Birth Control Organizations:
Committee on Maternal Health /
Maternity Research Council

History

The Committee on Maternal Health (CMH) was formed in March of 1923 on the initiative of Gertrude Minturn Pinchot and under the direction of Robert Latou Dickinson. Sponsored by the New York Obstetrical Society and endorsed by the New York Academy of Medicine and the American Gynecological Society, the CMH was created to undertake contraceptive and reproductive research and to serve as an information center on medical aspects of human fertility. Initially comprised of about fifty physician members, the Committee, housed at the New York Academy of Medicine, conducted trial studies, gathered clinical data from hospitals and private physicians, and disseminated its findings. However, the Committee's insistence on strict medical requirements for participation in research studies and the inability of physicians to legally import contraceptives severely limited its research efforts. Although Dickinson, the Committee's secretary and chief administrator, disapproved of lay-operated clinics, his failure to obtain sufficient patient records or diaphragms needed for reliable studies of contraception, forced him to turn to the Clinical Research Bureau (CRB) of Margaret Sanger's American Birth Control League, which was, at the time, the only available source of clinical data on contraception.

In 1924 the Clinical Research Bureau had received a $10,000 grant from the Rockefeller-funded Bureau of Social Hygiene on condition that Sanger submit the Bureau's clinical data to the CMH for medical research. The CMH had initially refused to cooperate with the CRB because of the Bureau's liberal interpretation of the legal grounds for dispensing contraception, its female medical staff, and its close association with the birth control propaganda of the American Birth Control League. Sanger, who was anxious to secure outside medical approval for the work of the Bureau, addressed these continuing criticisms by asking the CMH to make recommendations for improving the Bureau. Following the CMH suggestions and Dickinson's reports, Sanger created a Medical Advisory Board, moved the Bureau from the building that housed the American Birth Control League, and removed birth control propaganda from the Bureau's offices. Dickinson, lacking reliable clinic data and impressed by the extensive record-keeping of the Bureaus medical director, Dr. Hannah Stone, eventually relented.

By 1925 Dickinson and Sanger agreed that the Bureau would be best served under the aegis of the medical profession and formed the Maternity Research Council (MRC) in December 1925 to oversee the operations of the Bureau. Made up of members of the CMH, and the Bureau's Medical Advisory Board, the MRC aimed eventually to provide medically-supervised clinical facilities and investigate and evaluate contraceptive methods. At Sanger's behest, it was also charged with securing a dispensary license for the CRB from the New York State Board of Charities which the Bureau had been unable to obtain by itself.

However, the New York State Board of Charities refused to grant the Bureau a license despite the MRC's lobbying efforts in 1926 and 1927. The State Board ruled that it was inadvisable to sanction additional clinics for specialties as opposed to those of general medical care, but did not elaborate on its decision. Both Dickinson and Sanger accused the Board of succumbing to pressure from the Catholic Church. Negotiations dragged on still further as MRC members remained reluctant to support the Bureau's broad interpretation of the law regarding the right of physicians to dispense contraceptives, while Sanger would not agree to cede her authority to the MRC without a dispensary license in place.

When Sanger resigned as President of the American Birth Control League in 1928, taking the CRB with her, Dickinson continued to pursue an association with the newly renamed Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB). The two organizations drew closer following the April 1929 police raid on the BCCRB during which patient records were confiscated. Dickinson rallied the medical community to publicly condemn the raid, prompting Sanger to momentarily agree to some of Dickinson's proposals regarding increased medical supervision of the Bureau. But, as negotiations continued through 1929, Sanger became more defensive and refused to turn complete authority over the Bureau to the MRC, although she continued to seek a degree of medical supervision. As the MRC failed to secure either a dispensary license or continued funding for the Bureau, Sanger's lingering interest in a full takeover faded. In 1930 Robert Dickinson finally joined the Bureau's Medical Advisory Board, and the MRC ceased its activities. In 1930 the CMH changed its name to the National Committee on Maternal Health and refocused its efforts on dissemination of information only. The Committee closed its offices in 1955 as its work was taken up by the Population Council.

Organizational Structure

COMMITTEE ON MATERNAL HEALTH

Committee on Clinical Service:
Oversaw all matters related to contraceptive clinics, including the availability of supplies and investigation of new products.

Committee on Medical Indications: Studied and assessed the principles underlying the use of contraception and sterilization for therapeutic or preventive reasons.

Community Relations Committee:
Provided for affiliation with other groups through two sub-committees: the Nursing Group and the Committee on Community Relations.

Executive Committee:
Comprised of between 9 and 13 members, most of them physicians, the Committee was responsible for carrying out medical studies and appointing officers. A Board of Directors was not established until 1932.

Finance Committee:
Fund-raising committee that included a lay group of 30 to 40 members who met once or twice a year.

General Medical Group:
Consisted of the complete medical membership of the CMH. Executive members were chosen from this group at meetings that were held once every two or three years. The Group was kept informed through publications and communications from the secretary.

General Membership:
Sub-committees and associated groups included approximately 100 members, most of whom were physicians representing departments of medicine and universities throughout the country.

General Studies:
Consisted of projects not assigned to special sub-committees, under the direction of the general and executive secretaries. Some of the work included research on birth control, sexual activities, and sterilization.

Publication Committee:
Approximately three members who solicited, edited and published Committee manuscripts primarily for the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Staff:
Consisted of five full-time workers, including the general secretary, an executive secretary, an office secretary and two special workers assigned to supervise research projects.

Sub-Committee on Laboratory Research Projects:
Organized special research projects in cooperation with other organizations, that directly applied to the study of human fertility.


MATERNITY RESEARCH COUNCIL

Directors:Consisted of eleven directors chosen from among members of the Maternal Health Committee, the New York Academy of Medicine's Public Health Committee, and the Clinical Research Bureau's Advisory Board. They met occasionally to discuss plans for the takeover of the CRB, but had few other duties.

Executive Committee: Comprised of some of the directors, the Committee was designed to be responsible for the operations of the Clinic until such time as a dispensary license was granted.


COMMITTEE ON MATERNAL HEALTH

Committee on Clinical Service: Oversaw all matters related to contraceptive clinics, including the availability of supplies and investigation of new products.

Committee on Medical Indications: Studied and assessed the principles underlying the use of contraception and sterilization for therapeutic or preventive reasons.

Community Relations Committee: Provided for affiliation with other groups through two sub-committees: the Nursing Group and the Committee on Community Relations.

Executive Committee: Comprised of between 9 and 13 members, most of them physicians, the Committee was responsible for carrying out medical studies and appointing officers. A Board of Directors was not established until 1932.

Finance Committee: Fund-raising committee that included a lay group of 30 to 40 members who met once or twice a year.

General Medical Group: Consisted of the complete medical membership of the CMH. Executive members were chosen from this group at meetings that were held once every two or three years. The Group was kept informed through publications and communications from the secretary.

General Membership: Sub-committees and associated groups included approximately 100 members, most of whom were physicians representing departments of medicine and universities throughout the country.

General Studies: Consisted of projects not assigned to special sub-committees, under the direction of the general and executive secretaries. Some of the work included research on birth control, sexual activities, and sterilization.

Publication Committee: Approximately three members who solicited, edited and published Committee manuscripts primarily for the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Staff: Consisted of five full-time workers, including the general secretary, an executive secretary, an office secretary and two special workers assigned to supervise research projects.

Sub-Committee on Laboratory Research Projects: Organized special research projects in cooperation with other organizations, that directly applied to the study of human fertility.

MATERNITY RESEARCH COUNCIL

Directors:Consisted of eleven directors chosen from among members of the Maternal Health Committee, the New York Academy of Medicine's Public Health Committee, and the Clinical Research Bureau's Advisory Board. They met occasionally to discuss plans for the takeover of the CRB, but had few other duties.

Executive Committee: Comprised of some of the directors, the Committee was designed to be responsible for the operations of the Clinic until such time as a dispensary license was granted.

Officers of the Committee of 100

For a complete list of Committee of 100 members, see the pamphlet The Birth Control Movement, under the Brownsville Clinic/Committee of 100 in the Collected Documents Series.

  • Cothren, Marion B. - Treasurer
  • Graves, Mrs. William Leon - Vice-Chairman
  • Pinchot, Gertrude Minturn - Chairman
  • Williams, Mrs. John H. - Vice-Chairman

Related Sources

Documentation on the operation of the Brownsville Clinic is scarce. Most of the extant records of the Clinic and the Committee of 100 are contained in the Collected Documents Series and on the Library of Congress microfilm, including legal records and correspondence about the trial, several letters written by Sanger from prison, and other material. The Collected Documents Series also includes minutes and resolutions of the Committee of 100. The Smith College Collections Series contains only a copy of the advertising flyer for the Clinic and several letters related to Sanger's trial and imprisonment, including two letters written from prison. The closing of the Clinic and related trials were well covered in the press, including in the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune and Brooklyn Eagle. The New York Call and The Birth Control Review also contain articles and editorials on the trials and prison sentences.

For legal records related to the Clinic trials and appeals, see:

  • 1916-1919 State of New York vs. Margaret Sanger et al.

For Sanger's writings about the Clinic and ensuing trials, see:

  • Articles and Speeches, 1916-1918



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