Document 32A: Margaret Ensign to Willa Murray, 20 April 1933, Reel 33, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This letter, from Margaret Ensign, the supervising nurse of the Harlem clinic, to Willa Murray, Sanger's personal assistant, conveyed a handwritten letter by a client at the Harlem clinic (see Document 32B) and an annotated news item. The client's letter said that she had decided to stop using birth control after becoming a follower of Father Divine, a notable local religious figure. The attached news item provides a contemporary description of Father Divine by the local African American paper.
Father Divine was a charismatic religious leader who became very prominent in Harlem in the 1930s. A self-declared deity, Father Divine quietly practiced a celibate communal life with his flock in Sayville, Long Island, during the 1920s. To the consternation of their neighbors, the group's generosity to the poor brought increasing numbers of people to their doors in 1930 and 1931. An arrest and conviction for disturbing the peace in Sayville brought Father Divine into the public eye in 1932. The blatant racial motivations for his arrest led civil rights organizations to defend him. When the presiding judge died suddenly within days of Father Divine's conviction, his followers claimed the death was divine retribution. After this episode, Father Divine and his mostly female followers moved to Harlem and set up fifteen sex-segregated and racially integrated communal houses, known as "kingdoms." His followers, known as "angels," pooled wages and shared housekeeping tasks. Daily they produced feasts that reputedly fed more than 3,000 people. The community also ran restaurants where people could buy a good meal for ten to fifteen cents. Because followers of Father Divine were celibate, the letter-writer and former Harlem Branch clinic client declared that she no longer needed contraception.
April 20, 1933
Attached, you will find the original letter from our patient, Helena Williams, who is a follower of Father Divine. He has a tremendous following up here and preaches--total abstinence.
Also an old patient--a colored mother, Venus William, whose first visit to the Clinic was in 1932--after having five (5) children in six (6) years--has discontinued the method because of recent religious convictions. The patient said she was a "well wisher of the Clinic" and "grateful for the help we had given her when she could not help herself, but now she had learned to have absolute faith in God," so she no longer needs our services.
There is a very large Unity Centre up here. This may help explain some of the forces at work against us in the community, over which we have no control.
Mrs. Margaret Ensign R.N.
Supervisor in Charge
P.S. Kindly Return letter--thanks a lot
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