Tag Archives: Margaret Sanger

World War II-birth control and the New Deal

Against the State, AGainst the church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.

 Margaret Sanger 1940 

WORLD WAR II-the New Deal and birth control

For the women born in 1940, sex was dangerous.  There was no support for choosing to be pregnant or not.  Sixteen million men and women were in World War II and 8 out of 10 high school graduates were in the military service.  Jobs needed at the shipyards, in the farms and the family businesses, such as my grandfather’s gas and oil business, were managed and run by  600,000 women until the war ended and the men returned.  The New Deal had not come about by President Roosevelt, and so the women and children depended on the extended kin and family and the church as support to them.  There was 4% divorce at that time, and mostly the husband, occasionally the wife left the family and disappeared and were never heard from again.

After the war, 28.6% women worked out of the home, and there was a mixture as people lef their families of origin during the war and then after with the use of the VA loan and the VA  bill for college.  Under FDR and the New Deal, the single family credit and social welfare gave a basis of support for the nuclear family that emerged post World War II.  In general, women did not go to college, drive or own property, serve on juries or lease apartments.  But for the women who did attend college, Home Economics was a major and a minor course considered appropriate.  Feminism, if identified or spoken of, was not a thread throughout the culture and its meaning to most was ambiguous, related to a few women and men who held a standard of equality as a social good, as well as an advance for women.   The pejorative word attributed to women at the time was to point out the lack of what was considered feminine graces and value.

Sexuality studies

It would be the case that Freud studied  the sexuality of women relative to their function in producing children and being a responsive partner to their husbands.  Kinsey and Masters and Johnson took the study of the function of sexuality in the lives of men and women, using scientific methods to measure effects of sexuality, function and dysfunction for both male and female.  But the topic of women’s desire and the  emotional content relative to women and their sexuality would be considered much after women had access to birth control in 1964, Civil Rights and Roe VS Wade in 1973.

The Mystique and the pill

The consciousness and the history of women’s sexuality evolved from the early days of Margaret Sanger raised the issue of comstockery.  Women being used to bare children to work on the farms providing their own free labor.  Then in 1951 at age 72, Margaret Sanger got a small grant for Gregory Pincus and the Worchester Foundation to research the process of ovulation with injections of progesterone that prohibited ovulation and pregnancy.   G. D. Searle also engaged in the process of the study of progesterone to address birth control.  However, it was Carl Djerassi in Mexico City who created the progesterone pill.  Again, the focus for women to be in control of their ovulation to manage their family size was a new idea whose time had come because of the relentless and passionate work of Margaret Sanger for over 40 years.  For most women, the issues around their sexuality were contained in the effort to be pregnant when unable to conceive, or the attempt to get help from their family doctors to monitor their cycles and pregnancies.

By 1961, birth control was still illegal in Connecticut but Dr. C. Lee Buxton, the Chairman of the Yale Medical School of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but finding a way to help women conceive was very much the effort of the medical community.  In the process of identifying the means to enhance potential pregnancy through progesterone, the unintentional consequence was the established knowledge that ovulation could be monitored and managed.   Women talked to their doctors to get the news of the availability of birth control pills.    By 1963, 1.2 million American women used the pill.  By 1967 12.5 million women world wide would use the pill for birth control.  It would be in 1972, that the federal government ruled that the states could not prohibit unmarried women from the use of the pill for birth control.

But what did women want in the bedroom and out of the bedroom was the question that now came up in the conversation.  In 1963, the best seller book written by Betty Friedan, “The Feminine Mystique” began a conversation among women, in pairs, in groups and ultimately in a movement about this intimate part of their lives  and how it connected to their personal liberty.  Cheryl Hite and the Hite Report, Erica Jung and Fear of Flying also created a new awareness for women about themselves.  They talked with each other and validated experiences about their own sexuality, their desires, their feelings about their sexuality.  They did not take this conversation to  authorities such as doctors and experts.  Even in the realm of sexuality, the communication between women about their lives has been a basis for changes in the identity and behavior chosen by some.  Always woman to woman there has been the igniting and inspiration to fulfill their commitment to liberty, deepened by their exposure to each other  from the days of the Suffragettes to the world we live in today.

This shift in culture, in knowledge and practice of  women determining their choices in their area of their sexuality was not entirely welcome by all women and a great deal of society considered the consequences of this social change.   Newspapers and magazines featured articles about the threats to the family in giving women more choices about their sex lives. The perceived threat was that women would be like men with this new freedom and would in their freedom challenge current morality and standards.

The New Deal also changed the family structure. Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social security, aid to children, and social services, family and only family and church were responsive to concerns, difficulties and finances of how people took care of themselves. With the New Deal, and World War II’s Veteran’s Loans, a new middle class would result with new homes and the ability to gain access to middle class through the VA educational benefit. The individual could function outside of the group, and mobilize toward a new concept of the single family unit.


While concern for a new society that might result from freeing women of the constraints prior to birth control,  a deep divide  among women who didn’t identify with the strident provocative tone of the Women’s Movement in the late 60’s provoked a schism, and had the women’s movement ultimately lost impact over time.   The polarities among the women, in families, in social groups, in colleges drove the national conversation further into conflict.   1973 would widen the gap even further with the Roe VS Wade decision.  Just as today in the current political atmosphere, there is challenge and conflict over the value of Planned Parenthood over 40 years later, and women choosing their destiny.  Further, the freedom of women and their choices are being challenged in over 40 states within the nation who are attempting to go back in time and bring back the constraints, restrictions to women’s ability to choose to bear children.

The new family, the new woman and the new social consciousness resulting from the 1970’s has 41% of women being the breadwinner in their families. Women are now able to conceive with a donor rather than a partner. The choice to marry is not a necessity for survival, parenting or sustaining a livelihood or being part of a community. Clusters of communities based on interests are a common core to many lives, not at the exclusion of family, but in addition. 2013 was reported by PEW research to be the first year that the majority of the population held the status of not married.   A new group identified are individuals who live with one or more unrelated people. The future has taken power not just to women in life choices, but clearly to men and women of all ages. The New Deal and birth control opened these doors to individual choice and destiny.






2012: structure and study of barefoot frontrunners


Where are we going, where have we been:  The history of feminism, suffragettes to millineals,  is about the women and the men who established  the measures of women’s rights to determine the use of their bodies, and civil rights bringing equality and access to the role of women in the world.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights that is not a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control.   The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the path to equality, stepping out on unpaved road to bring the gains of equality and dignity to humanity.  Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela stated “freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”  Women’s rights are human rights and the only future for humanity.

Where we have been is the story:  the  historical context of  the sexual and political advances of women  and their intimate stories as they lived through this period of change inside and out.   Where we are going is  to carry forward the feminism that addresses the betterment of humanity.  What has been given by the previous generation falls on the next to maintain and move forward.  



There are many definitions of feminism, for the purposes of Barefoot frontrunners, the inclusion of all, men or women,  who seek equality and dignity for all human beings is a good place to start.  The history of women’s rights as lived through by the women, from Baby Boomers to millenials, here and throughout the world is fresh terrain.  Those women had the benefit of  women’s rights in 1965 through a civil rights act, but brought the possibilities from the act into their lives and  may or may not be aware of how those benefits came to be.  The Barefoot frontrunners took on the rough terrain and  found their way through trial and error to establish their lives.

Another aspect to the showing the history, social and political, of sexual liberation are their personal and intimate stories.  The women’s movement as seen through the historians, like Ruth Rosen of University of California and Estelle Freedman of Stanford is still the essential to the education and representation of feminism throughout the world.  The work is not done, but in process.  As Estelle Freedman states it, feminism has been a middle class phenomena and  has not reached into the areas of the world where women suffering poverty and lack of education.

The continuum of this process of feminism corresponds to the level of humanity and dignity world wide.  The story of the barefoot frontrunners, where we are and how we got here, and where we need to go to expand women’s rights is the content and the perspective of this work.

The value of the stories of the women is to reflect the process of feminism is ongoing, showing up in different parts of our society.  These stories of the women who came through the sexual and political liberation of the past fifty years.  The work of feminism for the women who found their freedom and self expression reminds those who do not know the history, personal or political, the cost born by those who came first to these new interpretations of being a woman.  The women born in 1940 who responded to the invitation to be interviewed in every case had triumphed over the conditions, limitations, obstacles, hardships and disappointments.  There are many women who would have a different perspective and a different outcome, but this self selected group represents the positive deviants of the women who came through the sociopolitical changes of the past fifty years relative to their being a woman.

Positive deviance by definition is a description of those at one end of the continuum:  those who thrive, are inspired by and engaged with satisfaction in a process that could produce a variety of results, like women’s rights.   The fuller picture of those turning 70 would entail inclusion of  conditions resulting from limitations of access, opportunity and education and a range of issues related to health, social or marital, economic disparity.

What these women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners brought to the perspective was in fact that conditions of health and well being, education and economic vitality indicated either the positive or negative outcome of aging.     One aspect that was evident was that the  women interviewed  identified as being innovative and open to a variety of ways to problem solve.  Those interviewed came from a  group that meets monthly for over 35 years.  Rarely the same people attend, they are from all over the country, all ages, all stages, middle class the common denominator is being willing to risk exposure by presenting their question, and open to discovery in terms of the response they get from the group.

From this aggregate, the women who stepped forward relished the opportunity to tell their story though they were clear about the condition of anonymity as an interview process subject.  Consistently, as is probably self evident in their volunteering for the research, they were pleased with their current state of well being with a sense of security in the world.

Still they reported that for  each gain, each law, each standard, there were challenges; they described obstacles, obstructions, imposed limitations prior to sexual and political freedom, and then the new problems that came with civil rights and affirmative action.  They reflected on their responsibility in defining new paths.  Each spoke of not wanting a life “like my mother” in one form or another.  But they didn’t  know what would be asked of them with new freedom, and if they could meet the needs of the situations they encountered.  They reported both significant losses and thrilling gains in their passage through the years of social change.


All the significant changes in law and policy have happened  in the past 49 years for women, most specifically the pivotal year of 1964 when birth control became accessible through the work of Margaret Sanger who opened the first women’s clinic in 1939 and is the founder of Planned Parenthood.   The addition of women’s rights to the  civil rights act in 1965 became the law of the land, not necessarily the law in practice.


How did civil rights and birth control impact women? Unlike today with the ongoing 24/7 news of every place in the world and every significant news item publicized on our phones, on our computers with the newspaper being the slow route, not all women knew or participated in the process of gaining the benefits of women’s rights.  Change is chaotic, and the path and the directions for living life  through the transitions and conflict was welcomed and experienced by some, not all women, or men in the late 60’s.   It was a time of challenging sexual roles by both men and women.   Ultimately the civil rights act and affirmative action sought to provide a more level playing ground.  Given the mothers of the women born in the 40’s could not drive, own property or have access to birth control, this new world of opportunities to discern one’s own choices was confronting to many women.    

Prior to this period of liberation, women were taken in and cared for in the event of loss of husband by  extended family and churches.   Those days were before FDR and the New Deal with public policies to aid the family.   Divorce was rare,  most often the father just went away and left the family.   So change looked risky, liberation and freedom were concepts not all women embraced.  So some women led, some followed and some watched the black and white television reports of women aggressively speaking of equal rights in the 1960’s and didn’t identify with the process at all. Alongside the women who made the changes happen, these women also are barefoot frontrunners. 

The Barefoot Frontrunner

A profile emerges of who the barefoot frontrunners are today and throughout history.  She breaks the rules, finds her own path, and leads to places without the benefit of social agreement as well as those where there are legal grounds, but little social approval.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response  to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by their simple acts of courage.  The Barefoot Frontrunner takes their vision of the world, and expands the awareness and discomfort of the world to inequality and indignity.  Feminism has always been about reform, a social reform:  reform of prisons, a reform to temperance, equal pay, equal access to education and inclusion in academia and the job market.  Feminism has always been about women and men who seek equality through change.  Changes always come in response to the cracks in the solidity of positions held in society.  The struggle over the Viet Nam war and racism provided the conflict and a dawning consciousness that led to the heightened cohesion and action of the women’s movement to facilitate women’s rights.


16.1 million Americans were drafted into World War II on average for sixteen months.  Their jobs in the shipyards, in the factories, on the farms were taken by women who were needed for the war effort.   Rosie the Riveter is symbolic of all the women who took the jobs for the men who entered the war.  Workers’ rights came about during this period of time in the ship factories of Richmond, California, as well as other locations.  Many of the women who came to California left South Carolina, Georgia and Texas because of the jobs available to women at that time.  Those workers’ rights gained disappeared  once the soldiers returned to their jobs. Women were sent home in 1945, and the FHA single family homes launched a new era of independence and relocation for many. The return of the vets and the single family home purchases and baby boom boosted the sagging economy post World War II.

The VA loans for all the soldiers who returned offered access to home purchases and college entry allowing social mobility producing the bustling 1950’s. How were the women faring shows up could be a factor in  the highest recorded level of alcoholism attributed to  dissatisfaction that showed up in the mental and physical health of women .  Masters and Johnsons (Sexual History) Chapter 4) did a significant study on the sexual dysfunctions of unhappy wives. Not directly concerned with their unhappiness, but wanting to have the women more responsive to their roles of wife and mother.

It would be the Viet Nam war that allowed women to come out of their homes again in the mid 1960’s.   Protests, and the Anti-war and civil rights movements brought women together.  Reform of the war that was killing so many of America’s youth in Viet Nam, and the tragedies of three young girls in a Babtist Church in Alabama provoked the women participating in the anti war and civil rights protests.  They began talking to each other and noticed they were relegated to “women’s work of getting coffee and the paper work done” and began to invest themselves  in the Women’s Movement.  Also at this time, the Commission of Women’s Issues which President John F Kennedy brought into existence produced a document identifying 47 Sexual Injuries to women in the work place and in the home.   This group would ultimately leave the government and throw their considerable skills in public life to the work of the Women’s Movement. ( Ruth Rosen: The World Split Open )

Meanwhile Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique challenged women to consider a whole other level of understanding about their sexuality.    For those women,  their roles, society’s view of them and the contradictions they experienced, a new awareness of themselves emerged.  It was far from comfortable, particularly women towards women, to challenge the a priori of what was considered to be a successful woman at that time.  Those that did respond led themselves on a path with no guaranteed destination.  Without protection or structure, barefoot frontrunners, these women were ridiculed in the news reports as unfeminine, with family members who distanced themselves from their “strident and bossy” ways.  Even within the Women’s Movement, there was considerable conflict over what it meant to be liberated and who was and who wasn’t truly free.  In the fray of these conflicts, tv show hosts and comedians made light of the struggle.

For the majority of non urban women who were not in a college environment, there was no real understanding or knowledge of the need for the struggle underway, no way to assimilate what seemed alien to what they knew from the world around them.  The effect on these women was to distance themselves from the stereotype feminists.  As some made  new decisions, taking on new responsibilities and dealing with the hard work of establishing new identities, most women at that time steered clear of the conflict within themselves as well as the building of  external pressure from a changing society.

For all women, recognition of the doors opened with the  Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Chapter 6) and Affirmative Action  which brought more women into college and into jobs previously not available to them.  Life was changing across the United States, but most emphatically in California, New York and Chicago.


Women’s rights – feminism is a  work in progress.  The conditions for the values and practices of women’s rights are unevenly distributed outside the United States and within.  Those conditions that enhance the developments of feminism, that is equality and dignity to all people, are reducing poverty and making education available for all women in addition to having sexual education and responsibility in the hands of women and their choices about the use of their bodies.

Women have come a long way.   More women entered college as early as 1975, and that is the standard now.  Women have entered business and political life with success since the 80’s aided by the Affirmative Action policies of the late 70’s.  An equal number of women are head of households currently as their male partners, and 40% of the family incomes have women contributing equally to the household income.  Marriage is a choice, having children is a choice for women young and older today.(Chapter 5)  Women have their own 401K’s, their own health insurance. as the Barefoot frontrunners sample survey indicates,  women of social security age, most are self supporting, and will work for the remainder of their lives.  The past fifty years of women’s rights have changed the rules and the roles, but not for women in the areas of poor education and poverty anywhere in the United States.  Not for the women in countries where education of girls is prohibited.


Today  40  states  are attempting to reduce women’s rights through bills that outlaw birth control as well as abortion.  Most incongruous is the fact that abortions have diminished by 40% at the lowest level in thirty years because Planned Parenthood, schools and public awareness has given the means for girls and women to be responsible for potential pregnancies.  Therefore, the attempt to do away with birth control and abortion would only damage the increasing number of girls and women who are being responsible for pregnancy and disease.

Going back to the future is not a destination to aspire to.  It’s important that women coming along are aware of the need to carry forward of the work of previous generations to the freedoms earned by women today.  For the younger generations, gen x-ers or millineals for example, the work of the earlier generations gave them the women’s rights they have always had.    It may not be clear that all the changes that occurred for women and minorities were hard won and at a significant cost, and relatively recent, and sometimes an accidental gain.(Chapter 2)    .  They may or may not be aware of the fact that Planned Parenthood  has been around as long as the quest for freedom and equality for women has been, and has served with dignity and respect women, men and our communities with education and treatment.

So it is the Barefoot frontrunners

The purpose of this book is to provide that history, convey the challenges that have been and still are of concern to women, and the society we all say we want.  Those women in our history and in our world  who demand going forward, bringing equality and civil rights to  women through politics and education throughout the  world are the barefoot frontrunners. That is the future, the transformation, that leads from the vision of inclusion, rather than exclusion, -collaboration rather than competition and sustainability rather than opportunistic use of resources shared by society.   The work ahead will have much more gravitas and meaning if we understand the past, how  the gains have been made that have profoundly impacted the opportunities and choice provided by women’s rights.(Chapter 10)  These gains from the voices and actions of women unwilling to tolerate

conditions that violated  personal dignity and potential are ours to continue, ours to guarantee.

Gloria Steinem:  A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.