Posts Tagged ‘Comstock Law’

The “birth control agitators” of Union Square

March 13, 2010

Talking about birth control in public was pretty radical stuff in 1916.

But that’s what anarchist, free love advocate, and all-around rule-breaker Emma Goldman (in photo below) and a handful of other “birth control agitators,” as a next-day New York Times article called them, did on May 20 of that year in Union Square. 

A crowd of about 500 came to hear them speak.

In the years following this rally, Margaret Sanger became the marquee name associated with the birth control movement. But it was Goldman, who lived on East 13th Street, who was an early pioneer.

She’d already been arrested for violating the 1873 Comstock Law, which prohibited distributing information on contraception. 

After an outcry that prompted the Manhattan DA at the time to promise he wouldn’t arrest activists who spoke in a “properly regulated forum,” Goldman and her cohorts set up the Union Square rally.