Margaret Sanger was a leader in women's sexual and contraceptive education and advocacy at a time in America when the Comstock Act determined any information about birth control and contraceptives themselves obscene and immoral -- and therefore illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
Sanger grew up in an Irish-Catholic family, one of 11 children, and blamed her mother's death on the toll 18 pregnancies had taken on her body (Sanger's mother ultimately died of tuberculosis). Inspired by this, Sanger left home, attended nursing school and began working as a visiting nurse on the Lower East Side in New York City. During this time, she saw first-hand the toll of unwanted pregnancies on immigrant women and their families, including botched back-alley and self-attempted abortions and the sickness, infection and death that followed.
In Brooklyn in 1916, Sanger opened the first American birth control clinic -- illegally -- which gave women education on reproductive health and information on using contraceptive devices. The clinic was raided nine days after it opened its doors. A few years later, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League -- which in 1942 would become the Planned Parenthood Foundation -- as well as the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, an organization that not only offered birth control, but also tracked its safety and effectiveness.
Sanger was also instrumental in leading the development of oral contraception, also known as "the pill." The first oral contraceptive gained FDA approval in 1960, just six years before Sanger's death.