Lit Up

The Voice of WIC

Prof. Esther Katz & the Margaret Sanger Papers Project November 1, 2007

Filed under: Around the city — NYU WIC @ 2:05 pm

The other day, Professor Esther Katz came to speak to one of my classes about her work with the Margaret Sanger Papers Project. As editor and director of the project, Prof. Katz has been working to publish the writings of Margaret Sanger since 1987. So far, two volumes of Sanger’s papers have been published, with a third due out in 2008. There is also a digital edition of the project which began three years ago.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) is considered the founder of the modern birth control sangerportrait.jpgmovement. Most notably, she started the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood. Sanger believed that there was no way men and women could truly be equals until they were equal sexually. Giving women the power to decide when they wanted to have children put them one step closer to sexual equality.

In addition, Sanger led an exciting and often scandalous life. “These are great documents to read,” Prof Katz said of Sanger’s papers. “These are not boring documents at all.” For example, Sanger fled to England during the World War I and lived under an assumed name, while still publishing graphic (at the time they were called obscene) explanations of birth control methods. She also had a number of high profile affairs, including one with H.G. Wells, and met with Gandhi to convince him that celibacy was not an effective way to deal with overpopulation.

One portion of the digital edition of Sanger’s papers focuses on her newspaper “The Woman Rebel,” a monthly newspaper that aimed to free women from gender oppression and educate them on contraceptive methods. “Birth control” is a term first coined in the pages of Sanger’s newspaper. The content of “The Woman Rebel” violated laws on distributing lewd and lascivious materials, and so Sanger left for England to avoid standing trial.

prof_katz.jpgProf. Katz said the Sanger site is often blogged about because there are many people with anti-abortion views who dislike Sanger and try to use her writings against her. “There are lunatics out there,” Prof. Katz said. Sanger also believed in the eugenics movement, and so some try to label her as racist. On the other hand, Prof. Katz noted that Planned Parenthood advocates tend to play down Sanger’s faults to present a positive image of the movement’s founder.

The NYU project enlists undergraduate student interns for both the print and digital editions of the papers. Usually there are one to two interns during the school year and more during the summer. Book interns tend to work mostly on research, while digital interns can work on proofreading, research and tagging the documents.

For more information, visit the Margaret Sanger Papers Project site.

-Liz Webber


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