Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Lauren Sklaroff


It is nearly impossible to read the news in the United States today without hearing the name Planned Parenthood, but few Americans know about the origins of this organization. Margaret Sanger founded the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, the precursor to Planned Parenthood, in 1923, but this was not the first time she opened a clinic. In this paper, I assess Margaret Sanger’s 1916 opening of the Brownsville Clinic, the first birth control clinic in the United States, and the responses to this event from multiple historical perspectives. I use historical newspapers to demonstrate how popular media, legal experts, and laywomen viewed the Brownsville Clinic, Sanger, and her mission. In the papers, Sanger and her followers are depicted alternatively as brave activists, helpless women, or unprepared dreamers, but these reports do have something in common. They show that, while Sanger’s original mission was to bring birth control access to the working-class women of New York, her goals shifted over the course of her trial to challenging the New York legal system and labeling birth control access as a legal issue.


© 2022, Rebecca Linnea Hall