Document 41: Margaret Sanger to Mabel Staupers, 7 August 1935, 2 pp., Reel 33, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This is Sanger's response to Staupers's letter of 2 August in which she expressed deep anger about the paternalistic treatment of the Harlem Branch Advisory Council during the clinic's transfer (see Document 40). Sanger began by expressing warm thanks to Staupers for her efforts in support of "our resolution" at a recent national meeting. Turning to the substance of Staupers's letter, Sanger said that she was "utterly shocked" at the situation Staupers described because she had been assured that the ABCL's New York City Committee would continue to work cordially with Advisory Council members. Sanger tried to explain the problem as the result of miscommunications that would "all work out to your satisfaction in a little while." Sanger responded indirectly to Staupers's critique of her own interactions with the African American community by reaffirming her practice of "the fullest and most wholehearted cooperation" and her belief in "utter frankness and direct honesty in all these matters." Yet she did not apologize or offer Staupers any assistance in resolving the matter. Instead, she suggested that Staupers voice her concerns with the New York City Committee directly.
It is clear from this exchange of letters that the Harlem Branch clinic as well as the relationship between the two reformers embodied both interracial cooperation and conflict. Sanger was genuinely concerned that birth control be made available to women in Harlem, and she worked hard to find funding for the clinic within very serious constraints (see Document 3, Document 6, Document 9, and Document 27). In her efforts, Sanger sought the advice and assistance of African American professionals. Those professionals, however, at times experienced the way Sanger and her associates involved them in the project as patronizing. Yet even with those limitations, Staupers remained committed to the birth control movement and continued to work for legal and accessible birth control for black women. 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 (BCFA), where she continued to argue for full inclusion of African American professionals in birth control projects in the African American community (see Document 40). Perhaps having learned valuable lessons through the Harlem clinic project, Sanger also pushed for full inclusion of African Americans in leadership roles in the division's projects.
August 7, 1935.
Mrs. Mable Keaton Staupers,
50 West 50th Street,
c/o Ntl. Ass'n of Colored Graduate Nurses,
New York, N.Y.
Dear Mrs. Staupers:
Your letter of August 2nd was sent to me at Washington and forward to me here.
First of all, I wish to tell you how much I appreciate your offer to distribute birth control literature and present our Resolution at your meeting in New Orleans. It is the nurses who are in direct contact with those who need birth control advice, and who more than any other single group, can make the general public, the doctors and the legislators see the importance of the subject and how urgent the situation is.
It is needless perhaps for me to say that I am utterly shocked at what you tell me regarding the situation of the Harlem Birth Control Clinic. You must know what my own attitude is towards negroes and how much I deplore the sort of thing that you mention. I think the records of the Clinical Research Bureau will speak for the fullest and most wholehearted cooperation between the negroes and the birth control work since first we established our clinic in Harlem, and I should never have given over the clinic to the New York Committee had it not been understood that a certain amount of money had been left or was about to be left in memory of a colored butler in the home of a wealthy woman of the Board of the New York Committee. This grant was to be given entirely for the establishment of a free birth control clinic in Harlem. I especially emphasized to the members of the Committee that the most cordial relations had always existed between our own Clinic group and the Clinic in Harlem. I was assured that this would be continued because many members of our New York Committee were also members of the Urban League Council, and all of the Committee members I spoke with expressed keen interest in the advancement and progress and welfare of the colored people, so naturally I felt that the little Clinic in Harlem could be given over in good hands.
The fact that you have not been called to a meeting may only mean that no meetings have been held. Unfortunately I could not be present at the last meeting owing to my son's illness which took me to California, and I asked Dr. Stone to represent me at the meeting and to explain the situation.
There is really nothing more that I can do as the Harlem Advisory Council accepted the New York Committee in place of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, with the understanding that they would conduct a free clinic. I really believe that the whole thing will work out to your satisfaction in a little while. The New York Committee, I am sure, has the greatest interest and desire to cooperate with you. I think it would be wise at the next Council meeting to bring up the subject discussed in your letter and to place yourselves on record with the New York Committee as to how you feel and how you wish your Clinic to be conducted. I believe in utter frankness and direct honesty in all these matters and this is the way I have always worked with the Harlem Advisory Council.
I feel very happy that our relationship has been so cordial and I still believe that cordiality and good will will be carried on.
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