Margaret Higgins was born in 1883, the sixth of eleven children. She studied at Claverack College, followed by nurses training at the White Plains Hospital in New York and the Manhattan Eye and Ear Clinic. She taught for a time, then moved into obstetrical nursing- caring for pregnant women. She married twice. She divorced William Sanger in 1900, and married Noah Slee in 1922.
As she worked with pregnant women she began to identify a correlation between uncontrollable birth rates and poverty, high infant and mother mortality rates and botched abortions. At that time social taboos were strong against discussing birth control. Furthermore there were legal inhibitions against publicizing facts about contraception.
Still, Margaret Sanger believed that it was of utmost importance to women's and children's welfare to reduce uncontrolled birth rates. She quit her job to promote the cause of birth control, and when she published a magazine called the Woman Rebel, she was charged with mailing materials advocating birth control. The charges were dropped, but the attitude was pervasive. When she opened a birth control clinic she was charged with creating a nuisance and spent thirty days in jail for her trouble. In the course of her work, she coined the term 'birth control', which is commonly used today.
Ironically, the public didn't appreciate the legal harassment she endured and they began increasingly to side with her. Before long doctors were allowed to give recommendations regarding birth control. Then the Comstock Act which classified birth control literature "obscene" was reinterpreted, which meant doctors could import and prescribe contraceptives.
In 1921 Sanger founded the American Birth Control League to promote birth control and educate the public. This organization was a predecessor of the Birth Control Federation of America. In 1942, the Federation's name was changed to Planned Parenthood, a change Sanger fought strongly. She believed the name change didn't adequately state the purpose of the organization. Nonetheless, she acted as honorary chair of Planned Parenthood, and was the first president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1927 she organized the first World Population Conference in Geneva Switzerland. She died in 1966 in Tucson, Arizona.