Document 12: Advisory Council Meeting Minutes, 17 June 1931, 3 pp., Box 122B, Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
The minutes for the second meeting of the Advisory Council recorded some of the tensions in the council's relationship with the clinic. In the discussion about ways to increase attendance at the clinic, council members discussed their belief that use of the term "Research Bureau" in the clinic's name had raised fears about the clinic's purpose. Members of the community were suspicious about the motives behind white-run birth control clinics because they were concerned that whites were interested in promoting race suicide among Blacks.
This suspicion was based on a legitimate interpretation of the rationales for some segregation practices. After the 1870 census inaccurately estimated that the African American population was declining, white supremacists predicted that the "Negro problem" would solve itself. The race's "failure in the struggle for existence" would lead to its extinction, they claimed. They pointed to this potent myth of racial degeneracy to justify the political disenfranchisement of African Americans and the rigorous Jim Crow segregation policies that ensured white supremacy throughout the South. This line of reasoning was also used to justify the utter neglect of African American health care and education in southern states (see Document 17C). African Americans confronted similar neglect of health care and education in the North as well as the South.
The minutes also point to the complex relationship between birth control clinics and physicians. In the discussion of the clinic's name, we learn that the words "birth control" caused a negative reaction among some physicians who disdained advertising of medical services and among others who felt that the clinic was stealing their patients. Yet it is also clear that many physicians did not have the expertise to offer similar services in their offices, as the discussion of demonstration clinics for physicians revealed. In fact, Sanger's clinics performed a valuable service for physicians by providing training in contraceptive techniques (see Document 16). Before the 1937 American Medical Association resolution accepting artificial contraception as appropriate medicine, such training was not available in medical schools. Document 11 notes that Mabel Keaton (Staupers) offered valuable suggestions for planned training sessions for Harlem's physicians.
MINUTES OF THE SECOND MEETING OF THE BOARD OF MANAGERS OF THE HARLEM BRANCH OF THE BIRTH CONTROL CLINICAL RESEARCH BUREAU
June 17, 1931.
The second meeting of the Harlem Advisory Council of the Harlem Clinic was held Wednesday, June 17th, 1931. The following attended:
Dr. Hannah M. Stone
Miss A. Field
Dr. Alonzo DeG. Smith
Dr. Peter Marshall Murray
Dr. Lucien Brown
Mrs. Arthur Allen
Dr. Howard Ellis
Mrs. Jane Fisher
Mrs. Felix Fuld
Mrs. Sanger was unfortunately unable to stay for the meeting although she spoke with several members present before the meeting opened.
Dr. Hannah Stone presided as Chairman.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and the following correction made:
Dr. Wright is Secretary to the Board of the Harlem Hospital and not President as stated in the minutes. With this correction, the minutes were accepted and approved as read.
Miss Field stated that every member of the Advisory Committee she had been in touch with, had agreed to serve on the Committee. Dr. Hill expressed his great interest in the work and had stated he would make every effort to be present at the meeting.
The meeting was given over to a discussion of the following questions which had not been definitely decided at the previous meeting,
1. THE QUESTION OF HOW TO CONDUCT DEMONSTRATION CLINICS
Dr. Stone stated that a course of eight sessions should be given beginning in the fall, with four or five doctors registered for each successive course. Doctors completing this course should then be qualified to give this instruction to their patients and would be placed on our files as physicians to whom private patients might be referred. Dr. Murray expressed his belief that the course should be as short as possible, but Dr. Stone stated that while the necessary
instruction to a physician could be given in one session, the additional sessions were recommended in order that he might gain the needed clinical experience. It was decided that the co-operation of the Harlem Medical Association would be enlisted with a view to having the association include an announcement of this course in their own literature to physicians. In addition, other medical groups or associations might be willing to cooperate in this way. An effort will also be made to secure the endorsements of the various medical societies. In this connection however, Dr. Murray stated his belief that the doctors should be first educated as to just what Birth Control is before going after their endorsements.
It was definitely decided that such a course of instruction would be given next fall and the cooperation of medical groups and societies would be sought. In an effort to cooperate to the fullest with the Harlem physicians, no fee will be charged for the course.
2. THE QUESTION OF ADDING THE WORDS, "BIRTH CONTROL" TO THE PRESENT SIGN IN FRONT OF THE CLINIC WHICH NOW READS, "RESEARCH BUREAU".
A great deal of discussion developed regarding this point. Those emphatically in favor of the change were, Dr. Ellis, Dr. Brown, Mrs. Felix Fuld and Mrs. Allen who all felt that the words "BIRTH CONTROL" would enable both patients and physicians in the neighbourhood to better locate the clinic which, as the sign reads today, is rather misleading to the average person. They felt that the increased service to mothers that would be rendered by such an action, far out-weighed any temporary unfavorable reaction that might occur among some individuals or groups. It was Mrs. Fuld's opinion that there was no longer any need to "camouflage" the work we are doing.
Dr. Murray on the other hand, while not absolutely opposing this procedure, stated his belief that it might be construed as "advertising" and tend to alienate some of the local doctors. He emphasized however, his belief that so many doctors were really ignorant as to what the clinic really was doing and that we should make every effort to gain their confidence and inform them of the activities of the Harlem Clinic at the earliest possible time. He also reminded the group of the fact that there already existed among many of the profession a feeling that clinics take away patients from their private practice. It was pointed out however, that the great majority of the patients are of the poorest
class and could not avail themselves of the services of a private physician and even if they could, most of the doctors in private practice are not sufficiently equipped with contraceptive information to be of service to the patient in this respect.
Dr. Stone pointed out that the words "BIRTH CONTROL" could appear in small type on the sign in such a way that it would not be construed as advertising.
Because so many of the Advisory Council were absent from the meeting, it was decided to postpone a decision on this question until the first meeting of the fall which will be held the third Wednesday in September, September 16th.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.
back to top