Document 17E: M. O. Bousfield, "Negro Public Health Work Needs Birth Control," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 170-71.
Negro Public Health Work Needs Birth Control
By M. O. BOUSFIELD, M.D.
A SOLUTION for any social problem should always have the primary interest of the Negro. Birth control is now to be thought of as having as much, if not more, social than medical value. It is the belief of the writer that in proportion to the importance of the movement and its particular adaptability to some of our most pressing health and social problems, it has received scant consideration. As a reasonably well-informed physician, my interest in matters of public health, especially as they affect the colored population, has increased during the past five or ten years. I was, therefore, amazed at my own lack of knowledge in this important phase of public health work when I ran across Margaret Sanger's recently published book, My Fight for Birth Control. I asked a few of my friends what they knew about birth control and found that they had given it little or no attention. This was true of physicians as well as laymen.
Infant welfare and maternal care are major considerations with public health workers among colored people. There is an appalling loss of life for both mother and child. The worst conditions exist in the rural sections of the South, but are not by any means confined to that section. The Negro Public Health nurse working in the rural South is making a fine contribution in this field by teaching better and cleaner midwifery and spreading information as to infant care. Among Negroes, unrestrainedly large families of undernourished children, with economically depressed, hopeless parents, are a major problem. This matter of birth control offers at least one method of attack.
I wanted to know more about it, and took advantage of a visit to New York City to visit the headquarters of Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau. I went from one consultation room to another and felt that each time I talked with a physician or a nurse that she was a thoroughly schooled person, who was in no sense a fanatic or propagandist, but was the sort of specialist one would expect to meet in any group clinic of high-class practitioners.
I visited the Harlem Branch of the Clinical Research Bureau, situated in the heart of the colored neighborhood. It has an advisory council of about fifteen of the leading colored men and women of Harlem, newspaper people, physicians, social workers and ministers. Colored workers are to be added to the trained personnel of the clinic with the hope of widening its influence. I was interested in still another angle: What did the people of Harlem think about this work? Was there resentment against the idea? Was there opposition to be overcome? It didn't take long to discover that the answer is: "No. Most physicians and ministers are not only sold to the idea and to the need of the work, but are anxious to advance it."
This is the usual reaction to birth control work: one approaches it gingerly and questioningly, but the more one investigates and studies, the more one becomes convinced that it is an element for good. Recently I made a public address, in which I touched the subject lightly, somewhat as an experiment, and suggested that it is time for some colored woman to become the Margaret Sanger of her race. After the meeting, two very intelligent young women, both mothers, came to me for information.
The work should have an especial appeal to colored physicians and colored social workers. In fact, it is reasonably safe to say that in a short time it
will not be possible for persons in either of these two important fields to consider themselves well informed or capable of performing their full duties unless they are thoroughly trained in the technique on the one hand, and in all the social implications on the other. Indeed, I make bold to predict that, especially for the fine women in the race who are practising medicine, this work will offer a remarkable field of endeavor, perfectly legitimate and ethical. It is undoubtedly a well-defined division of preventive medicine and may be viewed as one of the strongest elements for saving life.
The dangerous practice of abortion is one of the greatest blots on modern civilization and something must be done about it. No one knows accurately what the statistics are for the number of abortions done in this country, but it is variously estimated as being from one abortion for every four live births, to as high as one abortion for every live birth. This is only one of the very good reasons for birth control; it might be given as one of the negative reasons.
If birth control is to progress rapidly among colored people, it is important that colored physicians, especially women practitioners, and colored nurses and social workers be thoroughly initiated. This is one of the vital considerations to which the proponents of the movement have not given sufficient consideration.
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