How birth control became everybody's business

In the 1800s, what was once a personal choice became an issue of public decency

This October marks the 97th anniversary of the opening of the first Birth Control Clinic, in Brooklyn. It was opened by Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League (which would later become Planned Parenthood). The clinic remained open for nine days before police shut it down and arrested Sanger for distributing obscene materials.

Before the mid-19th century, birth control was the unspoken, private concern of women and their sexual partners. But in the 1800s, American society changed, and what was once a personal choice became an issue of public decency. The run-up to the opening of Sanger's birth control clinic is a fascinating — and troubling — story of tumultuous change and social engineering.

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