American Birth Control League
The American Birth Control League (ABCL) was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921 at the First American Birth Control Conference in New York City. The League was incorporated under the laws of New York State on April 5, 1922. Its headquarters were located at 104 Fifth Avenue, New York City from 1921–30 and at various offices on Madison Avenue from 1931–39. It was not associated with the National Birth Control League, founded in 1915 by Mary Coffin Ware Dennett, or the later Voluntary Parenthood League. The organization promoted the founding of birth control clinics, primarily for the Black and Latino population, and encouraged women to control their own fertility.
Birth Control Leagues had already been formed in a number of larger American cities between 1916 and 1919 due to Sanger's lecture tours and the publication of the Birth Control Review. By 1924, the American Birth Control League had 27,500 members, with ten branches maintained in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado, and British Columbia.
In June 1928, Margaret Higgins Sanger resigned as president of the American Birth Control League, founding the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control and splitting the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau from the League. In 1939 the two were reconciled and merged to form the Birth Control Federation of America. In 1942 the name was changed to Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Goals and activities
The ABCL was founded on the following principles, here excerpted from Margaret Sanger's The Pivot of Civilization:
We hold that children should be
Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.
- Conceived in love;
- Born of the mother's conscious desire;
- And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health.
At its founding, the ABCL announced the following purposes:
- To enlighten and educate all sections of the American public in the various aspects of the dangers of uncontrolled procreation and the imperative necessity of a world programme of birth control.
- To correlate the findings of scientists, statisticians, investigators, and social agencies in all fields.
- To organize and conduct clinics where the medical profession may give to mothers and potential mothers harmless, reliable methods of birth control.
- To enlist the support and cooperation of legal advisors, statesmen, and legislators in effecting the removal of State and Federal statutes which encourage dysgenic breeding.
Margaret Sanger listed the following aims of the organization in the appendix of her book The Pivot of Civilization:
*Research: To collect the findings of scientists, concerning the relation of reckless breeding to the evils of delinquency, defect and dependence;
- Investigation: To derive from these scientifically ascertained facts and figures, conclusions which may aid all public health and social agencies in the study of problems of maternal and infant mortality, child-labor, mental and physical defects and delinquence in relation to the practice of reckless parentage.
- Hygienic and Physiological instruction by the Medical profession to mothers and potential mothers in harmless and reliable methods of Birth Control in answer to their requests for such knowledge.
- Sterilization:of the insane and feebleminded and the encouragement of this operation upon those afflicted with inherited or transmissible diseases, with the understanding that sterilization does not deprive the individual of his or her sex expression, but merely renders him incapable of producing children.
- Education: The program of education includes: The enlightenment of the public at large, mainly through the education of leaders of thought and opinion--teachers, ministers, editors and writers to the moral and scientific soundness of the principles of Birth Control and the imperative necessity of its adoption as the basis of national and racial progress.
- Political and Legislative: To enlist the support and cooperation of legal advisers, statesmen and legislators in effecting the removal of state and federal statutes which encourage dysgenic breeding, increase the sum total of disease, misery and poverty and prevent the establishment of a policy of national health and strength.
- Organization: To send into the various States of the Union field workers to enlist the support and arouse the interest of the masses, to the importance of Birth Control so that laws may be changed and the establishment of clinics made possible in every State.
- International: This department aims to cooperate with similar organizations in other countries to study Birth Control in its relations to the world population problem, food supplies, national and racial conflicts, and to urge all international bodies organized to promote world peace, the consideration of these aspects of international amity.
In 1921, the ABCL organized the First American Birth Control Conference at New York City, November 11–18, 1921. Subsequent conferences were held over the next two years in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Albany, and Chicago. The ABCL arranged the holding of the Sixth International Birth Control Congress in the United States in 1925. The ABCL published leaflets, pamphlets, books, and a monthly missal named Birth Control Review. Margaret Sanger served as the first president of the organization. The vice-presidents were Charlotte Delafield and Juliet Barrett Rublee. Frances B. Ackerman served as the first Treasurer. Anne Kennedy was the Executive Treasurer. Lothrop Stoddard and C. C. Little were among the founding directors.
Other presidents of the ABCL were: Eleanor Dwight Jones (1928–34), Catherine Clement Bangs (1934–36) and C. C. Little (1936–39).
The American Birth Control League was an eugenics organization targeting minority and handicap populations Margaret Sanger called for force sterilization and interment camps in the Plan for Peace.
“Plan for Peace” from Birth Control Review (April 1932, pp. 107-108)
Article 1. The purpose of the American Baby Code shall be to provide for a better distribution of babies… and to protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit. Article 4. No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit… Article 6. No permit for parenthood shall be valid for more than one birth.
"Give dysgenic groups [people with “bad genes”] in our population their choice of segregation or [compulsory] sterilization." April 1932 Birth Control Review, pg. 108
"Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race." Woman, Morality, and Birth Control. New York: New York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.
"We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population"
On the Negro Project Letter to Dr Clarence Gamble Dec 19th 1939
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- Esther Katz (Editor), Peter C. Engelman (Editor), Cathy Moran Hajo (Editor), Amy Flanders (Editor) (2006). The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 2: Birth Control Comes of Age, 1928-1939. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-03137-7.
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- Gordon, Linda (1976). Woman's Body,Woman's Right:A Social History of Birth Control in America. New York: Grossman Publishers. ISBN 978-0-670-77817-1.
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