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Margaret Sanger's Brownsville Clinic, 1916

Time Capsule-Historic Images and Recollections (Historic Events)


At this location in 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the Brownsville Clinic- the first birth control clinic in the United States. Sanger opened the clinic on October 16, 1916 and was operated secretly, with supporters using word-of-mouth to get the information of the clinic's existence to women who might be interested in the services Sanger provided. It was difficult to keep the clinic secret after many women who were interested in learning more about birth control flocked to the Brownsville clinic. Police raided the clinic shortly after its opening and arrested Sanger and others which resulted in the immediate closure of the clinic. However, Sanger was then released and reopened the clinic until the police forced the landowner to evict Sanger. Although it was only open for a few months, Sanger's clinic is historically significant as the first of its kind and a reflection of the growing interest among women about birth control. It also demonstrates the opposition that Sanger and other advocates of birth control would face.

Clinic exterior at 46 Amboy Street
Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne and Yiddish interpreter Fania Mindell counseling clients.
Mothers with carriages stand outside the Brownsville Clinic, Brooklyn


In 1914, Margaret Sanger fled to England because she had nine chargers of violating Comstock Law. While in England, she met several people that helped her justify the use of birth control. She also met a psychologist whose theories helped Sanger expand her arguments for birth control; "arguing, for example, that a woman should be able to enjoy sexual relations without the worry of becoming pregnant (Margaret Sanger)." Once Sanger returned to the United States and her charges were dropped, she pursed her cause to educate others on birth control, and at this time, she started the Brownsville Clinic.

Sanger worried that women would not come to the clinic due to laws that prevented her from publicly spreading the word. In an interview, Sanger said “it was a crisp, bright morning on October 16, 1916, in Brooklyn, N.Y., that I opened the doors of the first birth-control clinic in the United States. I believed then, and do today, that this was an event of social significance in the lives of American womanhood. Three years before, as a professional nurse, I had gone with a doctor on a call in New York’s lower East Side. I had watched a frail mother die from a self-induced abortion. The doctor previously had refused to give her contraceptive information. The mother was one of a thousand such cases; in New York alone there were over 100,000 abortions a year. That night I knew I could not go on merely nursing, allowing mothers to suffer and die. . . . It was the beginning of my birth-control crusade (Grimaldi)." Women did come to the clinic when it opened, but it was shut down only 10 days after opening. The police used undercover cops to obtain enough information to raid the clinic. "She re-opened the Clinic on November 14 but was arrested again, this time charged with maintaining a public nuisance. She opened the Clinic once more on November 16, but police forced the landlord to evict Sanger and her staff, and the Clinic closed its doors a final time (Grimaldi)."

After being shutdown for the last time, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. Her mission with founding this league was to educate women on the prevention of pregnancy. She used lectures and writings to inform women.
In 1923, the first legal birth control clinic opened under Sanger and the league. It was known as the Clinical Research Bureau. The American Birth Control League eventually turned into Planned Parenthood. 


Grimaldi, Jill. "Sanger’s First Clinic." Margaret Sanger Papers Project. 2010. Accessed May 29, 2016.

 Grimaldi, Jill. "Margaret Sanger Papers Project." Margaret Sanger Papers Project. October 16, 2015. Accessed May 29, 2016.

"Margaret Sanger." Margaret Sanger. Accessed May 25, 2016.

46 Amboy St
Brownsville, NY 11212
Phone Number
  • Cultural History
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medicine and Mental Health
  • Women’s History
This location was created on 2016-05-29 by Christina Giles .   It was last updated on 2017-06-12 by Clio Admin .

This entry has been viewed 2229 times within the past year


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