Document 17H: Constance Fisher, "The Negro Social Worker Evaluates Birth Control," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 174-75.

Document 17H: Constance Fisher, "The Negro Social Worker Evaluates Birth Control," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 174-75.

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The Negro Social Worker Evaluates Birth Control


WITH the general tendency today of more tolerance of birth control clinics and information, and with the increasing freedom in asking for direction in matters concerning birth control, attention is drawn to cross sections of people as well as to the general group. We are naturally interested to know what this new trend means in terms of social conditions or solutions of problems.

   The Negro has been emerging from an agricultural to an industrial state of existence in the past fifteen years, more or less. Just before and after the World War the transition seemed to take place speedily. In earlier years, in the more predominantly agricultural state, each child born to a family became an economic asset; all life was a struggle with nature and the more children there were to fight, the easier and better it was. Moreover, the large family was supposed to be the happy family and the more children a man had the more he won the respect and regard of his community. Then, too, there was the sense of security in old age, which parents felt because of the children who would always take them in and care for them. But when the pendulum began to swing in the direction of an industrial existence, it seemed that a wage Utopia had come and it was no longer necessary to have such large families to insure the bare necessities of life; still every additional person was of value in bringing in extra money and security to the home.

   With the present period of economic depression the story has begun to change. When a plant closes down for lack of work or when Negro labor or help is being replaced by others, the larger family does not help matters. When landlords refuse to accept a family because of too many children, and force it to go from house to house hunting a place to stay, the children become liabilities rather than assets. Despite the fact that many say "the Lord will provide," each new baby seems, inevitably, more of a burden than the last. Negroes are usually the first to feel any cuts in jobs or wages or any general lay-off. What their future in industry is no one knows. Suffice to say that in the present situation the smaller family is an asset.

   Family case workers frequently hear what might be called the song of regret from their clients who are finding their other problems intensified because of the narrow economic margin on which they are forced to exist; they want no more children now and they ask often where they may obtain bona fide and scientific information concerning this. Not only is the question coming from those concerned chiefly over their economic situation, but also from those homes in which the social worker finds domestic incompatibility, alcoholism, and many other social ailments. In many instances the case worker sees the need for birth control where and when the couple involved do not. Where there is low mentality, a serious health impairment, or other very obvious complications, it is very easy to see the need for information of this sort.

   In making a study of desertion a few years ago, the writer was impressed with the fact that in even the small sample studied at the time, the factor at the bottom of the difficulties in well over half the situations was sex maladjustment. This frequently bred feelings of inadequacy, insecurities of every sort, alcoholism, infidelity, desertion, and generally broken homes. And in most of the families the objections to constant pregnancy came from the mother, though the father was often greatly discouraged over the situation too.


   Obviously the family case worker must play some role in this new trend in public opinion, whether it is active or passive. When her clients come to her with their questions and problems, she must make some effort to help them find solutions, and when she goes into their homes she needs to be alert for causative factors as well as symptoms of difficulties. Her job is not to proselytize, but to administer her treatment of the case on as sound and thoughtful a basis as possible. If the family recognizes the need for birth control as either one of or the chief factor in working out its problems, and asks the worker for advice on the matter, she must meet her responsibility adequately. In instances where she sees a definite need for advice of this sort, the writer feels that she owes it to the community, as well as to the family, to use the birth control clinic as a tool for preventive social therapy as well as remedial or palliative treatment.

   The trend toward greater use of birth control clinics is one which must be recognized and reckoned with. Not every worker is qualified to suggest or advise procedures to families on this level of treatment, any more than every medical doctor is

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capable of diagnosing a psychosis or neurosis, but in the hands of an alert and capable worker, there is little danger. The Negro client is feeling less and less guilty about asking for and receiving information on birth control and is expressing himself freely as having wanted such guidance for a long time without knowing where to get it. There are still a great many who have not lost their sense of sinning in seeking such help, or who have superstitions concerning it, or who fear that it will only breed greater difficulties in the home. Yet, there are increasing numbers who seek birth control information because they feel that if they go on resenting themselves and their mates for physical, economic, and emotional reasons, greater problems are certain to arise, and the existing tensions in their family life are bound to be stretched to their logical ends —the breaking point.


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