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Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control, 1941," 1942.

Source: " Britannica Book of the Year (1942), pp. 100-101."

For other articles in the Britannica Book of the Year series, see Birth Control, 1942 ; Birth Control, 1943 ; Birth Control, 1944 ; Birth Control, 1945 ; Birth Control, 1946 ; Birth Control, 1947 ; Birth Control, 1948 ; Birth Control, 1949 ; Birth Control, 1950 ; Birth Control, 1951 ; Birth Control, 1952 ; Birth Control, 1953 ; Birth Control, 1954 ; Birth Control, 1955 ; Birth Control, 1956 ; Birth Control, 1957 ; Birth Control, 1958 For page proof, see Library of Congress Microfillm 129:137.

Birth Control.

The world picture abroad was dark and confused during 1941. Except for Sweden, information on clinical service on the birth control movement in other countries in Europe could not be obtained. Constant and relentless pressure on the conquered nations, food rationing and requisition by Germany of supplies from every country overrun resulted in lowered birth rates.

This form of birth control is dysgenic in the extreme; but no sane population policy could be adopted as long as Germany dominated Europe, and until world reconstruction programs included, as one essential for enduring peace, a consideration of the need for solving problems of overpopulation in relation to national resources.


Vital statistics for Australia showed a slight rise in the birth rate of 1941 over that of 1940, and a sharp increase in the number of marriages, with their rate, 11.8 per 1,000 population, the highest on record. Established birth control clinics continued their work.


Efforts to establish birth control centres in the island were stimulated by lectures before the Australian association of the island, and publication of a new illustrated pamphlet on contraceptive technique, by a leading gynecologist, received wide circulation among the medical profession.


Branch clinics of the Family Planning association in the worst bombed areas of the provinces had extraordinary escapes from serious damage and were carrying on at the close of 1941. Some of the centres in or near London and the southeastern districts were temporarily suspended. Headquarters of the association were evacuated to Bournemouth late in 1940, with a small staff at the London office.


Adoption of more drastic regulations against birth control and abortion failed to stem the fall in France’s birth rate, nor has increase in family allowances had any such result. Food rationing resulted in a drop in the average weight of infants born and Germany’s failure to release the 1,500,000 French prisoners held outside France tended to further reduce the birth rate.


Germany endeavoured to raise its marriage rate by allowing soldiers at the front in any country to marry by proxy. Illegitimate births were officially stimulated and encouraged. In spite of all regulations against the sale of contraceptives, sales continued. Live births in the Reich were reported increasing, but figures were contrasted with those of 1939. Civil statistics for the first quarter of 1941 showed them to be 24.5% less than in the corresponding quarter of 1940, however.


Progress in organization of birth control work was reported to the Family Planning association by its organizer in that country. The last census in 1940 credited India with a population of 400,000,000, an increase of 18% in 10 years.


By official decree a higher birth rate was ordered in Japan in 1941. The objectives are a perpetual population increase, so that other nations can be out rivaled in quantity and rate of increase, and industry and military manpower maintained. Birth control was rigorously suppressed, but in spite of this and of threats and inducements, the birth rate did not go up as fast as expected. Infant mortality rates, however, increased, and malnutrition was prevalent.

New Zealand.--

The Family Planning association stimulated the passage at many meetings of a resolution asking the dean of the medical school of Otago university, the only medical school in New Zealand, to include a course in contraceptive technique in training the students there.


All Norwegian birth control centres were closed by the police, following German occupation of the country.


The Swedish Society for Sexual Enlightenment continued work during the year and its Stockholm Birth Control clinic advised many women. The society collected funds to open a home for deserted mothers and provide relief for them.

Puerto Rico.--

There was a steady increase in the number of clinic services under the direction of the Associacion Pro Salud Maternal e Infantil de Puerto Rico. These services were medically directed, and research studies on them were being undertaken to determine rates of effectiveness and acceptability of the methods advised. An interdepartmental committee appointed by President Roosevelt to survey Puerto Rico reported that overpopulation was the greatest problem of the island and that “birth control should be made a major function of the Insular Department of Health, as the key to the entire health situation in Puerto Rico.”

United States.--

Population. Final figures of the 1940 census showed an increase of almost 9,000,000 during the decade, in spite of ten years of depression and the lowest marriage rates in many years. Both marriage and birth rates rose in 1941 and forecast was for a birth rate of 18.5 for the year. Number of family units in the country increased 16.6% during the decade, though the average number of persons declined slightly.

Birth Control Federation of America, Inc.--Thirty-four state organizations were affiliated with the federation in 1941. The year was one of marked progress and increased public support.

On Oct. 16, simultaneous anniversary observances were held in 32 cities throughout the U.S., commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of America’s first birth control clinic by Margaret Sanger in Brooklyn in 1916, which was closed as a “public nuisance.” Numerous articles in the lay and medical press commented on the growth of clinic services and the increasing recognition by public health agencies of the importance of contraceptive service in their own programs.

Alabama followed North and South Carolina as the third state to include birth control officially in its public health program, and reports on the programs in these states were requested by many public health officials in other states.

Field work of the federation was concentrated in the south where population studies indicated the greatest need for a program of family spacing, where infant and maternal mortality rates are highest, and where high fertility and poverty make living conditions most difficult. Prominent citizens of the south held a Third Southern Conference on Tomorrow’s Children and formulated a practical program of action.

Clinical Service.--Birth control centres in the United States totalled 637 in Nov. 1941. Of these 118 were in hospitals, 206 in health departments and 313 in other quarters, while 283 were supported wholly or in part by public funds. More than 90% of public health officers answering a questionnaire stated they were in favour of using federal funds for such service.

Legislation.--Connecticut: A bill to amend the law and give doctors the right to advise patients on contraception, when medically indicated, passed the house but was defeated in the senate.

Massachusetts: An initiative petition signed by more than 44,000 voters was presented to the legislature in the form of a bill. After a hearing, the bill was referred by the legislature to the state supreme court, for an opinion on its constitutionality, the opposition claiming that a religious issue was involved. The court ruled that the bill was purely permissive and that no religious issue was a factor in the bill. The bill was later defeated by both houses. The necessary thousands of additional signatures were secured to put the question on the ballot in 1942. The opposition, led by Cardinal O’Connell of Boston, attempted to challenge the legality of the petition and prevent inclusion of the question on the ballot.

Legal.--The federal trade commission’s action against falsely advertised or dangerous contraceptives continued, but trade in bootleg materials went on in spite of “cease and desist” orders and suit.

Medical Education was fostered by the distribution of more than 50,000 copies of a new pamphlet, “Techniques of Conception Control,” by Robert L. Dickinson, M.D., and Woodbridge E. Morris, M..D., among medical schools, state and county medical societies, public health departments, hospitals, medical libraries and individual physicians. More than one-fourth of the leading medical schools of the U.S. were visited by a medical representative of the federation, resulting in the inclusion of contraception in some programs, and in others an increase in the time allotted to the subject of contraception. (See also CIVIL LIBERTY.)

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