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Roots of the Pill: First-Wave Feminism

The enemies of progress and liberty never surrender and never die. Ever since the days of cave men they have stood ready with their sledgehammers to strike any liberal idea on the head whenever it appeared. They are still active, hysterically active, over our amendment; still imagining, as their progenitors for thousands of years have done, that a fly sitting on a wheel may command it to revolve no more and it will obey. They are running about from State to State, a few women and a few paid men. They dash to Washington to hold hurried consultations with senatorial friends and away to carry out instructions... It does not matter. Suffragists were never dismayed when they were a tiny group and all the world was against them. What care they now when all the world is with them? March on, suffragists, the victory is yours! The trail has been long and winding; the struggle has been tedious and wearying; you have made sacrifices and received many hard knocks; be joyful today. Our final victory is due, is inevitable, is almost here. Let us celebrate to day, and when the proclamation comes I beg you to celebrate the occasion with some form of joyous demonstration in your own home State. Two armistice days made a joyous ending of the war. Let two ratification days, one a National and one a State day, make a happy ending of the denial of political freedom to women!

Katharine McCormick
in a 1920 speech to suffragists


If after attaining their freedom, women accept conditions in the spheres of government, industry, art, morals and religion as they find them, they will be but taking a leaf out of man's book. The woman is not needed to do man's work. She is not needed to think man's thoughts. She need not fear that the masculine mind, almost universally dominant, will fail to take care of its own. Her mission is not to enhance the masculine spirit, but to express the feminine; hers is not to preserve a man-made world, but to create a human world by the infusion of the feminine element into all of its activities.

Margaret Sanger


Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick were actually women of another era. They were already middle-aged women by [the time of the Pill's development]. And I think it's very important that they were in fact shaped by what we call first wave feminism, by the women who were part of the original struggle for the right to vote, for the right to own property, for the right to an education.

Linda Gordon

McCormick and Sanger were feminists, but they subscribed to a feminism that late 1960s feminists were sometimes uncomfortable with. McCormick had said as early as 1958 that she didn't give two hoots about the male contraceptive. She felt that women, to be free from the responsibilities of pregnancy prevention, needed to be able to control this for themselves. That they shouldn't have to consult men.

Andrea Tone

Early Influences
Early Activism
> First-Wave Feminism
Conceiving the Pill

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