Birth Control, 1933




Social Work Yearbook, Vol. 2, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation: 1933), pp. 40-42


For an earlier entry in the same series, see "Birth Control, 1929." For a draft version see Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm, Library of Congress, LCM 76:249.


Public Health Relations Committee
American Unitarian Association
Central Conference of American Rabbis



Birth Control.

The general aim of the birth control movement is to legalize the practice of contraception through scientific and hygienic methods, and to educate the public to its advantages as a health and economic expedient. Though the movement had its origin in England, it was in 1914 in New York City that Mrs. Margaret Sanger first coined the term “birth control” and challenged the federal laws by advocating birth control on feministic and economic grounds. There followed in 1917 the publication of the Birth Control Review, the formation of the Voluntary Parenthood League in 1919, and the organization in 1921 of the American Birth Control League.

The period from 1914 to 1921 was one of agitation, education, organization, and legislation. The National Committee on Maternal Health, organized in 1923, has for its purpose the scientific investigation of contraception, sterilization, and the general problems of sterility and fertility from the point of view of the practice of medicine andpublic health. In 1923 also the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau was established in New York City. That Bureau--with which a large number of social and welfare agencies and hospitals are cooperating has instructed over 31,000 women since its organization. The first 10,000 case histories, under a grant from the Bureau of Social Hygiene, have been analyzed by a committee of specialists and the results are to be made available at a later date.

Legislative Campaigns, and Birth Control Clinics

While efforts are being constantly made for needed legislation in the several states, the attention of leaders in the field has recently been centered more particularly upon obtaining federal legislation. For this purpose the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control was organized in 1929. Federal laws forbidding the distribution of contraceptive information affect the use of the mails and common carriers, and impose a penalty of $5,000, or imprisonment for five years or both, on anyone who is convicted of a violation. In many states a physician may give oral contraceptive information to his patients, but scientific literature on the subject, or medical supplies for the purpose, cannot be legally sent to him through the United States mails, nor can he knowingly receive them without violating the law. Amendments to remedy this situation are now pending in Congress.

At the present time not less than 100 so-called birth control clinics--though some of them, located in hospitals, are not generally known as such--are operating legally in the United States (covering 43 cities in 17 states). They are all places where contraceptive information may be obtained, but only under conditions within the limitation of the laws of each particular state. In New York State, for example, information can be given for the “cure or prevention of disease,” but not for economic reasons. In the Harlem section of New York City, through a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a branch clinic for colored women has been established as a part of the work of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. A comprehensive study of the work and location of birth control clinics in different cities is contained in Seventy Birth Control Clinics (infra cit.), issued in 1930. The latest information as to the location of such clinics may be obtained from the National Committee on Maternal Health.

The Movement Endorsed and Opposed

In recent years public opinion has been rapidly growing in favor of medically supervised instruction on birth control, as evidenced by the support and endorsements given by medical and other groups since 1930. Conspicuous among the former were the Public Health Relations Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine. Its recommendations, adopted in 1931, included the following statement: “A movement should be begun to include, in the curriculum of medical schools, instruction in modern contraceptive measures and in the indications therefor. The hospital clinics should likewise be asked to offer similar instruction to practicing physicians.” At the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection in 1930 a similar recommendation was made by the Sub-committee of the Section on Obstetric Teaching and Education of Physicians, Nurses, Midwives, Social Workers, and Laity.

Many religious groups have recently made public statement favorable to the birth control movement, at least to the extent of recognizing that existing laws should be modified which prevent physicians from imparting information concerning the use of contraceptives to those entitled to receive it. Among the groups which have issued such statements are the following: the Committee on Marriage and the Home of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America; General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches; New York East Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church; Universalist General Convention; and numerous political, lay, and social welfare organizations. In addition,the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1929 urged "the recognition of the importance of the control of parenthood as one of the methods of coping with social problems"; and the American Unitarian Association in 1930 recommended that its constituents consider the subject “to the end that they may support all reasonable efforts in their communities for the promotion of the birth control movement.” For the text of the statements by the specified organizations see Information Service (infra cit.) and The Gospel and the Family and Youth (General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches), 1931. In July, 1930, the English Ministry of Health issued a memorandum stating that in response to a widespread responsible demand, public health authorities would be authorized to give birth control information in the maternal and infant welfare centers of which there are several thousand throughout the British Isles. This announcement was preceded by a favorable, though guarded, pronouncement by the House of Lords, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and the British Medical Society.

The principal organized opposition to the movement comes from the Roman Catholic Church, and since the publication of the Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI, On Christian Marriage, 1931, many Catholic organizations--including the National Council of Catholic Men, the International Federation of Catholic Alumni, and the National Council of Catholic Women--have registered formal protests against the passage of birth control legislation. It is safe to say that all Catholic organizations are similarly opposed. The United Lutheran Church ofAmerica, Evangelical Lutheran Augusta Synod, Lord's Day Alliance, and a small numberof local religious denominations are also reported as opposed to the pending birth control legislation.

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