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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Terrible Virtue

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?

13. In what ways was J.J. Goldstein valuable to Margaret and her work?

14. Margaret speaks of her dedication to the cause as not a choice, but “a calling, like the vocation of the nuns.” What is the nature of such an experience? Is it ironic given her similar dedication to personal freedom and choice?

15. Late in her life Margaret says regret and guilt are “merely two sides of self-indulgence…two sides of self-pity.” What does she mean by this?

16. Discuss the interaction between Margaret’s battle to bring about social change and society’s changing view of women’s sexuality.

17. How would Margaret combat the current war against Planned Parenthood?

Terrible Virtue
by Ellen Feldman

  • Publication Date: March 21, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0062407562
  • ISBN-13: 9780062407566