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Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control," 1947.

Source: " Grolier Encyclopedia (New York, Grolier Society, 1947), p. 198."

For typed draft see Library of Congress Microfilm 129:32B

Birth Control

A movement to limit the number of offspring in the family. It dates back to Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman, who in his essay on population in 1798 advocated population control through moral restraint as a social method. A neo-Malthusian, Francis Place, in his Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population, 1822, new ed., 1930, held that moral restraint is not enough and advocated "preventives." Richard Carlisle in England published his Every Woman's Book, 1826, the first book in English exclusively on contraception, both in theory and in practice. Robert Dale Owen in 1831 published his Moral Physiology which advocated and described methods of contraception, but the first publication by an American physician was The Fruits of Philosophy by Charles L. Knowlton, 1832, new ed., 1937. Forty years later the Neo-Malthusian League of England was started as a purely educational movement.

In 1914 the words "birth control" came into use, when Margaret Sanger, a trained nurse, aroused to the need for information of contraceptive methods among the poor with whom she worked, began a national campaign of education, agitation, and organization. Publication of an article on "The Prevention of Conception" in the monthly magazine, The Woman Rebel, which she sponsored, led to her indictment under federal law. The indictment was dropped in 1916 and that year Mrs. Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, another trained nurse, opened the first control clinic in America, in one of the poorest sections of Brooklyn.

They were both arrested and served workhouse terms for "maintaining a public nuisance." The case was appealed and a decision handed down by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court in 1918 established the legal right of physicians in the state to advise on contraception "for the cure or prevention of disease"-a great legal victory.

The Birth Control Review began publication in 1917 and was issued until 1940.Continuous organization resulted in the formation of the American Birth Control League in 1921, and of numerous state and local organizations later. Interest in the movement was widespread. Magazines, pamphlets, literature covering all angles of the problems, and lectures were effective as propaganda, and newspaper publicity which accompanied efforts to stop the movement by interference with the constitutional right of free speech, or by arrests of prominent people, all gave great impetus to the cause and advertised its theories.

A second national organization, The Voluntary Parenthood League, was formed in 1919, and attempted to change the Federal laws on contraception, but has been inactive of recent years.

In 1923 the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau was opened in New York by Mrs. Sanger, with a woman physician as clinician. The growth of clinics continued and in June, 1942, they totaled 805, covering all but four states and extending into Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands--with 225 in hospitals, 262 in health department quarters, and 352 supported wholly or in part by public funds. Three states, North and South Carolina and Alabama had included child spacing in the programs of their state departments of health by 1941.

Support for the movement through endorsement of over 1000 organizations, largely the result of the work of the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, organized by Mrs. Sanger in 1929, resulted in action. Every poll of public opinion has shown a favorable majority. National and international conferences have accentuated the growth of the movement. Action of the American Medical Association, through its Committee to Study Contraceptive Practices and Allied Problems in 1937, which accepted birth control as "desirable for the health and well-being of mothers and children" and recommended that the A.M.A. promote instruction in contraception in the medical schools, was a great step forward. This followed the decision of the United States Circuit Court of appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of U.S. vs. One Package, which stated that the design of the section of the Federal law, on which the suit was based, was "not to prevent the importation, sale, or carriage by mail of things which might intelligently be employed by conscientious and competent physicians for the purpose of saving life or promoting the well-being of their patients."

In 1939 Birth Control Federation of America, Inc., was formed by a merger of the American Birth Control League and the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, and in 1942 the organization, at its annual meeting changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., as more expressive of its aims and purposes. These had grown to include treatment for infertility and education for marriage and parenthood. An increasing number of local planned parenthood organizations were offering expert medical help to childless couples who desire children, or were able to refer these couples to hospitals and private physicians for diagnosis and treatment.

The first post-war international sex conference was held in Stockholm in August, 1946, with the United States among the countries which were represented unofficially to discus the problems raised by the crowded populations of the world. Resolutions endorsing planned parenthood objectives in strong terms were adopted.


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