Birth Control, 1929



The general aim of the birth control movement is to legitimatize the practice ofcontraception through scientific and hygienic methods, and to educate the adult public as to its advantages from the personal and social points of view. International in scope, the movement has been known under a number of names; in the British Empire as “neo-Malthusianism”; inFrance as “conscious generation”; and occasionally as “voluntary parenthood.”

History and Present Status.

In English-speaking countries the present movement derives from Malthus. In the second edition of his famous Essay on Population, published in 1903, the English clergyman first enunciated his law of the pressure of population upon the means of subsistence. The only solution he suggested for overpopulation was the practice of celibacy and late marriage. In 1826 Dr. Charles Knowlton, a Boston physician, was prosecuted for publishing a small book, The Fruits of Philosophy, advocating mechanical and chemical methods of contraception. In 1876-1877 Charles Bradlaugh and Mrs. Annie Besant were prosecuted and convicted for distributing that book among the working classes of Great Britain. Their conviction led to the foundation of the Malthusian League in 1878 by Dr. Charles Drysdale and his wife, Dr. Alice Vickery Drysdale. A Dutch League was founded in 1881. The neo-malthusians differed from Malthus in advocating contraception to prevent overpopulation and to reduce the birth rate.

The period between 1914 and 1921 in the United States was one of militant agitation and widespread publicity, partly as a result of several convictions of persons active in the movement for challenging federal and statelaws. In New York City in 1914, Mrs. Margaret Sanger began to advocate contraception on feministic and libertarian grounds,coining at that time the term “birth control.” The interest awakened in the whole question of contraception resulted in 1921 in the foundation of the American Birth Control League and of the Voluntary Parenthood League; also in the publication of a monthly periodical, the Birth Control Review, edited by Mrs. Sanger. The two organizations were subsequently combined under the name of the former.

Activities of the second period of the American movement, from 1921 to 1925, included the organization of local leagues, the education of public opinion, and campaignsfor the amendment of statutes which class the practice of contraception with obscenity and criminal abortion. During the third period, 1925 to the present, advocates of birth control have concentrated upon the establishment of clinics and research bureaus, and upon enlisting the interest and activities of physicians,biologists, biochemists, and social scientists generally. Results of these efforts are seen in the fact that no less than 55 clinics and bureaus are now operating legitimately in the United States (covering 23 cities and 13 states), dispensing contraceptive information to all persons legally permitted to receive it. InNew York State it is given to married people for the cure or prevention of disease. In California there are 12 clinics; there is one each in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Newark,New Haven, and Philadelphia; there are six in Chicago; and New York City has eight in hospitals and one operating independently. In addition, a branch for colored women has recently been established in the Harlem section of New York City by the Clinical Research Bureau.

The year 1929 was marked by the establishment of 27 new clinics. The successful operation of such clinics and research bureaus, under medical direction, makes possible the scientific analysis of individual cases, and also statistical studies.Through the latter material is being developed for the replacement of untested theory with impartial analysis. Social agencies are beginning to cooperate with suchclinics. Owing to the widespread change in public opinion, physicians are more willing to give advice in private practice. Over 10,000 of them have expressed willingness to do so.

The birth control movement is exerting a noticeable influence upon eugenics and giving a new direction to programs for race-betterment; it has resulted in renewed consideration of the problem of the legal sterilization of the unfit; and has influenced programs for the control of the dependent, delinquent, and defective groups in society. It has been given consideration by many social agencies seeking to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates, particularly by the Committee on Maternal Health of New York City. Financial support of the birth control movement has been from independent and anonymous sources, with the exception of temporary support from the Brush Foundation of Cleveland. During 1929 a study of 10,000 cases was made by the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, and a study offertility and sterility by the Committee on Maternal Health.

Legislation, 1929.

No laws on the subject were passed during the year. Bills to amend the laws which prohibit contraceptive instruction were defeated in New York and Connecticut.