Document 2: Morris Waldman to Jacob Billikopf (Billie), 21 June 1929, Reel 31, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This letter expresses Waldman's delight at news that the Rosenwald Fund might be interested in supporting birth control. It provides a good example of the arguments white advocates used to support birth control clinics within the African American community. Billikopf and Waldman's genuine desire to assist the African American community coexisted with eugenicist ideas about disabled people "who never should have been born" and the "vast army" of criminals who were a "burden to society." Although these attitudes are repugnant to us today, they illustrate a widely held view of the period. The letter also provides a contemporary appraisal of Sanger by someone associated with her work.
Waldman (1879-1963) and Billikopf (1883-1950) had long careers working in the emerging profession of social work. At a time when many private charitable organizations were organized around and provided services based on religious affiliation, both men, who were themselves Jewish immigrants, were most closely associated with Jewish agencies. However, each was active in nonsectarian work as well. Morris Waldman, a rabbi, was a leader in the establishment of Federated Jewish Charities and Jewish social service agencies in Boston, Detroit, and New York City. He also helped organize a birth control clinic in Detroit, which may be how he became acquainted with Sanger. In 1928, he became executive secretary of the American Jewish Committee, a position he held until 1945. The committee fought for the civil and religious rights of Jews worldwide. Jacob Billikopf, who was executive director of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in Philadelphia at the time of this letter, is perhaps best known for his work as a labor arbitrator. During the New Deal, he headed up the Philadelphia Labor Relations Board. He was involved with civil rights and was one of several Jewish leaders invited to join the executive board of the NAACP when Joel Spingarn became the chairman of the organization in 1914.
The Rosenwald Fund, founded by Sears, Roebuck owner Julius Rosenwald, was the primary philanthropy to support initiatives in the African American community in this period. Julius Rosenwald, the child of Jewish immigrants, grew up in Springfield, Illinois. He attributed his lifelong commitment to equal opportunity to the inspiration of his hometown's most famous resident, Abraham Lincoln. The Rosenwald Fund is perhaps best known for its contributions to African American education. Between 1912 and 1932, the fund built 4,977 schools in rural African American communities throughout the nation that served 663,615 students in 883 counties in 15 states.
June 21, 1929.
I am very happy to learn from you that Mr. Rosenwald has contributed $1,000 to Margaret Sanger for her birth control work. As you say, I am very much interested in that movement. Though as a social worker I watched the progress of that movement with friendly eyes for a long time, it was only a few years ago that I had the opportunity of meeting Margaret Sanger; that meeting was the inspiration to me for some active work in that direction. I engineered a large meeting among the social workers at the National Conference of Social work in Denver four years ago. Following that, I agitated for the establishment of a birth control clinic in Detroit and succeeded in interesting a splendid group consisting of our best lay and medical folk, which about two years ago was crystalized in what is known as the Mothers' Clinic. I raised $3,000 from among a number of local friends for the first experimental year, after which, on my recommendation, our Federation made an appropriation of that amount, which since has been repeated and which undoubtedly will continue to be repeated from year to year and will probably be increased should the work grow to larger proportions. Elsie Sulzberger, the youngest step-daughter of Mrs. Kohut, headed up this group. Before opening up the establishment, she made a thorough study of the whole subject, including conferences with Mrs. Sanger and Doctor Dickinson of this city.[A] The clinic started with one physician and a nurse; the doctor is one of our outstanding gynecologists. Although the purpose behind the movement is social in a broad sense, the advice is rendered strictly only through medical channels. At first the clinic commenced with only one session a week, but in a short time through the cooperation of the general clinics of the city and many social agencies, the demands for service grew so rapidly that now I believe sessions are being held every day. If I am not mistaken, the Academy of Medicine in Detroit has placed its stamp of approval upon the clinic. You and I, who for years have been in closest touch with family problems, have a long time regarded with keen regret the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in more or less palliative relief for the support of the insane, mentally deficient, physically handicapped who never should have been born, to say nothing of the vast army of criminals who are even a greater danger and burden to society.
I cannot help thinking when I consider the munificent constructive aid which Mr. Rosenwald is giving to the negro race, what a splendid thing it would be if he were to devote a small proportion of those huge sums for the establishment of birth control clinics among the colored folk, who because of the greater prevalence of poverty, ignorance and disease among them, need this sort of service even more than does the population at large. And I do not overlook the indirect benefit to the latter in checking the growth of the least advantaged elements of the negro population. I feel that Mr. Rosenwald could thus do as much in a preventive way as he is now doing in a constructive way at the cost of many millions. What a tremendous contribution it would be if he could place some funds in Margaret Sanger's hands for work of this kind.
I probably would have become actively interested in this movement many years ago if I had not labored under the impression that Margaret Sanger was the proverbial mannish publicity-seeking type of social reformer for whom I have an aversion.[B] As you, who have met her, know, she is the very reverse of this type. Though militant in the sense that she has pursued her objective persistently and courageously, she is a woman of the finest sensibilities and great spirituality. She has secured the support, personal friendship and esteem of the leading scientists, publicists, sociologists and physicians in all parts of the world. The international conferences which she has engineered, at which scientific discourses of a high order have been presented, constitute a tremendous contribution to scientific knowledge of the subject. She is rightly regarded as one of the great women of the world and it is about time that philanthropists and social workers get behind her in this great undertaking.
I am very happy indeed that you have shown this interest and hope that you will find it possible to enlist more of your friends in the cause.
With kind regards, I am
(Signed) Morris D. WaldmanJacob Billikopf, Esq.,
330 South 9th Street,
A. Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), a leading gynecologist of this period, was an early supporter of birth control. In 1923, he established the Committee on Maternal Health to support scientific investigation of reproductive and sexual health issues. In that capacity, Dickinson tried to wrest birth control out of the hands of reformers and laypeople. He sparred with Sanger over control of birth control clinics throughout the 1920s and 1930s. See Carole McCann, Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 75-97. See also Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 275-86; and James Reed, The Birth Control Movement and American Society: From Private Vice to Public Virtue (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 115-66.
B. The term "mannish" is likely a reference to gender style. During the last half of the nineteenth century and the first several decades of the twentieth century, the term was used as an epithet to describe women who entered public life and exhibited "male" skills or behaviors. In Sanger's case, it may be a reference to her well-known administrative expertise and personal drive. For an example of the response of a woman in the labor movement to the charge that she was "mannish," see "Miss Rose Schneiderman, Cap Maker, Replies to New York Senator on Delicacy and Charm of Women" (1912) in "How Did Immigrant Textile Workers Struggle to Achieve an American Standard of Living? The 1912 Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts," also on this website.