So this year, I was extremely lucky to get an interview on my first try, with none other than Margaret Sanger’s grandson, Alexander Sanger, who also happens to be the Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. We decided to hold this interview over email, and this was the result:
Out of everything Margaret Sanger did, which do you think had the greatest effect on the world, and why?
Her greatest achievement was making the nation, and the world, less ashamed about birth control. When she started her cause, birth control was illegal mostly but widely used, hidden, sordid, disreputable and unreliable. She brought birth control out of the closet (or sewer) and made it respectable, something that could be talked about in public, something that woman and men should not be ashamed of, something natural, normal and good. The legalization of birth control followed inevitably.
There are immense health benefits to women (and children) of planning, spacing and limiting their children. There is a reduction of childhood disease and infirmities. My grandmother would also point to reduced welfare and other expenditures on the poor. And she would, diplomatically, point out that women were entitled to enjoy sex just as much as men always had.
Did you know Margaret Sanger when she was still alive? If so, what was her personality like?
She was attentive and loving. She knew how to pay attention and listen and be empathetic, two very important qualities. It probably came from her nurse’s training. She and I used to play cards when I was very young, age 4 or so and I would cheat to win and she let me.
She was relentless, driven and resolute. She spent her whole life on birth control. She would not be diverted into other causes.
Her legacy is the example of what one person can do in their life with determination, brains, strategy, and a bit of charm. She came out of nowhere. She had no education, no money no friends of influence, yet she changed the world.
What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of Margaret Sanger’s accomplishments? Why?
Her belief that parents had to be worthy of having children is overlooked. She once suggested, half seriously, that parents need a license to have child, like they do to drive a car. No one talks about this.
Do you disagree with any of her beliefs? If so, which ones, and why?
I agree with my grandmother but disagree with her on whatever Eugenics she espoused. Her eugenics beliefs are not what is popularly portrayed. It is a very complex issue. She also avoided the abortion issue and I don’t. She had to but I don’t.
Who/What do you think inspired Margaret Sanger?
Her father who was radical, and her nursing career. In the slums where she saw unwanted pregnancy and childbearing. Also being a mother to be able to convince society that childbearing should be by choice not chance, that children were too important to be brought into the world when they were not wanted.
What inspired you to follow in the steps of your grandmother?
She got me into Planned Parenthood, not directly but indirectly by her example. She taught me that you can’t be afraid of what other people think of you or your beliefs. You have to do what you think is right and be persistent, strategic and smart.
The Reagan-Bush administrations had gagged doctors in public health clinics from discussing legal abortion with patients. This I considered an outrage and I went to work for Planned Parenthood.
Talking with Mr. Sanger has really made me feel like I know Margaret Sanger a bit better- questions such as the one I asked about her personality are really going to help me be in character on Night of the Notables, and being able to see this woman from a family members point of view gave me quite a bit of insight on her private life. I also got the chance to learn about some of her lesser known beliefs, and this knowledge prompted me to look into her accomplishments outside of the legalization of contraceptives.
One of the most interesting parts of this interview was seeing a family member’s and expert’s opinion on some of her controversial beliefs, such as eugenics and anti-abortion views. This was actually one of the major points I had to consider while choosing my eminent person, as I definitely don’t support either of these views. In the end I decided that her accomplishments outweighed these beliefs, just like Mr. Sanger believes, and although I didn’t want to focus on them, I think that this information shouldn’t be hidden.
The interview went wonderfully, and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to interview Mr. Sanger, because of both his relation to my eminent person, and his expertise in the field of reproductive rights.