Document 16: M. O. Bousfield to Michael Davis, Rosenwald Fund, 9 April 1932, 3 pp., Reel 31, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This letter constitutes Bousfield's formal evaluation of the Harlem clinic for the Rosenwald Fund. The report was a positive review of the clinic's overall quality, giving particular praise to the professionalism of the staff and the quality of the "clinical methods and procedures." Bousfield also noted that his thorough investigation could not turn up any objections to the clinic's "purpose" among "the leading ministers, laymen or physicians" in the neighborhood. Yet the report also contained an explicit discussion of the racial tensions in the clinic's operations. In their conversations with Bousfield, members of the Advisory Council had raised concerns about Hannah Stone, suggesting that she was one source of race-based friction in the clinic.
In October of the previous year, Dr. Stone had "attempted to get into things in an intimate way" by doing community outreach through hands-on training sessions for physicians. At the sessions, it became clear that Stone wanted to restrict African American physicians to African American clients. Advisory Council members, who struggled against such restrictions in their own professional lives, objected that these policies placed unacceptable limitations on their professional practice (see Document 14). Stone, who was legendary for her attention to the anxiety of women clients about the intimate aspects of the clinic visit, insisted that the issue was one of patient comfort. In addition, reading between the lines, one can also surmise that she was condescending to the African American doctors who asked questions about the ethics of birth control at her training sessions, questions that she said she "ordinarily would have expected only from the laity." Each of these issues revealed important sources of racial tension in the clinic's operations.
Dr. Bousfield pointed out that in the face of these problems, Dr. Stone had abandoned further efforts and had not consulted the Advisory Council, which, he noted, held "the solution of all her trouble." That solution, which the council had been suggesting for some time, was to hire African American staff at all levels in the clinic. In a carefully worded statement, Bousfield wrote that "it was immediately apparent" that this solution "could have been done at any early date." Bousfield was also cautious about drawing conclusions about Stone's character because the rigidity he had been warned about had not materialized in any of his interactions with her. He concluded that this was another case of a common problem in which a white person "finding herself enmeshed" in racial tensions in an interracial endeavor "did not have the patience to see it through."
After receiving a copy of Bousfield's report, Sanger initiated changes at the Harlem clinic. She replaced Hannah Stone with Marie Levinson (Warner) as the primary physician at the clinic. And in 1933, Dr. Harold Ellis, an African American physician, began working at the clinic as well. Document 21 contains a list of the other changes implemented in the clinic at this time. See Document 17E for Bousfield's support for the birth control movement and the Harlem Branch clinic. See Document 29 and Document 36 for the service of Dr. Levinson (Warner) at the clinic.
3513 South Parkway
April 9, 1932.
Dear Dr. Davis:
Whereas this letter concerns principally my visit to the Harlem Branch of the Birth Control Research Bureau, I want to include an impression gained while at the 16th Street Clinic also. The 16th Street Clinic was particularly impressive in its thorough organization and control. Mrs. Prevost sent me through as though I were a patient and at every step of the way I felt that the person sitting at each station was a real authority for her individual job. The young woman who demonstrates the use of the pessary on a rubber manikin is positively a genius. The earnestness, seriousness and ring of authority pervades the whole place. I was especially impressed with this idea because it dispells any notion that cultism, or propaganda or any other than a pure medical approach is intended.
At the Harlem Branch the same sort of people are to be found. Miss Lautermilch, only recently in charge there, is a fine, intelligent young woman and so is the nurse. I met only one of the attending physicians, a Dr. Levinsohn, and she seemed to be very much interested in her work and even wanting to do some research work on vaginal measurements with regard to race and nationality. Her idea was to overcome the trial and error method now in use in fitting the pessary. The rooms were clean and appeared entirely adequate, and while I heard some question as to the location, my own impression is that the location is a good one.
I spent a day and a half trying to find some objection to the clinic in the neighborhood, but there was not a single objection to the purposes of the movement to be found, either among the leading ministers, laymen or physicians. Indeed just the opposite appeared to be true among the ministers with whom I talked who were, after all, the most enthusiastic proponents of the work. This is especially true of the Rev. William L. Imes, who is anxious to have talks before the social organizations in his church.
Mrs. Keaton wants to bring the nurses of the district into closer contact with the work. All such ideas were advanced because there is a feeling that the work could be of far greater value if it were better known. It was reported that white patients were being treated in the Harlem Branch to the extent of from 20 to 50 per cent — this figure is thought to be too high. In so far as clinical methods and procedure are concerned, I believe that no criticism of the work of these clinics can be made — they would compare favorably with any clinics I have visited, and indeed, they appear to be better organized and more carefully conducted than some others I know where the possibility of infection is a much greater hazard.
This Clinic has, as I have already pointed out an Advisory Council of about 15 members, all of whom are colored. The people on the Council are very representative of Harlem and all of them except two or three are quite interested in the Clinic. It appears that about October 1931, Dr. Stone attempted to get into things in an intimate way, in Harlem, and evidently did make some considerable headway with lectures before professional and lay groups. Following these lectures she offered to the physicians of the community training in the technique of the Bureau. As nearly as I could determine there was some misunderstanding which developed following these meetings.
Dr. Stone expressed herself as disappointed at the reception of the work by the colored physicians. They asked questions which one would ordinarily have expected only from the laity as to the ethics of the Birth Control work. Fourteen of them registered for the training course but no two of them would agree as to the time for this training, so Dr. Stone intimated, rather than said, that in disgust, they had dropped any further attempts.
I was told that a couple of white physicians had attended the lectures from Brooklyn and had wanted to register for the training. Dr. Stone had objected to their registering in the colored clinic and wanted them to go down town. Dr. Murray, I believe it was, advanced objection to this attitude, stating that if he wanted to do some work in a Brooklyn clinic he would certainly fight against any opposition to keep him out of the work there and that if these Brooklyn men wanted to work there they should be permitted so to do. There was evidently some further discussion as to colored physicians being confined to the examination of colored women and it is likely that all this was rather tactlessly handled.
It would appear if it were desirable or necessary, to carry this argument to the point of trying to place the blame, that it would point to Dr. Stone being at fault. Dr. Stone was trying to work out one social problem (Birth Control) and suddenly found herself enmeshed in another (color or race). She did not have the patience to see it through, but washed her hands of it following this October experience. There had been no meeting of the Advisory Council since then until I appeared on the scene. It is useless to speculate how long this condition would have continued had I not gone there, yet the solution of all her trouble lay in the Advisory Council and I believe that they did offer a solution during the meeting which I attended. The solution was in the suggestion that the use of colored workers in the clinic, physicians, nurses, and attendants, would greatly increase the prestige of the work in Harlem. This suggestion was a spontaneous one and it is only fair to say that it was immediately acceptable to Dr. Stone and Mrs. Prevost. It was immediately apparent that it could have been done at any earlier date.
I heard a great deal of grumbling at Dr. Stone both at the 16th Street and in Harlem. All this is hearsay: she always objected to new ideas; to changes of any sort; is very jealous of her close association to Mrs. Sanger, and is responsible for delaying the progress of the movement.
I was told that she would oppose everything during the Advisory Council meeting. Dr. Stone, herself, never impressed me in this way during the time I talked with her nor did she object to a single suggestion during the meeting I attended. What I am trying to say is that unless I had been told that I should never have suspected it. That may mean that I am a poor observer, or that she does not possess these qualities in fact, or that she is a fine dissembler. Certainly she impressed me as a very fine woman and I am at a loss to account for her unwillingness to follow through in Harlem, because I would judge her to be the "follow through" sort, except that again and again white people, competent in every other particular get confused in the face of interracial endeavor. Lack of deep seated interest generally accounts for this.
With the addition of colored workers, and it should be the responsibility of the Advisory Council to submit the names of persons qualified for this training, there should be an added impetus to the influence of the Harlem work. Since I have been home, and in connection with the National Negro Health Week in Chicago and in Detroit, I have had reports that in both these cities local exponents of the Birth Control movement have been making contacts with the colored health workers to introduce their ideas among the colored people of these cities. This has no connection with my trip to New York, but is, in so far as I know, however, the first real step in propaganda among colored people.
My impressions is that the Rev. Wm. L. Imes, Dr. Harold Ellis, Dr. Peter M. Murray, Mrs. Mabel Keaton, and Dr. May Chinn, will be of the greatest assistance to Dr. Stone. Mrs. Bessye Beardan, a newspaper woman, is willing to give weekly runs of newspaper publicity if the material is prepared for her.
M. O. Bousfield
Dr. Michael M. Davis
Julius Rosenwald Fund
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