Little Bits of History

It’s My Body

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 7, 2013
Estelle Griswold

Estelle Griswold

June 7, 1965: Griswold v. Connecticut is decided. The US Supreme Court case 381 U.S, 479 (1965) was argued March 29, 1965. Estelle T. Griswold and C. Lee Buxton v. Connecticut had begun in 1962 in the Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit. The case was brought to Circuit Court, Appellate Division in 1963 and the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1964. The case challenged a Connecticut law prohibiting “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.” The law had been passed in 1879 but was rarely enforced.

Tileston v. Ullman (1943) saw a doctor/mother challenge the constitutionality of the law. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court who said the plaintiff had no standing to sue on behalf of her patients. Poe v. Ullman (1961) was dismissed again, this time because the plaintiffs had not been charged or threatened with prosecution. Justice John Marshall Harlan II filed a dissenting opinion in the Poe case decrying the lack of Due Process by imposing laws of “arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints.”

Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. Dr. C. Lee Buxton was a physician and professor at Yale School of Medicine. To once again test a law prohibiting contraception, the two opened a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, Connecticut. They were immediately arrested, tried, found guilty, and fined $100 each (≈ $700 today). The court system upheld the convictions as the case moved up the appeals ladder.

The Supreme Court heard arguments by Griswold stating the law was unconstitutional because it was in conflict with Amendment 14, Section 1, that states “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…nor deny any person the equal protection of the laws.” This early reversal only applied to married couples. Single women were not afforded the same protection until 1972 when Eisenstadt v. Baird found they, too, had a right to privacy.

“A crying baby is the best form of birth control.” – Carole Tabron

“Contraceptives should be used on every conceivable occasion.” – Spike Milligan

“It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.” – H.L. Mencken

“When the history of civilization is written, it will be a biological history and Margaret Sanger will be its heroine.” – H.G. Wells

“Those who in principle oppose birth control are either incapable of arithmetic or else in favor of war, pestilence and famine as permanent features of human life.” – Bertrand Russell

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Trying to control fertility is an ago old problem. Since ancient times, women have increased the amount of time they breastfed babies in the hopes of forestalling the next pregnancy. Even in the Bible, there is evidence of coitus interruptus used as birth control (and where the Catholic Church gets its stance on the subject) when Onan uses the method. Both birth control and abortion were documented in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The Kahun Gynecological Papyrus lists various methods of birth control and is dated about 1859 BC. It lists pessaries and acacia gum which acts as a spermicide. There were a variety of plants used throughout the Middle and Far East as well as in Ancient Greece and Rome that would help with contraception. Silphium was once such plant and was in such demand that eventually the plant went extinct. 

Also on this day: A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama – In 1914 the Panama Canal was found to work.
Treaty of Tordesillas – In 1494, this treaty was signed, parceling out the New World.
Lee, but not Robert E. – In 1776, the Lee Resolution was presented to the Second Continental Congress.

Planned Parenthood

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 16, 2011

Margaret Sanger

October 16, 1916: Margaret Sanger opens a family planning and birth control clinic. This was a first in the US and was not immediately accepted. Police raided 46 Amboy Street in Brooklyn, New York just nine days later. Sanger was sentenced to 30 days in prison for this outrage. An appeal was filed and rejected. In 1918, Judge Frederick E. Crane of the New York Court of Appeals finally permitted doctors to prescribe birth control products.

Margaret Higgins Sanger was an American sex educator, nurse, and birth control activist. She was one of 11 children born to her Catholic mother and atheist father. Mrs. Higgens also miscarried 7 times and died of tuberculosis and cervical cancer leaving the young Margaret to care for younger siblings. She attended nursing school and in 1902 she married William Sanger and the young couple settled in New York City. By 1912 Sanger was practicing nursing in the slums of Manhattan and began writing a column for the New York Call concerning women’s reproductive issues.

Sanger continued to minister to poor women who were suffering the ill effects of frequent pregnancies and self-induced abortions. She also became associated with several other activists of the era. As she was tending to a patient who was quite ill from a self-induced abortion, a doctor’s advice to the woman to remain abstinent in order to prevent further pregnancies angered Sanger and gave her a new mission in life. She became an advocate for reproductive autonomy and helped women control their bodies. Her husband became her ally in the cause.

In 1915 while visiting a Dutch birth control clinic, Sanger learned of a diaphragm and how effective it was in limiting unwanted pregnancies. When she came back to the US, she took action and opened her own clinic. In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League and traveled extensively to spread the message, at home and abroad. She continued to work towards the education of women and was finally able to open her first legal birth control clinic with the help of wealthy supporters in 1923. Her facility was staffed with only females and received several government grants. Her work carried forward even after her death in 1966.

“A free race cannot be born of slave mothers.”

“She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.”

“When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race.”

“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers – and before it can be his, it is hers alone.” – all from Margaret Sanger

Also on this day:
Cardiff Giant– In 1869, a petrified giant is found near Cardiff.
Complex Numbers – In 1843, quaternions were first defined.