Adressing a Global Population Crisis: The Post-War Birth Control Movement

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MS facing audience, 5ICPP

Internationally, birth control became relevant in the 1930’s, around the same time it did in the United States. However, the movement did not become prominent until after World War Two. This response was triggered in part to the unexpected post war baby boom, and concerns arose about the effects of this continued population trend. The very first post war sex conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1946. There were eight countries present at this conference, and all reported growing awareness regarding the importance of birth control. However it was not until the 1950’s that birth control really gained momentum, following the increasing concern about the rapidly growing global population. Throughout this decade, numerous conferences were held to address the issues and potential solutions dealing with overpopulation,

The third international birth control conference took place in 1952 in Bombay, India. Here physicians, scientists and demographers from the United States, and countries throughout Europe and Asia met to delve into the factors behind the growing human population. Their hopes were to begin research on human reproduction and encourage the establishment of national planned parenthood birth control organizations. This conference especially significant in that it was the first of its kind to be held in the far east. The International Planned Parenthood Federation was established at this conference, and it was the first global birth control organization. Unlike other branches of Planned Parenthood, the International Planned Parenthood Organization was not mainly focused on women’s rights, but instead it was focused on social and economic pressures that were arising from such a massively growing female population. The organization’s initial membership included Great Britain, India, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore and West Germany. Much of the fourth international birth control conference held in 1953, again in Sweden, was focused on the logistics involved with the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Leadership roles were assigned, with Margaret Sanger being elected as the first president. The goals of the organization were also created, which was to allow for the complete acceptance of the planned parenthood organization, along with the development of programs focused on service research and education.

Bombay Conference

India, especially, was a country focused on birth control and family planning. By the 1950’s India was already overpopulated, and dealing with the social and economic effects. When the Indian government created their first five year plan, they included within it a family planning program, which was a huge event for the movement. The aim of this program was to provide services related to family planning and to conduct research on effective measure of fertility control.

By 1954, there was so much concern surrounding the growing international population that the United Nations hosted their first World Population Conference in Rome. The objective of this conference was to compile data regarding population trends. This conference clearly defined the severity of the population issue, and the use of population control and family planning became more effective than using maternal health as an explanation for the necessity of birth control. Notably, birth control began to be administered to the peasant populations in India, Pakistan and Ceylon in the same year. This action described that the effects of a quickly growing population were being felt.

While birth control was gaining more acceptance in some parts of Asia and Europe in the beginning of the 1950’s, it was not until 1955 that Latin America hosted an international birth control conference. The International Planned Parenthood Federation held their pioneer conference in San Juan Puerto Rico. Another major conference was held later in 1955 in Tokyo, with representatives from over twenty countries. Again this conference focused mostly on world population trends and methods of controlling a growing population.

MS, Wright, Lederer, O-Jensen, D-Wever, Pyke, 1951

The 1950’s brought a new importance to the birth control movement on a global scale. At a time when the human population was growing at an estimated rate of 90,000 people a day, birth control became recognized as a method to slow the population growth that could potentially lead to serious conflict over resources. This post war population growth shifted from a focus just on women’s issues, to the broader concerns of slowing the growth of the world population. Specifically, the International Planned Parenthood Federation was founded to address these arising global issues. The involvement of government and the United Nations was one of the major advantages of this approach. The global population crisis proved the necessity of family planning and birth control, as it seemed as though a population that continued to grow as quickly would lead to serious tensions over access to resources.

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In Honor of Women’s History Month, We Remember Hannah Stone

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When we remember the birth control movement, we must commemorate the extraordinary women who willingly risked so much for the advancement of such a controversial movement. For these activists, giving all women new access and opportunities to contraceptives meant more than their own potential individual  advancements. Dr. Hannah Mayer Stone embodied this type of dedication. Chosen by Margaret Sanger in 1925 to be the head physician of the Clinical Research Bureau, Dr. Hannah Stone would prove to be dedicated not just to the cause, but also to the over 100,000 patients she saw during her time at the clinic.

Hannah M. Stone

While she defied the norm with her passionate involvement with the movement, Dr. Hannah Stone surpassed traditional 20th century women’s roles all her life. Born in New York City in 1893 as the daughter of a pharmacist, she went on to receive a degree in pharmacy from Brooklyn College in 1912. Following this, she attended New York Medical school, receiving her MD in 1920. In 1921, she attended the first American Birth Control Conference, where she met Margaret Sanger. Sanger opened the Clinical Research Bureau in 1923, and two years later she needed a new physician.Dr. Stone was already a member of the medical advisory board for the Clinical Research Bureau when Margaret Sanger offered her the position of physician. As she had this prior involvement, her interest in the birth control movement was known. Dr. Hannah Stone would work at the Clinical Research Bureau, which was later renamed Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1928, for 16 years without receiving compensation.

The main purpose behind the establishment of the Clinical Research Bureau was to do more than just administer birth control to patients; it was to also prove the effectiveness of different types of contraceptives through detailed record keeping. Dr. Stone handled both tasks methodically. By the end of her time at the clinic in 1941, she had helped over 100,000 patients and she had maintained a record for each one. But aside from just being thorough, Dr. Stone was compassionate and understanding with her patients. Her demeanor led her become known as the “Madonna of the Clinic.” In her writing, Sanger expressed her adoration of Dr. Stone. She commented on her attributes, listing  “her infinite patience, her attention to details, her understanding of human frailties, her sympathy, her gentleness” as reasons that she was invaluable to the work of the clinic. Dr. Stone understood the value of her work at the clinic, not just in her interactions with patients, but also with her responsibility of compiling data about her patients. During her 16 years of service to the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, Dr. Hannah Stone was able to leave a profound impact. Her detailed records helped the movement discover that the most effective method of birth control was the diaphragm used with spermicide. She later published some of her findings in “Therapeutic Contraceptives.” This article was one of the first involving birth control to be published within a medical journal.

16583009834Her passion for helping women extended past the realm of birth control. Dr. Stone and her husband, Dr. Abraham Stone counseled couples with relationship and sexual problems from within the clinic as well. This began casually, but it developed into the more formal Marriage Consultation Center which was ran out of the clinic and a community church. Through this work Dr. Stone again acted as a trailblazer, as these marriage counseling sessions had not been done in this manner before. In 1935, Dr. Stone and her husband were able to publish their counseling techniques in a book entitled A Marriage Manual.

From left: Sigrid Brestwell, Antoinette Field, Elizabeth Pissort, Margaret Sanger, Hannah Mayer Stone, and Marcella Sideri

Dr. Stone’s association with birth   control often caused her to put the movement’s progression ahead of her own career, as her work at the clinic cost her many opportunities. She had been working at the Women’s Lying-In Hospital when she first started to work for Margaret Sanger at the Research Bureau Clinic. Her new work at the clinic caused a conflict with her the Women’s Hospital and they asked her to give up her newly acquired position. She refused this request, and as a result she was asked to resign from the Women’s Lying-In Hospital. This would only be the first of many times where her work at the clinic would prove to be a detriment to her career. Later, in 1929, Dr. Stone was arrested with four others when the Research Bureau Clinic was raided. Although the charges that were brought against her were later dismissed, the picture that was taken of her in handcuffs permanently damaged her record. Dr. Stone felt the full impact of this when she applied to admission to the New York Medical Society in 1932, and her application was tabled. She continued to take risks for the movement, including her involvement with the test case US v. One Package, when a package of Japanese pessaries were shipped to her and later seized. This case ended up being monumental, as it was the first step in legalized birth control. Despite her involvement with the birth control movement, and the clinic itself proving to be a detriment to the furthering of her medical career, Dr. Stone’s dedication to the cause never faltered.

Dr. Hannah Stone died suddenly of a heart attack in 1942 at the age of 48. Her loss was deeply felt at the clinic, as she had dedicated so much of her time to assisting the patients. She was replaced by her husband, who carried on her legacy and dedication to the cause. Dr. Stone is remembered for her kindness, and her groundbreaking work. She was well respected for her tremendous knowledge on administering effective contraceptives. Thousands of medical students and doctors alike came to the Research Bureau Clinic to learn her methods. Even though Dr. Stone was recognized for her greatness, Margaret Sanger wrote extensively on her humility. She did not crave attention or recognition, and often others took responsibility for her advancements.

As a doctor, Hannah Stone was a trailblazer. As a woman, she exceeded the expectations society had for her at the time. But it is her selflessness that is most inspiring. Dr. Hannah Stone dedicated nearly her entire career to serving women and the birth control movement, and despite her vast achievements she never sought recognition for them.

“The World Center for Women’s Archives: A Look Back at a Novel Idea.”n Honor of International Women’s Day

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Sanger Papers want to remind everyone that the struggle to acknowledge the contributions of women is unfortunately not new. In that spirit, we thought we’d look back at an article  published in our newsletter  in 1994.

“We have worked intensively on this project; forming the organization first, raising money, collecting archives and, perhaps even more important, trying to make the United States archive minded….We have opened the minds of people all over the country to the necessity of collecting and preserving archives – especially about women.” (Sanger Papers, Library of Congress) While this sentiment accurately reflects the goals of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project (and most women’s archives and editing projects), the statement was actually made on September 16, 1940 by Inez Hayes Irwin describing the struggles of the World Center for Women’s Archives (WCWA). Historian Mary Ritter Beard had founded the WCWA out of frustration over the difficulty she encountered in trying to locate women’s papers. Beard realized that before historians could examine or interpret women’s contributions to civilization and incorporate their accomplishments into their books and curricula, they needed to examine primary source material on women’s lives. But such material was not easy to find.

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Mary Ritter Beard

Beard’s quest to collect and preserve the documentary evidence of women’s history began in earnest when, in 1935, she was approached by Hungarian-born pacifist-feminist Rosika Schwimmer with the idea of establishing a center to document women’s roles in the peace movement. Beard quickly expanded the idea to establish an archive and education center for the study of women. The World Center for Women’s Archives (WCWA) had its first organizational board meeting in New York on October 15, 1935. In addition to appointing a board of directors (chaired by Inez Hayes Irwin) as its main decision-making body, the inaugural meeting invited well-known women sponsors to serve in an advisory capacity. With endorsements from prominent women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, and support from Fannie Hurst, Mary Ware Dennett, Georgia O’Keefe, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Mary Van Kleeck, Juliet Barrett Rublee, Alice Paul and Margaret Sanger, among others, the WCWA was officially launched on December 15, 1937, at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City.

“NO DOCUMENTS, NO HISTORY,” was the motto (coined by French historian Fustel de Coulanges) of the WCWA, reflecting Beard’s conviction that women’s history requires the preservation of women’s sources. “What documents, then, have women? What history?” she asked, for without these records “women may be blotted from the story and the thought about history as completely as if they had never lived….But what do the women of today know about the women of yesterday to whom they are so closely linked for better or for worse? What are the women of tomorrow to know about the women of today?” (WCWA Pamphlet, ca. 1939, Sanger Papers, Library of Congress) The creation of the WCWA was to be the answer for those concerned with preserving the history and achievements of women. Its purpose was: “To make a systematic search for undeposited source materials dealing with women’s lives and activities….To reproduce important materials, already deposited elsewhere, by means of microfilming and other modern processes…” (WCWA Brochure, International Organization Records, Sophia Smith Collection)

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Inez Haynes Irwin

In the four years of its existence, the WCWA helped highlight the richness and depth preserved in the records of women’s history. Its preliminary work in soliciting women to donate, deposit, or pledge their papers and records to an archives proved to be invaluable. Materials which were promised to the WCWA included the records of the National League of Women Voters, the National Consumer League, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Association of Women Lawyers. Among the women who pledged their personal papers to the Center were Ida Tarbell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Judge Florence Allen. Among the collections in the Center’s possession at the time of its dissolution were those of Lillian Wald, Kate C. Hurd-Mead, Catherine Beecher, and an impressive collection of records, maps, and charts belonging to Amelia Earhart.

Although predominantly reflecting the achievements of notable white American women, the WCWA also collected materials concerning the women’s movement in Germany and the history of Japanese women from the mythological age through 1935. Prefiguring the emergence of the new social history and feminist history, the founders defined the WCWA’s collection mission broadly, asserting that women’s history would be found not only in the written record, but also in oral histories, objects and artifacts. They mounted an exhibit of Native American women’s pottery that included a pictorial history and ancient medicine aprons which told the lore of herb women. From its offices in New York and Washington, the Center also compiled and distributed lists of secondary sources essential to the study of women, served as a clearinghouse for information about women at other institutions, and furnished information for a series of radio talks on women in American society.

Yet despite the wide publicity and initial support from prominent individuals, the WCWA was unable to build a permanent future for itself. By the end of the decade, the war in Europe preoccupied the WCWA’s sponsors, overshadowing their interest in documenting the lives of women. Faced with a lack of funding, weakened by disagreements among its leadership and Beard’s resignation in 1940, the Center was forced to close its doors on September 16, 1940. Though the Center failed, Inez Hayes Irwin sent a hopeful message to the Center’s sponsors: “When the quiet days of peace and reconstruction come, we are sure there will be many such organizations as we have worked so hard to form and perhaps ultimately the big central one that was our dream.” (Irwin to Sanger, 9/16/1940, Sanger Papers, Library of Congress)

After the Center’s closing, the collections gathered by the WCWA were either returned to their owners or entrusted to other repositories. Yet the WCWA left a lasting impact as several colleges and universities began collecting source material for the study of women, and individual women became aware of the importance of taking steps to preserve the records of their lives. Although Margaret Sanger never donated her letters to the WCWA, less than two years after it was disbanded, she began to transfer the first large collection of her papers to the Library of Congress; in 1949, encouraged by her close friend Dorothy Brush, Sanger donated her other papers to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. Ironically, Mary Beard destroyed the majority of her own personal papers.

Committed to “put women in the record,” Mary Beard and the WCWA sought to do what the Sophia Smith Collection (Women’s History Archive) at Smith College and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College are in fact doing – collecting and preserving the records of American women’s history. At the same time, editing projects such as the Sanger Papers and other women’s editions are working to assemble and disseminate women’s papers through both print and digital technology.

While Beard’s notion of one central archive for women’s records and papers remains the stuff of dreams the possibility of making it a reality is increasingly viable. Technological advances such as digital image storage may provide a way in which one central database can access images of hundreds of thousands of women’s records and papers. As the Sanger Papers project explores these new methods of disseminating the records of Sanger’s life, we are hopeful that it will take us a step closer to making Beard’s dream a reality.

Tracing Sanger’s Steps: The Beginning of Legalized Birth Control

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Throughout the history of the United States, the judicial system has been used as a mechanism for social change. Consider some of the most monumental decisions, from Brown v. the Board of Education to the more recent case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The decisions of these two cases reflected the evolving opinions among the American people, and enabled society to implement the necessary changes. In times when the situation requires a quick solution, the court room provides a benefit over legislation, as it takes less time to reach and implement a decision, then it does to pass new legislation. Therefore, when Margaret Sanger was faced with the restriction of censorship that was the by-product of obscenity laws, she sought a situation that would allow her to speedily remedy the situation. She believed that the repeal of the Comstock laws would allow the birth control movement to continue on past the problem of censorship, and towards legalization. Thus led to the filing her test case, U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries.

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Sanger and Morris Ernst

 

By the 1930’s, Margaret Sanger had made strides in the fight for women’s access to birth  control, at least on a New York State level. However, her ability to provide both birth control and information about birth control was limited by the presence of the Comstock laws. Passed by congress on March 3, 1873, the Comstock laws were the first legislation to deal with contraceptives explicitly, and they defined contraceptives as obscene, and prohibited their circulation, and information regarding the prevention of conception. The development of this bill was essentially based on morality, as contraceptives were believed to provoke lust. Initially, this bill made it nearly impossible for women to obtain birth control, and despite being rarely enforced during the 1930’s, fear was enough to prevent the circulation of materials. At this point,  Sanger had realized that to open the access to birth control that had been so severely limited by the Comstock laws, she needed to create a case that could challenge its precedent. In June of 1932, she found her opportunity. A package of pessaries was shipped to her from Japan, only to be seized by customs and sent back to Japan. Sanger ingeniously built her test case on this result, asking Dr. Sakae Koyama,  president of the Juzen Hospital in Osaka, to send a second package to the United States, this time to Dr. Hannah Stone. As Sanger expected, the package was again seized

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by customs, giving her a situation on which she could build her test case. According to Section 305 of Title III of Revenue Act, Dr. Stone did not have the right to import contraceptives. This test case was well thought out, as Sanger had spent time with her attorney, Morris Ernst, planning for this opportunity. They wanted to challenge the federal law’s ability to inhibit doctors from prescribing their patients contraceptives.

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Hannah Stone

The presiding judge on the case, Grover C. Moskowitz, heard the case on December 10th, 1935. As there were in facts in question, the case was based on his judicial interpretation of the law. On January 6th, 1939, Judge Moskowitz ruled in the favor of the women’s rights activists. He dismissed the libel charges within the case, and stated that the pessaries that had been confiscated did not come within the scope of the Comstock Laws, as they were intended for a lawful purpose, which was to “cure and prevent disease.” Later, when the case went in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Judge Augustus Hand upheld the decision made by Judge Moskowitz. According to Hand, the language used within the Comstock Laws was uncompromising; however it would be legal for contraceptives to be imported into the United States so long as they were being administered by a health professional for reasons pertaining to the patient’s health. Judge Hand believed that had 19th century Congress been familiar with the data discussing the dangers of multiple pregnancies, they would not have implemented such strict censorship laws on birth control. This 1939 decision is often accredited to being the first step in giving women full legal access to birth control.

Margaret Sanger’s calculated decision to use a court case to challenge the precedent of
the Comstock laws helped her to grant women further access to birth control. As the public’s attitude toward birth control was improving, Sanger utilized it to further her agenda of legalizing birth control. However, the scope for which birth control was legalized was narrow, as it was only permissible in situations relating to women’s health. Margaret Sanger’s reaction to the decision of her case was a mixture of dissatisfaction and caution, as she knew would continue to work towards giving women unrestricted access to birth control. While the One Package Decision was a crucial stepping stone, it left birth control activists with the realization that they still had a tremendous amount of work to do. For as Margaret Sanger once wrote, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.”

Sanger Project Celebrates Black History Month

In celebration of black history Month, we are reprinting portions of an article from our newsletter # 28 dated Fall 2001. It is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago. For the complete article see https://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/articles/bc_or_race_control.php.

“Birth Control or Race Control? Sanger and the Negro Project”

The Negro Project, instigated in 1939 by Margaret Sanger, was one of the first major undertakings of the new Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA), the product of a merger between the American Birth Control League and Sanger’s Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, and one of the more controversial campaigns of the birth control movement. Developed by white birth control reformers, who consulted with African-Americans for help in promoting the project only well after its inception, the Negro Project and associated campaigns were, nevertheless, widely supported by such black leaders as Mary McLeod Bethune, W. E. B. DuBois, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.  Influenced strongly by both the eugenics movement and the progressive welfare programs of the New Deal era, the Negro Project was, from the start, largely indifferent to the needs of the black community and constructed in terms and with perceptions that today smack of racism.

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Life Magazine, May 6, 1940, p.66

What it became was not the project Sanger had first envisioned. As she wrote in an initial fund-raising request to Albert Lasker, the wealthy advertising executive just beginning his post-business career in medical philanthropy, she simply hoped to help “a group notoriously underprivileged and handicapped to a large measure by a ‘caste’ system that operates as an added weight upon their efforts to get a fair share of the better things in life. To give them the means of helping themselves is perhaps the richest gift of all. We believe birth control knowledge brought to this group, is the most direct, constructive aid that can be given them to improve their immediate situation.” Sanger viewed the Negro Project as another effort to help African-Americans gain better access to safe contraception and maintain birth control services in their community as she had attempted to do in Harlem a decade earlier when Sanger’s Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB), in cooperation with the New York Urban League, opened a birth control clinic there.  (MS to Lasker, July 10, 1939, Mary Lasker Papers, Columbia University, MS Unfilmed )

By the late 1930s, the birth control activists began to focus on high birth rates and poor quality of life in the South, alerted to alarming Southern poverty by a 1938 U.S. National Resource Committee report which asserted that Southern poverty drained resources from other parts of the country. Starting in the mid-1930s, Sanger sent field workers into the rural South to establish birth control services in poor communities and conduct research on cheaper and more effective contraceptive….The birth control movement also looked to Southern states as the ideal region in which to secure funding under New Deal legislation and to establish birth control services as part of state and federal public health  programs….

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Sanger testifying in Congress, 1934

In 1937, North Carolina became the first state to incorporate birth control services into a statewide public health program, followed by six other southern states. However, these successes were clouded by the failure of birth controllers to overcome segregated health services and improve African-Americans’ access to contraceptives. Hazel Moore, a veteran lobbyist and health administrator, ran a birth control project under Sanger’s direction and found that black women in several Virginia counties were very responsive to birth control education. A 1938 trip to Tennessee further convinced Sanger of the desire of African-Americans in that region to control their fertility and the need for specific programs in birth control education aimed at the black community. (Hazel Moore, “Birth Control for the Negro,” 1937, Sophia Smith Collection, Florence Rose Papers.)

In 1939 Sanger teamed with Mary Woodward Reinhardt, secretary of the newly formed BCFA, to secure a large donor to fund an educational campaign to teach African-American women in the South about contraception. Sanger, Reinhardt and Sanger’s secretary, Florence Rose, drafted a report on “Birth Control and the Negro,” skillfully using language that appealed both to eugenicists fearful of unchecked black fertility and progressives committed to shepherding African-Americans into middle-class culture. The report stated that “[N]egroes present the great problem of the South,” as they are the group with “the greatest economic, health and social problems,” and outlined a practical birth control program geared toward a population characterized as largely illiterate and that “still breed carelessly and disastrously,” a line borrowed from a June 1932 Birth Control Review article by W.E.B. DuBois. Armed with this paper, Reinhardt initiated contact between Sanger and Albert Lasker (soon to be Reinhardt’s husband), who pledged $20,000 starting in Nov. 1939. (“Birth Control and the Negro,” July 1939, Lasker Papers)

However, once funding was secured, the project slipped from Sanger’s hands. She had proposed that the money go to train “an up and doing modern minister, colored, and an up and doing modern colored medical man” at her New York clinic who would then tour “as many Southern cities and organizations and churches and medical societies as they can get before” and “preach and preach and preach!” She believed that after a year of such “educational agitation” the Federation could support a “practical campaign for supplying mothers with contraceptives.” Before going in and establishing clinics, Sanger thought it critical to gain the support and involvement of the African-American community (not just its leaders) and establish a foundation of trust. Her proposal derived from the work of activists in the field, discussions with black leaders and her experience with the New York clinics. Sanger understood the concerns of some within the black community about having Northern whites intervene in the most intimate aspect of their lives. “I do not believe” she warned, “that this project should be directed or run by white medical men. The Federation should direct it with the guidance and assistance of the colored group & perhaps, particularly and specifically formed for the purpose.” To succeed, she wrote, “It takes a very strong heart and an individual well entrenched in the community. . . .” (MS to Gamble, Nov. 26, 1939, and MS to Robert Seibels, Feb. 12, 1940 [MSM S17:514, 891].)

Sanger reiterated the need for black ministers to head up the project in a letter to Clarence Gamble in Dec. 1939, arguing that: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” This passage has been repeatedly extracted by Sanger’s detractors as evidence that she led a calculated effort to reduce the black population against their will. From African-American activist Angela Davis on the left to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza on the right, this statement alone has condemned Sanger to a perpetual waltz with Hitler and the KKK….The argument that Sanger co-opted black clergy and community leaders to exterminate their own race not only gives Sanger unwarranted credit as a remarkably cunning manipulator, but also suggests that African-Americans were passive receptors of birth control reform, incapable of making their own decisions about family size; and that black leaders were ignorant and gullible.

In the end, Sanger’s plan for an educational campaign to precede the demonstration project lost out to the white medical and public relations men running the new Federation. They were particularly swayed by Robert Seibels (1890-1955), chairman of the Committee on Maternal Welfare of the South Carolina Medical Association, who was chosen by the BCFA to direct a Negro demonstration project in that state. Seibels distrusted Sanger and her loyal crew of field workers, calling them “dried-up female fanatics” who had the gall to tell doctors what to do. (Robert E. Seibels to Frederick C. Holden, Jan. 28, 1939, Sophia Smith Collection, Records of PPFA.) He saw no need for prerequisite education and propaganda and advised incorporating birth control services for blacks into a general public health program. The BCFA then dismissed the notion of building a community-based, black-staffed demonstration clinic that could become permanent, and instead set in motion a plan that closely resembled the vaccination and VD caravans that swept in and out of the region.

Lasker’s money was used to set up demonstration projects between 1940 and 1942 in several rural South Carolina counties, under Seibels’s direction, and in urban Nashville, TN under the auspices of the Nashville City Health Department. In South Carolina, the BCFA hired two African-American nurses to make house calls and meet with women in groups at schools and community centers to encourage them to visit a clinic, but contraceptives were dispensed by white doctors only. In Nashville, demonstration clinics were opened at the Bethlehem Center, a black settlement house, and later at Fisk University, and black nurses were eventually employed with some success there as well.

The Federation immediately claimed that the Negro Project had exceeded its expectations and even persuaded Life Magazine to carry a photo spread of the demonstration clinics in South Carolina May1940. But relatively few women, (only about 3,000) visited the demonstration clinics to receive contraceptive instruction. And among those that did, the dropout rates were high as many women would not return to white doctors for follow-up exams, though the black nurses in both Nashville and South Carolina met with greater success. In 1942 the Federation ended funding for the demonstration clinics claiming to have developed “workable procedures” for providing contraception to African-Americans in both rural and urban communities; but no other clinics appear to have opened as a result of the Project. (“Better Health for 13,000,000,” PPFA Report, April 16, 1943, Rose Papers; John Overton, “A Birth Control Service Among Urban Negroes,” Human Fertility, Aug. 1942, 97-101; Life Magazine, May 6, 1940, pp. 64-68.)

However, the “Division of Negro Service,” a department created at the BCFA initially to oversee the Negro Project, did implement some of the educational goals Sanger outlined. Under the direction of Florence Rose, with money raised by Sanger, and inspired by an advisory council of eminent black leaders, educators and health professionals, the Division undertook significant education projects from 1940-1943. Rose flooded every black organization in the country with planned parenthood literature, set up exhibits, instigated local and national press coverage and hired a black woman doctor, Mae McCarroll, to teach birth control techniques to black doctors and lobby medical groups. Though still stinging from the rejection of her earlier proposal for the Negro Project, Sanger wrote enthusiastically to Albert Lasker in July of 1942 about what she now framed as a pioneering effort: “I believe that the Negro question is coming definitely to the fore in America, not only because of the war, but in anticipation of the place the Negro will occupy after the peace. I think it is magnificent that we are in on the ground floor, helping Negroes to control their birth rate, to reduce their high infant and maternal death rate, to maintain better standards of health and living for those already born, and to create better opportunities for those who will be born. In other words, we’re giving Negroes an opportunity to help themselves, and to rise to their own heights through education and the principles of a democracy.” (MS to Lasker, July 9, 1942, MSM S21:404)

But the BCFA (which changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942) forced Florence Rose to leave in 1943 &, a result of her inability to follow new bureaucratic procedures and her allegiance to Sanger, who was immersed in her own clashes with Federation staff. With Rose’s departure, the Division of Negro Service floundered and soon shut down. The Federation delegated “Negro” work to other departments and eventually passed off remnants of the program to state affiliates.

Arguments persist about whether or not the Negro Project was purely a racist endeavor (search for “Sanger” “Negro Project” and “racism” on the Internet and be prepared for the onslaught). Certainly the patriarchal racism of the time that guided many of the social policies in Washington and the practices of philanthropic and charitable organizations working to “lift up” African-Americans, dictated both the Federation’s and Sanger’s approach to blacks and birth control. The public rationale for the Project was rooted in economics, tax-payer burden, and the social threats posed by what was perceived to be an exploding black underclass, rather than the health and sexual liberation of black women (though it should be notes that the birth control movement largely ignored the issue of women’s —black or white— sexual autonomy in the interwar years). And there is no doubt that a good number of medical professionals involved in the birth control movement exhibited strong racist sentiments, some of them arguing for and even carrying out compulsory sterilization on black women considered to be of low intelligence and therefore not capable of choosing not to control their fertility, as well as on those deemed morally or behaviorally deviant. But there is no evidence that Sanger or even the Federation coerced or intended to coerce black women into using birth control. The fundamental belief, underscored at every meeting, mentioned in much of the behind-the-scenes correspondence, and evident in all the printed material put out by the Division of Negro Service, was that uncontrolled fertility presented the greatest burden to the poor, and Southern blacks were among the poorest Americans. In fact, the Negro Project did not differ very much from the earlier birth control campaigns in the rural South designed to test simpler methods on poor, uneducated and mostly white agricultural communities. Following these other efforts in the South, it would have been more racist, in Sanger’s mind, to ignore African-Americans in the South than to fail at trying to raise the health and economic standards of their communities.

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