If there were any justice in this world, Margaret Sanger would be the face on our $20 bill. In the first few decades of the 20th century, Sanger was a vocal advocate for birth control at a time when books and magazines could be seized and banned by the government for even mentioning birth control. She met Emma Goldman, Eleanor Roosevelt, H. G. Wells, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gandhi. She was a free-love revolutionary, a nurse, a feminist leader before the word "feminism" was commonly known, and an outspoken advocate for the poor and forgotten.
But Margaret Sanger hasn't been immortalized in any notable way, and that's thanks to two things: America's lazy approach to history and a dedicated smear campaign to erase strong female role models from the history books. If she's remembered at all, Sanger is now remembered as a creepy proponent of eugenics. (Family planning isn't eugenics, and Sanger argued with pro-eugenics thinkers at every opportunity.) And, sure, she had her flaws—she wasn't a particularly good mother, it could be argued—but how many portraits of slave owners do you have sitting in your wallet right now? Sanger has been marginalized and diminished, cheating generations of young women out of an important role model.
Click to enlarge this sample page from Woman Rebel.
This is a terrible injustice. How it hasn't been addressed before now is a mystery, but the happy truth is that Sanger's historical exile may finally be at an end. And you couldn't guess the person who's decided to clear her good name if you tried. Turns out, her greatest advocate may just be a middle-aged white male libertarian cartoonist from Seattle.
I've been reading Peter Bagge's comics since I was 13 years old. In my early 20s, I was an avid reader of his ongoing comic Hate; his slacker alter ego Buddy Bradley was always about 10 years older than me, serving as a kind of road map, or more often a warning flare, from my future. I've enjoyed Bagge's recent short-form comics like Sweatshop and Other Lives, though I've missed his affinity for pacing a story out to the length and breadth of a whole life. All of which goes to say that I'm a fan. (And I'm not the only one; local poet Ed Skoog once remarked with great happiness at the beginning of a beer-fueled reading in a parking garage that he finally felt like a character in a Peter Bagge comic.) So I do not say this lightly: I think Bagge's new biography of Sanger, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, is the best work of his career...