Document 40: Mabel Staupers to Margaret Sanger, 2 August 1935, Reel 33, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
In this letter, Staupers voiced her objections to the manner in which the clinic transfer was accomplished and complained that the ABCL had ignored the Advisory Council since its takeover of the Harlem Clinic. Previous documents have given hints about racial tensions between the African Americans involved in the Harlem Branch and the white staff at the clinic (see Document 14 and Document 16 for the issue of hiring Black staff at the clinic; see Document 12 for concerns in the community that the clinic promoted race suicide). But the Advisory Council minutes did not record the depth of anger and frustration that Staupers expressed in this letter.
Mabel Staupers was executive director of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, a professional organization that was working hard to improve the opportunities and status of African American nurses. She also had considerable experience working in interracial reform efforts, both with the Harlem Branch and as executive secretary of the Harlem Committee of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association. From that position, she was Sanger's equal--both were leaders in national social movements--and her letter made it clear that she expected to be treated as a peer. While the immediate cause of her anger was the rude treatment the Advisory Council had endured after the transfer of the clinic to the American Birth Control League, Staupers was clear that the issue ran much deeper than this event. She referred to "the usual childish procedure that is maintained with any work that is being done for Negroes," a likely reference to her general experiences with white reformers, including birth control supporters. Staupers's expressed hope that Sanger and her associates would "discontinue the practice of looking on us as children to be cared for and not to help how the caring should be done" is an explicit critique of the paternalistic attitude that runs through many of the documents in this project.
The letter also offers a glimpse of how frustrating it must have been for experienced African American professionals to contribute to reform efforts in which white benefactors set the terms by which African Americans were included in projects in their own community. Yet it is clear that Staupers was committed to the cause of birth control, as is evident by her request for materials to distribute at an upcoming meeting. Despite the strongly worded criticisms of Sanger and her associates contained in this letter, Staupers continued to work with Sanger and her organizations after this episode. In the early 1940s, she served on the Advisory Council for the Division of Negro Service, a project of the Birth Control Federation of America, where she continued to argue for full inclusion of African American professionals in birth control projects in African American communities. Staupers apparently spoke at the memorial service for Dr. Hannah Stone, who died suddenly in July of 1941, with great pride about her involvement in the Harlem Branch and about how much Stone and Sanger inspired her to work for the cause. And in October 1941, the National Council of Negro Women, a group Staupers helped found, became the first national women's organization to endorse birth control.
August 2, 1935
Mrs. Margaret Sanger, President
Birth Control Committee
1343 H. Street, N. W.
Washington, D. C.
My dear Mrs. Sanger:
I have received some material from Miss Hanau, and have written her to send certain types of it for distribution at our National meeting in New Orleans.
I am cooperating because I am sincerely interested in the Birth Control movement. I think you realize this from my interest in the Harlem Clinic. I do want to state, however, that I resent the attitude of the New York Committee toward the Advisory Council when they assumed control of the Clinic.
I am writing this for myself as I do not know what contact the other members of the committee had with the group since the first time Dr. Stone met with us and introduced us to three members of this committee. We were to be notified of another meeting and as far as I know, no notices were received.
If the Birth Control Association wishes the cooperation of Negroes, especially in the nursing profession, I feel that we should be treated with the proper courtesy that is due us and not with the usual childish procedure that is maintained with any work that is being done for Negroes. I feel that if any work is being done for Negroes in any community, Negroes should share in the planning and in the expense to the best of their ability.
I shall have faith in the Birth Control Movement and do everything in my power to cooperate, but sincerely hope that you and your associates will discontinue the practice of looking on us as children to be cared for and not to help decide how the caring should be done,
Very truly yours,
Mabel K. Staupers
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