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Birth control policy, practice and prohibition in the 1930s: The Maternal Health Association of Cleveland, Ohio (PhD Dissertation)
  • Jimmy W Meyer
The 1928 founding of the Maternal Health Association (MHA) of Cleveland, Ohio, demonstrates the power of women's voluntarism to modify public policy and elucidates the role of gender within a social movement. Prominent white women across North America created birth control clinics like the MHA in the 1930s as independent voluntary associations. The clinics offered an innovative – and somewhat illicit – service to less-privileged white and black women. On the edge of respectability and at the boundary of the law, these pioneer clinics embodied tensions between public prohibition of contraception and private practices, evident in the falling birth rate. The MHA utilized traditional female reform methods to legitimate a non-traditional end, women's control over reproduction. Rich sources, including client letters, reveal different motivations for and reactions to birth control among women (founders, clients, and clinic physicians) and men (funders and spouses of clients). A comparison with the Birth Control Society of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, illuminates cultural distinctions and common principles in the North American movement. While other historians dismiss wealthy women like the MHA founders as agents of bourgeois social c ontrol, I view the MHA as a feminist catalyst. Using extensive networks, founders and clients stretched legal, medical, and social policy to benefit other women. Yet they remained bound by reverence for motherhood, racist eugenics, and physicians' authority. This study demonstrates the impact of local private action (including founders' voluntarism, funders' philanthropy, and clients' responses) on reproductive policy, a force ignored in previous historiography. However, discontinuities between public rhetoric and private realities, embedded in the MHA, persist into the 1990s, firmly entrenched in the regulation of reproduction.
  • Birth control policy
Publication Date
Citation Information
Jimmy W Meyer. "Birth control policy, practice and prohibition in the 1930s: The Maternal Health Association of Cleveland, Ohio (PhD Dissertation)" (1993)
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