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Margaret Sanger’s Jewish Allies

Lawrence Bush
September 13, 2017

Margaret Sanger (not Jewish), whose activism and sacrifice led to the legalization and normalization of birth control in American life and the establishment of Planned Parenthood, was born in Corning, New York on this date in 1879. Finding her calling while working among working-class women on New York’s Lower East Side, Sanger was active in the Socialist Party and in labor actions of the IWW, including the 1912 Lawrence textile strike and the 1913 Paterson silk strike. Among her key allies in the feminist birth control movement were Fania Mindell (at left in the photo at top, with Sanger in the center), who, with Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, opened the first birth control clinic in America, the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn, which led to their arrest for “distribution of obscene materials” (including Yiddish birth-control pamphlets). Another Jewish ally was Anna Lifschiz, Sanger’s secretary from 1916 to the early 1920s; Emma Goldman, who was arrested several times for defending Sanger’s work; Rose Pastor Stokes, a celebrity activist by virtue of her marriage to a man of great wealth; Dr. Hannah Meyer Stone, director of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB), later called the Margaret Sanger Bureau, which opened in New York City in 1923; and Gertrude Weil, a suffragist and civil rights activist in North Carolina, who was a lifelong financial supporter of Planned Parenthood.

“Female Jewish doctors directed birth control clinics throughout the country, Rachelle Slobodinsky Yarros (1869–1946), M.D., in Chicago; Bessie Moses, M.D., in Baltimore; Sarah Marcus (1894–1985), M.D., in Cleveland; and Nadina Rinstein Kavinoky (1888–?), M.D., in Los Angeles. For all of these women, working in a birth control clinic provided the professional recognition and responsibility still largely unavailable to them in the male-dominated worlds of academic medicine and hospital politics.” --Rebecca Davis, Jewish Women’s Archive

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.