Book Club: Woman Rebel – The Margaret Sanger Story

Now that comic books have become the source material for blockbuster movies, the oft-told story of the maligned and misunderstood superhero should be a familiar one, even to many who have never read a comic. Think Professor Xavier’s cohort in the X-Men movies or Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. They’re extraordinary. They’re also flawed, often unable to shake the ghosts of an uneasy past. But their powers, not their shortcomings, are the reason they’re so maligned. No matter their good intentions, they challenge what is known and established, earning them fear and distrust.


Bagge’s graphic novel is a refreshing contribution to a medium that is often a guilty pleasure at best.


Given that trope, maybe it wasn’t such an odd idea to give the comic book treatment to the life of Margaret Sanger, the reproductive rights pioneer and founder of Planned Parenthood. Writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, a veteran of alternative comics, does just that in Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013). The outcome is a graphic novel that doesn’t let exaggerated expressions, vivid colors, and terse speech bubbles derail an intelligent and sensitive retelling of Sanger’s life.

Comparing Sanger to a superhero might be hyperbole, but Sanger’s trailblazing work not only created the movement to advocate for birth control but also spurred the development of the oral contraceptive, or “the Pill.” She had the drive and the know-how to contribute to the movement as an author, editor, lecturer, and founder of a reproductive health clinic. Along the way, Sanger helped change the laws that stood in the way of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, while rubbing shoulders (and sometimes developing romances) with many luminaries of her time, from novelists to political agitators to wealthy industrialists. March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment — a theme perfect for someone of Sanger’s stature. Sanger’s visionary efforts earned her many accolades — as well as a campaign of character assassination that has called her everything from a fascist to a proponent of genocide. Continue reading

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: Reclaiming the Spotlight

Photo credit: Arizona Historical Society

“The first thing when you opened your eyes, before actual dawn, you beheld the gold and purple and then the entire sky break into color. In the evening the sunsets were reflected on the mountains in pink-lavender shades; sometimes the glow sprayed from the bottom upward, like the footlights of a theater, until the tips were aflame. Sunset vanished as quickly as the sunrise, never lingering long.”
– Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography

Margaret Sanger’s more laid-back years in Tucson saw her with the free time to try out new things, such as cooking and painting. Another role in which Sanger indulged was as the hostess of some of Tucson’s most lavish parties. This was partly an attempt to reclaim some of her former celebrity – she missed the attention and sought once again to be in the spotlight, if only locally. Continue reading