A fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Sanger. A woman who believed every woman had the right to control how many children she had.  She fought tirelessly for women's rights. Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman.

Terrible Virtue

By Ellen Feldman


Critical Praise:


“Terrible Virtue is captivating, powerful, headlong and inventive—just like its subject. A beautifully wrought, compulsively readable novel. Ellen Feldman can do anything.” — Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Salem, 1692

“[A] highly topical novelization of the life of Margaret Sanger…. We need her story now more than ever.” — Elle

“Feldman compellingly portrays the difficult choices confronting women living in a man’s world.... This immersive, moving, and thought-provoking book is worthy of the intense discussions it’s sure to spark.” — Booklist, starred review
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*Discussion Questions



1. In what important ways was Margaret Sanger influenced by her mother and father?

2. Margaret’s father believed that “formal education was nothing but a tool to breed docility.” What did he mean?

3. What was the unexpected value of Margaret’s time at Claverack College? What did she learn about herself and where she was from?

4. Why does Margaret believe so ardently in sexually open relationships? Is her unwillingness to be monogamous about personal freedom? Emotional capacity? Experience?

5. Why, despite deeply valuing personal freedom, did Margaret marry twice?

6. What was attractive and valuable to Margaret about Bill Sanger? In what ways was the marriage “a different kind of union” or not?

7. Why did Margaret initially not want to have children? Why did she decide to have them?

8. Is Margaret’s decision to spend so much time away from her children for the sake of her political and social work justified?

9. Margaret invented the fictional story of Sadie Sachs to represent the many suffering women but told it as fact. Why did she invent the story? In what ways is such a deceit justified or not? How can something not factual still be true?

10. Margaret strategizes to profoundly change the law by breaking it and pursuing the issues in court. Mary Ware Dennett thought it better to try to lobby legislators to change the laws. What are the potential advantages or disadvantages of each approach to social change?

11. Why was the issue of women’s reproductive health a forbidden topic for so long?

12. Is Margaret really immune to jealousy? And what does her competitiveness with other women say about the subject?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)


Book Summary
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.
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