Dorothea Palmer

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Dorothea Palmer (Ferguson) (born 1908 [1] died 1992) was a Canadian who played a prominent role in the effort to legalize birth control in that country.

In September 1936, Palmer was arrested and charged under section 207 of the Criminal Code, which stated that the selling or advertising of contraceptives was illegal. Unfortunately for her, she was arrested while promoting contraception to women in the poor Roman Catholic Ottawa community of Eastview.[2]

A nurse by training, she had been hired by the Parents' Information Bureau, which was funded by A. R. Kaufman, the wealthy owner of the Kaufman Rubber Company in Kitchener, Ontario and prominent eugenics supporter.[3] Kaufman welcomed the chance to test Canada's laws in court, and spent the then considerable sum of $25,000 mounting a defence in what would later be known as The Eastview Birth Control Trial, which lasted from 1936 to 1937.

The trial attracted both Canada's most prominent advocates for birth control and representatives of the major churches and other birth control opponents. During the trial Palmer was the subject of attacks and abuse by those who opposed her. In one incident a man pulled her into an alley and attempted to rape her, telling her that he'd "show you what it's like without any birth control." Palmer managed to knee him in the groin and escape.

On March 17, 1937, the court acquitted Palmer on the basis that her actions had passed the criminal code's pro bono publico clause: that her actions were done entirely in the interest of the public good. Here was a landmark trial. Even still, although contraception was not fully legalized in Canada until 1969, no other person was ever prosecuted for distributing information about birth control in the country.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dorothea Palmer collection". University of Waterloo: Special Collections. 
  2. ^ a b Elliot, Wendy. "Dorothea Parker: Brave Disseminator of Birth Control Information". Canadian History: Suite 101. 
  3. ^ Revie, Linda (2006). ""More than just boots! The eugenic and commercial concerns behind A. R. Kaufman's birth controlling activities".". Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. 23 (1): 119–43. 
  • Beswick, Lorne. "'Birth Control or Red Regime': Toronto, Eugenics and the Eastview Birth Control Trial," MA Thesis: Queen's University, 2011.
  • "History marks a page for Dorothea Palmer" Frank Jones. Toronto Star. Nov 12, 1992. pg. C.1
  • "Did dirty work for men at trial, pioneer of birth control says" Joan Hollobon. The Globe and Mail. Nov 30, 1978. pg. T.3
  • "A. R. Kaufman Industrialist was pioneer in fight to establish birth control clinics" The Globe and Mail. Feb 2, 1979. pg. P.40