What Perspectives Did African American Advocates Bring to the
Birth Control Movement and How Did Those Perspectives Shape the
History of the Harlem Branch Birth Control Clinic?
On February 1, 1930, Margaret Sanger opened a branch office of her New York City birth control clinic in the center of Harlem, at 2352 7th Avenue near 138th Street. For the next five years, until 1935, the Harlem Branch of the Clinical Research Bureau offered African American and white women clients gynecological examinations by a physician and contraceptive instruction by a nurse. The Harlem Branch clinic also conducted educational programs for the community and carried out fundraising activities to support the clinic's expenses. From its inception, the clinic involved the collaborative efforts of both African American and white birth control advocates. After the clinic opened, Sanger assembled an Advisory Council of African American community leaders. Some of Harlem's most prominent African American health professionals, clergy, and social activists participated in the clinic's work. The documents in this project offer a window on the views and actions of African American birth control advocates associated with the Harlem clinic. Intertwined, and sometimes conflicting, elements of women's rights, economic security, and racial progress laid the ground for cooperation and conflict between the Advisory Council and Sanger and the white clinic staff. Both groups shared a concern about the high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and both supported birth control as a basis for promoting women's health and the health and well-being of their families. At the same time, disparaging attitudes about the poor ran through the perspectives of both groups, although the Advisory Council disputed any suggestion that biologically based racial traits accounted for the problems the poor of Harlem faced. Where they differed from Sanger, the Advisory Council members were able to influence her management of the clinic. The council's influence was apparent as well in the clinic's publications and educational programs. The Advisory Council's efforts reflected their commitment to racial justice based in equal opportunity through full integration.
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