Media and publications became an important resource for activists and organizations in advocating women's rights and spreading information. One way mainstream activists were able to print magazines within legal requirements was by avoiding discussing actual birth control information and saving these arguments for lecture circuits, pamphlets, and books. In spite of this, many activists were still arrested for breaking obscenity laws.
Below, the similarities and differences between three publications showcase the ways activists used periodicals to achieve their goals. The Woman Rebel and The Birth Control Review were both well-known magazines published by Margaret Sanger. The last publication, The Birth Control Outlook, was found in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center with other correspondence surrounding its creation. From this more obscure magazine, we can gain an understanding of the lesser-known history behind the birth control movement.
The Woman Rebel: No Gods No Masters asserts itself as a publication that will not "adjust" itself for any audience. It was Margaret Sanger's first attempt to spread information about women's rights and contraception. The aims put forth by the magazine invite all working women to express and exchange unapologetic views on feminism and sex education.
The Birth Control Review, the longest running of the three, qualifies as the most legitimate. Also created by Margaret Sanger and then continued by the American Birth Control League, this magazine caters toward the institutionalization of birth control. Although its content was still somewhat controversial, it lacked the indifference to outside opinion that characterized The Woman Rebel.
Less information is known about The Birth Control Outlook. Its only edition was published by a group called "Woman's Activities," consisting mainly of editor-in-chief Josephine (Lewis) Skeehan. How did a school-teacher from California end up trying to create her own birth control magazine? Unfortunately, the materials that have been preserved in the Ernst collection leave more questions than answers. Skeehan articulates the philosophy of The Birth Control Outlook in an editorial: "We are entering an era of learning and civilization, where we are prepared to admit there is nothing impure in nature, nothing indecent or obscene created, but man or woman makes it so, by abuse or good, fear or ignorance."
In later correspondence with their attorney, the American Birth Control league maintained that Skeehan had no connection to their organization or Margaret Sanger. They refer to a letter from March 4, 1932 where Skeehan reached out to Mrs. Morton Keeney about her magazine. The ABCL determined then that The Birth Control Outlook was a "commercial underaking under the guise of educational activity."
The ABCL may have considered The Birth Control Outlook a commercial activity because of its emphasis on advertising. The publication includes "obscene" ads that depict what only belonged in medical journals at the time. There is also a quote attributed to Woman's Activities on one of the first pages that asserts the importance of advertisements: "Advertising, thus made accessible, is one of the most needed factors today, for ultimate success in reaching the poor and the poor 'rich child.'" Meaning, advertising creates further opportunities to spread information and contraceptive devices to people of all socioeconomic statuses. Due to its inappropriate content and the plagiarism of several articles, The Birth Control Outlook was quickly dismissed by the mainstream movement after its first issue in 1934. It is unclear if the magazine achieved its goal of reaching all newsstands in the "forty-eight states of the Union."