Among the many science papers preserved online is the famous (and at one time, infamous) column written by Margaret Sanger. It only ran for a short while and was banned for obscenity, but now remains one of the more interesting historical documents out there.
Stanger coined the term "birth control" in 1914. Think about what the world would be like now if that concept hadn't become an accepted practice for the vast majority of Americans, through constant advocacy.
In 1914, every form of birth control (except abstinence) wasn't just an illegal practice, it was an illegal subject. People who gave even simple, factual advice about how to avoid pregnancy while still engaging in sexual activity were prosecuted under the Comstock Act. It wasn't a passive law; some police forces engaged women to write letters to physicians, inventing pitiful stories and begging for advice, only to prosecute the doctors if they wrote back with medical information. In this environment, Margaret Sanger wrote a series of columns for the paper The Call which revealed basic sexual information. The first article was entitled "What Every Girl Should Know."
Sanger reasons that women should be informed so they can stay virtuous, writing:
"Your treatment of this subject is dangerous," said a very earnest social worker a few weeks ago. "Such knowledge will prevent our young girls from marrying." To which I replied that my object in telling young girls the truth is for the definite purpose of preventing them from entering into sexual relations whether in marriage or out of it, without thinking and knowing."
She also had a few words about masturbation, saying that it "gives the individual unlimited opportunity for indulgence, and consequently drains and exhausts the system of the vitality necessary for full development."
Her columns did not violate the Comstock Act, as they gave out only the most sterile advice about puberty and sexually transmitted diseases. Nevertheless, they were banned. Afterwards, The Call printed a blank page except for the headline, "What Every Girl Should Know," and the word "Nothing."
You can read the full series online here. Stick it to the 1910s!
Image: Library of Congress.