Birth Control Organizations:
American Birth Control League

History

Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (ABCL) on November 10, 1921 at the First American Birth Control Conference in New York City. She established the ABCL to offer an ambitious program of education, legislative reform, and research that would supersede the work of Mary Ware Dennett's Voluntary Parenthood League, the successor to the National Birth Control League. Her goal was to build a truly national organization with representation in every region of the country. The staff and board of directors of the ABCL grew directly out of The Birth Control Review, the monthly journal Sanger launched in 1917. In 1923, the ABCL took over publication of The Birth Control Review from the New York Women's Publishing Company.

During Sanger's tenure as president, the ABCL focused on disseminating birth control information to doctors, social workers, women's clubs, and the scientific community, as well as to thousands of individual women; fostering the development of state and local birth control leagues and clinics; and lobbying at the state and national level for birth control legislation. A large part of the ABCL's activities involved the organization of conferences and public meetings on birth control. The League operated with the support of a national council composed of physicians, scientists, and prominent New York-area society women. By 1926 the ABCL also received support from over 37,000 general members. Members paid $1.00 to join and were often asked to support the ABCL's legislative initiatives by writing to their state and Congressional representatives.

The first legal birth control clinic in the U.S., the Clinical Research Bureau (CRB), opened in 1923 under the auspices of the ABCL. The clinic provided married women and couples with contraceptive services, including counselling and follow-up visits. Most women were fitted with pessaries or diaphragms to be used with a contraceptive jelly. The clinic kept extensive patient records to be used for research and to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a doctor-staffed, contraceptive program. The CRB served as the medical arm of the ABCL, conducting research and testing on a variety of contraceptives and medical practices related to reproduction, and responding to queries from women, doctors and other clinics throughout the country. The largest birth control clinic in the country, the CRB served as a model for the establishment of doctor-staffed clinics across the nation. Although Sanger maintained the clinic as a largely independent entity, the CRB reported to the Board of Directors of the ABCL and received part of its operating budget from ABCL resources.

Sanger served as president from 1921 until her resignation on June 12, 1928 over administrative differences with Acting President Eleanor Dwight Jones, a desire to concentrate on birth control research and clinical service at the CRB, and her increased interest in international work. After her resignation, Sanger assumed full control of the CRB, renaming it the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB), and severed all legal ties with the ABCL. In 1939, the ABCL merged with the BCCRB to form the Birth Control Federation of America, which in 1942 changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Organizational Structure

Advisory Board/Consulting Committee
Consisted of physicians who primarily advised the Clinical Research Bureau on medical issues and represented the clinic within the medical community.

Board of Directors
Approximately 15 members who oversaw all facets of the organization and elected an Executive Committee to supervise operations.

Clinical Research Bureau (CRB)
Founded in 1923, the CRB was directed by a woman physician (Dr. Dorothy Bocker, followed by Dr. Hannah Stone), and maintained a Medical Advisory Board. When Margaret Sanger resigned the presidency of the ABCL in 1928, she asserted full and independent control of the clinic, renaming it the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. In 1925, Bureau operated a clinic in the predominately African-American midtown neighborhood of Columbus Hill, which remained opened just three months. In 1926, the CRB also opened a Brooklyn clinic which lasted nine months.

Conference Committees
Committees formed for each of the conferences sponsored by the ABCL. Various officers and members of the national council participated in organizing and funding the conferences.

Congressional Committee
Founded in 1926, the Congressional Committee lobbied Congress and other organizations for a federal birth control bill. State lobbying was also undertaken in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California.

Education Department
Supervised the Publications Department, the Book Department, and the Margaret Sanger Lecture Bureau. It launched various education programs, and helped to organize conferences, and mass mailings.

Executive Committee
Comprised of ABCL officers (president, vice-presidents, treasurer), and selected members of the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee was empowered to oversee daily operations of the ABCL.

Margaret Sanger Lecture Bureau
Later called simply the Lecture Bureau, this department arranged for lectures on birth control by Margaret Sanger, James F. Cooper, and other members of the ABCL staff.

Motherhood Advice Bureau (MAB)/Motherhood Department
The MAB was established to answer the thousands of letters received by Margaret Sanger requesting birth control information.

National Council
A group of prominent socialites, religious leaders and physicians recruited by Sanger to provide respectability and advice to the ABCL. National Committee members had few formal duties but occasionally advised and assisted Sanger on policy questions and fundraising.

Publications Department (including the Book Department)
Responsible for the publication of The Birth Control Review, processing orders for ABCL publications and for Sanger's books, and dispatching press releases.

Personnel (1921-1928)

  • Ackermann, Frances B. - Treasurer
  • Ames, Blanche Ames - State Representative
  • Bacon, Elizabeth Grew - Administrative Staff
  • Bangs, Catherine Clement - President
  • Billings, May - Board of Directors; Vice-President
  • Blagden, Mabel Whitney - Board of Directors; Vice President; Treasurer
  • Bocker, Dorothy - Director, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Bradford, Rev. George H. - Board of Directors
  • Bradford, William - Board of Directors
  • Carpenter, Helen Graham Fairbank - Board of Directors; Vice President; State Representative
  • Cole, Leon J. - Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Committee
  • Cooper, James F. - Medical Director
  • Day, Katharine Seymour - Board of Directors
  • Delafield, Charlotte Wyeth - Vice President
  • Duffie, Mrs. Edward - Field Secretary
  • Dunning, Martha Binney - Board of Directors
  • Favill, John - Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Garth, Rev. William H. - Board of Directors
  • Hepburn, Katharine Houghton - Board of Directors
  • Jacobs, Fannie - Administrative Staff
  • Johnson, Beatrice W. - Executive Secretary
  • Jones, Eleanor Dwight - Board of Directors; President
  • Kennedy, Anne - Executive Secretary; Legislative Secretary; Congressional Committee; Field Secretary; Board of Directors
  • Little, Clarence Cook - Board of Directors; Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Meyer, Adolf - Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Mudd, Stuart - Board of Directors
  • Pearl, Raymond - Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Porritt, Annie Webb - Board of Directors
  • Roosevelt, Eleanor - Board of Directors
  • Rowe, Clara Louise - Secretary to Mrs. Sanger
  • Rublee, Juliet Barrett - Vice-President
  • Sanger, Margaret - President
  • Slee, J. Noah - Treasurer
  • Smith, Bertha Potter - Secretary of Motherhood Department
  • Solley, John B., Jr. - Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Stoddard, Theodore Lothrop - Board of Directors
  • Stone, Hannah Mayer - Director, Clinical Research Department
  • Tavis, D. E. - Administrative Staff
  • Tilton, Benjamin T. - Board of Directors; Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau
  • Timme, Ida Haar - Board of Directors
  • Vaughan, John Colin - Board of Directors; Director of Clinical Research Department, Consulting Committee; Advisory Board, Clinical Research Bureau

Related Sources

The largest collection of ABCL records can be found at Harvard University's Houghton Library. Many of these documents, as well as material found in the papers of such National Council members as Leon Cole, Raymond Pearl, Adolf Meyer, and Clarence C. Little have been included in the Collected Documents Series. There are also substantial ABCL records dating from 1928-1937 in the Library of Congress microfilm of Margaret Sanger's papers. A smaller collection of material, including early correspondence regarding ABCL activities, is located in the Smith College Collections Series drawn both from the Margaret Sanger Papers and the Records of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Birth Control Review provides a good sense of the League's activities and is available both in hardcover (DeCapo Press) and on microfilm (History of Women Collection, published by Research Publications, Reels 15-16).

For related organizations, see:

  • BCCRB for records of the Clinical Research Bureau after 1928
  • BCCA for records documenting efforts to coordinate the activities of the ABCL and BCCRB
  • Joint Committee, ABCL & BCCRB for records related to the 1939 merger of the and BCCRB

For ABCL-sponsored conferences, see:

  • 1921 - First American Birth Control Conference
  • 1922-1923 - State Birth Control Conferences
  • 1923 - Middle Western States Birth Control Conference
  • 1924 - New York State Birth Control Conference
  • 1925 - Sixth International Neo-Malthusian/Birth Control Conference
  • 1929 - Eastern Regional States Conference
  • 1930 - Western States Conference on Birth Control and Population Problems

For legal action concerning the ABCL, see:

  • Town Hall Raid (November 12, 1921)

For legislative bills supported by the ABCL, see:

  • 1923 New York State Assembly #884 (Rosenman)
  • 1925 New York State Assembly #1825 (Boyle)
  • 1927 New York State Assembly #684 (Gedney)
  • 1927 Pennsylvania Assembly # 456 (Sterling)



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