point of fawning.
The Sanger life is an interesting one, from her birth in upstate New York in 1879, to her death in Tuscon, Arizona in September, 1996. Whatever one’s views on abortion, contraception and family planning, there is little doubt Sanger’s formative years and her rise as a champion of American feminism, social reform and “reproductive choice”, make for an interesting read.
It is proper for any biographer to hold some fascination for his or her subject. Yet in most of the works surveyed, there is an unquestioning acceptance of the propriety of Dangers’ ideals and the methods used to realize them.
In the 1992 book Woman of Valor, Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America, author Ellen Chesler portrays Sanger as an emancipator who helped American women gain control over their own bodies. Chesler sees Sanger as a visionary who paved the way for greater social acceptance of such practices as birth control, family planning and reproductive choice.
Although the author shows the many paradoxes of her subject’s life and work, there is an unmistakable fondness for Sanger and for Planned Parenthood.
Another author, Elyse Topalian, extolled Sanger’s courage and far-sightedness, and held her up as a model for American feminism.
Author Douglas Scott, an outspoken critic of Sanger and her Planned Parenthood legacy, had this to say about her biographers: “Now that many books have been written about the life of Margaret Sanger, it is important to remember that not all of them can be taken completely seriously. This is particularly true of Sanger’s autobiographical writings. Keep in mind that not everything written by Margaret Sanger is accurate. The same is true of most of those who have written about her. Some authors—overlooked Sanger’s seedy side in favour of creating a heroine.”
As David M. Kennedy notes in a biographical essay in Birth Control in America, The Career of Margaret Sanger, at least two of Sanger’s books…’were ghost-written and have the flavour of campaign biographies.” Most biographical writing about Mrs. Sanger, Kennedy says, “suffers from close reliance on these two books.”
Scholarship and research can become cloudy when advocacy enters the equation. As a result, the wise reader should approach works on the Planned Parenthood founder with just a few grains of salt.