Digital History at Ursinus

Dodge and Sanger Pioneering Female Sexual Liberation: Intimate Memories

Dublin Core


Dodge and Sanger Pioneering Female Sexual Liberation: Intimate Memories


Sex, Gender, Marriage, and the New Woman


Dodge and Sanger Pioneering Female Sexual Liberation

Mabel Dodge and Margaret Sanger’s relationship illustrates Dodge’s quest to forge equality in heterosexual relationships and liberate the individual. Specifically, Dodge’s work with Sanger seeks to liberate females and female sexual experience. By liberating women through greater control of their sexual pleasure, Dodge believes both men and women could be liberated by being able to participate equally in intimacy. For Dodge to provide a platform for Sanger’s work was radical. Early 20th century America sexual liberation was still constricted by Comstock laws that made Sanger’s work distributing contraception illegal (Trimberger 9). Dodge was able to protect Sanger through her support and allow Sanger to continue to reach a wider audience, especially through Dodge’s Evenings. Dodge provides this protection with her high class status and open discourse atmosphere. Mabel Dodge never just had a “brush” with a monumental historical figure of her time—Dodge has a bold ability to form close relationships with radicals of all walks of life in order to comprehend the principles they dedicate their lives to. Sanger is just another example how Dodge seeks out the spirit of change in order to support furthering discourse.

Dodge’s own radical feminism matches will with the work of Margaret Sanger towards sexual liberation. Hustak explains how Dodge explored “the ‘truth’ of the body, particularly its sexual instincts. In doing so they challenged patriarchal Christianity on the basis of its associations of sinfulness, sex, and the female body and its privileging of an abstract rational Male God, chasity and the renunciation of matter” (174). Dodge’s pursuit of a fuller understanding of intimacy draws her to the work of Sanger. Dodge clearly admired Sanger and appreciated Sanger’s radical contributions toward allowing women to experience sexual liberation. Dodge repeats, “It was she,” in her description of Sanger. By repeating this phrase Dodge draws attention to the ground breaking nature of Sanger’s contributions to sexuality (Luhan 2712). Dodge writes, “It was she who introduced to us all the idea of birth control, and it, along with other related ideas about sex, became her passion. It was as if she had been more or less arbitrarily chosen by the powers that be to voice a new gospel of not only sex knowledge in regard to conception, but sex knowledge about copulation and its intrinsic importance” (Luhan 2713-4). Though birth control is much older than the work of Margaret Sanger, what is important is that Dodge comprehends the importance of bringing birth control to the public. By recognizing the importance of contraception as well as of the actual physical pleasure of sex, Dodge illustrates how she believes an understanding of intimacy could bring equality in a loving relationship by providing women with agency. Dodge describes how Sanger “unfolded the mysteries and mightinesses of physical love, it seemed to us we had never known it before as a sacred and at the same time a scientific reality” (Luhan 2722). By presenting sexuality as mystical, Dodge illustrates her beliefs in the beauty of the human experience and included in that the beauty of “sex expression” as she calls it. For a time when women’s sexuality was still very much a taboo, Dodge’s ideology on sex is important in furthering the efforts of gender equality.

Dodge’s role in Margaret Sanger’s distribution of birth control and sexual education is seldom noted. Dodge actively assisted Sanger in the development of birth control literature. Hustak explains how Dodge also “supported the Birth control League and provided her home for Sanger’s Defense Committee meetings as part of the crusade against the criminalization of birth control literature” (175). Dodge’s unique duality of being both a radical as well as a high society woman allowed Sanger to fully delve into her cause. It is also important to see how Dodge doesn’t ever just support a reformer she discovers; Dodge finds herself in their confidence and opens herself to conversations on their ideology. Dodge writes, “it was in talking to her at home in my sitting room that I really got something from her, something new and releasing and basic,” which conveys how she was able to support Sanger and idolize her while also being able to socialize with her (Luhan 2720). Dodge has the ability to make individuals from all different backgrounds comfortable and willing to explore radical ideas.

Dodge and Sanger would eventually have a falling out in Dodge’s later days in The Village because of some of Sanger’s beliefs on limiting fertility. Dodge strongly believed in the power of the individual and believed that to limit all fertility would defeat the purpose of contraception. Dodge believed contraception’s purpose should be to give women freedom to explore sexuality as they pleased. In fact, it wasn’t long after their falling out that Sanger would be arrested, possibly because Dodge was no longer providing the location for the Birth Control League’s meetings.

Hustak, Carla Christina. "Inventing the female self in Greenwich Village,
1900–1930: Mabel Dodge's encounter with science and spirituality."
Critical Psychology 6.2 (2013): 173-92. Print.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2712-2725). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Trimberger, Ellan Kay. Intimate Warriors. Ed. Ellan Kay Trimberger. New York: The Feminist
Press, 1991. Print.


Mabel Dodge


Intimate Memories


University of New Mexico Press


Published 1999, ca. 1915


Lois Rudnick


Written Memoir





Text Item Type Metadata


“I do not believe or disbelieve in marriage, but I do believe in love, which may exist either within the institution or outside of it, providing that it is free. Free love seems to me that love which has been released from any limitation of personality or self-seeking, and which finds its fullest expression in service.”

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2665-2667). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written Memoir




Mabel Dodge, “Dodge and Sanger Pioneering Female Sexual Liberation: Intimate Memories ,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed January 27, 2020,