On the Fourth of July, we tend to celebrate the men who built this great country: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and so on and so forth. Yet we rarely celebrate the women who made America possible, as well — particularly by championing sexual education and reproductive rights. This Independence Day, let's celebrate the unsung heroines who fought tirelessly for the freedoms and reproductive rights we have today.
1. Margaret Sanger
Sanger came of age at the time of the Comstock Act, a federal statute that criminalized contraceptives and other articles of "immoral use." Under the Comstock Act, Americans could be sentenced to up to five years of imprisonment with hard labor for having or distributing information about birth control and abortion.
Sanger, however, had zero fucks to give. She trained as a nurse and spread information about reproductive health wherever she worked. She was indicted in 1915 for sending diaphragms through the mail, then arrested the following year for opening the country's first official birth control clinic.
Yet Sanger would not be deterred. In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, the precursor to what we now call the Planned Parenthood Federation.
2. Mary Calderone
Born in 1904, Calderone was light years ahead of her time in terms of sex education. An Ivy League-educated doctor, Calderone carried on Sanger's movement for reproductive rights by becoming the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1953. Calderone rocked the boat by founding the Sexuality Information and Education Council to promote sex education nationwide, convincing the American Medical Association to tell their patients about family planning and endorse birth control prescriptions. Her work played a huge role in introducing the conversation about sexuality and reproductive health into the mainstream.
3. Katharine McCormick
A friend of Margaret Sanger and a prominent member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, McCormick moved to the West Coast to personally oversee the development of the birth control pill. She was an Industrial Age heiress and biologist who used her massive inheritance to fund research and development for an oral contraceptive pill that developed the nickname "The Pill," which finally hit the market in the 1960s.
4. Denise Oliver-Velez
The 1960s saw the rise of the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican movement influenced by the Black Panther Party. Women of the YLO fought to prioritize reproductive rights and crusaded against "macho" views of social justice, which largely ignored women's health.
Activists like Denise Oliver-Velez demanded such rights as legal abortion and contraception, an end to forced sterilization, prenatal and postnatal care for poor women and affordable day care. Oliver-Velez also pioneered the political fight for sexual equality for women of color. Today, she's teaching the next generation how to stick it to the patriarchy as a professor of women's studies at the State University of New York.
From Jazz Age rebels to modern women like California Congresswoman Judy Chu, who is one of the leaders of the fight against anti-abortion legislation, this Independence Day we remember the hard-working women who showed us all how to slay in the name of reproductive freedom.