Terrible Virtue

Terrible Virtue

by Ellen Feldman

Overview: In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.

The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.

This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.

With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.

Debbie Weiss (01/03/17): I found this book to be a very interesting read. We take it for granted today that birth control for a woman is easily available, safe and effective, but this was not always the case. It always takes a rebel to advocate for an unpopular policy and it takes many years for people to change their minds about such matters. In this case, Margaret Sanger was the rebel. She fought for birth control and the right to obtain contraceptives with an urgency that was almost inexplainable, especially when she neglected her children in order to concentrate on her cause. She was years ahead of her time with her outlook on sexual freedom for women. She was an interesting individual and all women owe her a big thank you for all her efforts.

Judy Stanton (06/14/16): This is a wonderful historical fiction novel about Margaret Sanger, the most well known advocate of birth control education for women. The book brings the reader back to a time when it was illegal to give women information about what they could do to NOT get pregnant. Seeing her mother weakened by having 11 children and several miscarriages, Sanger takes this on as her life's work. Sadly, it is to the detriment of her children, who are left in boarding schools with little communication or personal relationship with their celebrity mother. The book is a quick, page turning read, speaking to the reader with Margaret's voice...with short entries from others in her life...her husband, her children, her lovers...to give a full perspective of how she was viewed. She is portrayed as a determined rebel who took on the world to accomplish her objective...but also as a real person, who had many shortcomings and unhappy relationships with those closest to her. A great read.

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