Document 11: Advisory Council Meeting Minutes, 20 May 1931, 3 pp., Box 122B, Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Document 11: Advisory Council Meeting Minutes, 20 May 1931, 3 pp., Box 122B, Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.


   The minutes of this first formal meeting of the Advisory Council, along with the minutes of the second council meeting (see Document 12), include members' statements of their interest in and support for birth control. They also provide examples of the language Sanger used to welcome the cooperation of the Advisory Council members.

   Sanger relied on advisory councils in the CRB and other organizations she established in this period. The CRB guidelines for clinics, which were distributed nationwide, also recommended that all clinics organize advisory councils. Councils were intended to serve several related purposes. The existence of a formal group of advisers comprised of medical and social leaders in the community lent legitimacy to the clinics, which operated in an atmosphere of legal uncertainty and social controversy. (Council members' names were often listed on organization letterhead.) As Sanger saw it, the presence of medical professionals on advisory councils was particularly important to a clinic's success. In many states, if birth control clinics were to be legal at all, they had to be led by doctors. Even then, doctors risked their professional standing if they worked in clinics (see Document 15). The presence of medical professionals in clinics and on advisory councils also distinguished Sanger's birth control clinics from the purveyors of unsafe and unreliable contraceptives available in the birth control black market. The most important job of advisory councils was to cultivate public and financial support for the clinic within the local medical, social service, and philanthropic communities. Sanger's interactions with the Harlem Branch Advisory Council are consistent with these expectations, although it appears that the Harlem Branch council was more involved with the clinic than was the council associated with the main office of Clinical Research Bureau.[71]

   These minutes point to several important issues. First, as a branch location of Sanger's existing clinic, the Harlem clinic followed the procedures used at the main clinic. The Advisory Council was, therefore, not given a voice in the establishment of the clinic's initial operations. Instead, they were given information about clinic policies and plans for the future after the fact. This style of interaction with the council later emerged as a point of contention (see Document 40). Second, some of the clinic's standard practices presented difficulties in the context of Harlem. For instance, the words "birth control" did not appear on the CRB or Harlem Branch signs as a way to insulate the clinic from charges that it was crassly advertising its services. So the sign in Harlem merely identified the clinic as the Clinical Research Bureau, a name that did not make clear what services the clinic offered and perhaps raised concerns about the intention of the clinic to experiment on Harlem residents. Some members of the Advisory Council, however, felt that the addition of the words "birth control," about which there was a good deal of confusion, might raise fears that the clinic intended to promote race suicide in the African American community. This complex issue would come up again (see Document 12 and Document 21). Third, Harlem women were trying to control their fertility with the means available to them, which often meant illegal and unsafe abortions; Dr. Louis Wright, secretary of the board of the Harlem Hospital, spoke about the "appalling number of deaths" at his hospital among women who suffered botched abortions.[72]

   These issues characterize the history of the Harlem Branch of the Clinical Research Bureau. The community wanted and needed birth control, and Sanger and her white colleagues wanted to provide the services to the community but set up shop first and then reached out for community advice and support. This pattern put African American supporters in the position of having to persuade Sanger and her associates to alter the CRB's standard practices to meet the needs of their community as they understood them.

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May 20, 1931

   The following people met to form an Advisory Council for the Harlem Branch of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau on Wednesday May 20th, 1931, at 4:30 P.M.:--

Mrs. Margaret Sanger

Dr. Hannah M. Stone

Miss A. Field

Dr. Louis T. Wright

Dr. May Chinn

Dr. Alonzo DeG. Smith

Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop

Mrs. Bessye J. Bearden

Mrs. Mabel Keaton

Dr. Lucien Brown

Mrs. Arthur Allen

Mr. Edward Norman

   Dr. Hannah Stone presided as Chairman.

   The meeting opened with a discussion of the importance of securing an Advisory Council of fifteen outstanding individuals who could, through their personal and group affiliations, best further the work of the Clinic. Various possibilities were discussed and the following group of fifteen were finally decided upon subject to their acceptances:-

Dr. Peter Marshall Murray

Dr. James L. Wilson

Dr. Louis T. Wright

Dr. May Chinn

Dr. Alonzo DeG Smith

Dr. Wm. Lloyd Imes

Mrs. Bessye J. Bearden

Mrs. Mabel Keaton

Dr. Lucien Brown

Mrs. Hernandez

Mrs. Felix Fuld

Mrs. Lois Allen

Dr. Harold Ellis

Mrs. Jane Fisher

Rev. Horatio Hill

   The places of those refusing will be filled by other possibilities suggested at the meeting. Mrs. Sanger and Dr. Stone are ex-officio members of the Advisory Council. Dr. Bishop will continue to meet with the Advisory Council as an unofficial member, lending his support in every way but not participating officially because of personal reasons.

   The profession and affiliation of each member of the Council will be found appended to these minutes.

[p. 2]

   The need for contacting patients and for educating physicians as to the way in which the Bureau might serve them and their patients, was discussed at some length.

   It was suggested that while the general subject of Birth Control is not a new one, that it would be advisable to send out special literature to each member of the Advisory Council advising them as to just what our plans are for the future; just what our plans are for the future; just what types of patients may be accepted at t the Bureau, and in general acquaint them with all they should know to aid them in co-operating with us to the fullest possible extent.

   1.-What types of patients should be taken and how they can be reached. Dr. Stone briefly reviewed the New York laws and Court decisions on this subject which permit the physician to give contraceptive information for the cure or prevention of disease. This gives any physician a great deal of lee-way, as it would depend upon the personal interpretation of the physician as to what patients were eligible to receive advice at the Bureau. At the main office of the Bureau, women are taken immediately after childbirth, as it is felt a certain period of time should elapse before a woman undertakes another pregnancy. Also any woman with a nursing baby may receive information as another pregnancy following too soon might tend to exhaust the vitality of mother and baby.

   2.-The question of fees was next discussed. Miss Field stated that Harlem patients in many cases were only being asked to pay for their supplies, a total cost of $2.00, but due to the fact that the average wage is $13 to $20 weekly--for a family of from four to six children--many patients were unable to pay this small charge and were deterred from returning because of their inability to renew their supplies or to pay for the examination and material given them on their first visit. While Social Agencies sending patients in some cases pay this charge of $2.00 the fact remains that many patients who would come to us of their own accord do not receive this necessary help. Last month out of 79 new patients, the husbands of 43 were unemployed. As Mrs. Sanger pointed out, these are the very people who need our help the most. The present policy of the bureau is to ask the patient to pay as much as possible,--sometimes this is only 25 or 50 cents.

   3.-In order to continue to give help to this group, the importance of reaching the middle class who could pay for their material, was then discussed. A great deal of misunderstanding exists among these people as to what Birth Control is, many believing it might cause cancer, etc., etc. It was decided that Dr. Brown should write a series of two or three articles on the question of Birth Control and what the Bureau is trying to do, for publication in the Harlem papers, emphasizing the fact that Birth Control is harmless. The Harlem papers have already given us splendid co-operation and it is hoped and believed they will continue to do so. It was also decided to send out a release to all the Harlem papers acquainting them with the work of the Harlem Bureau. Mrs. Sanger pointed out that the Bureau had been enabled to continue largely through the great generosity of Mrs. Felix Fuld and the Rosenwald Fund.

[p. 3]

   Mrs. Sanger asked whether it would be possible to include as eligible for advice at the Bureau, women who had recently had abortions. Dr. Stone felt that such patients were indeed eligible as having post-operative conditions. In this connection Dr. Wright, President of the Harlem Hospital, mentioned the appalling number of deaths that come to his attention at the Hospital following abortions, and emphasized the need of educating such patients to the service of the Bureau.

   There is considerable discussion as to the best way to secure the co-operation of the physicians of Harlem. It was felt that while some physicians might wish to acquaint themselves with the technique of contraception, many others would prefer to send their patients direct to the Bureau. For the benefit of those who wish to observe technique at the Bureau, it was decided to set aside certain times as demonstration clinics, each session to be devoted to an example of the use of a particular type of contraceptive. In order to avoid confusion it was decided to select a picked group of physicians and send them notices, stating that the first six or eight replying would be expected at the Bureau, the others to be taken at succeeding clinics in order of their acceptances. A regular schedule could then be established. Mrs. Keaton made several helpful suggestions along these lines advising ways in which the Tuberculosis Association had worked out these ideas very effectively. This plan will not be inaugurated until after the next meeting.

   There was some discussion as to whether the name "Birth Control" should appear on the sign outside the Bureau now, in Harlem. Some felt it might tend to keep people away, or be construed as advertising, while others felt it would do away with a great deal of uncertainty as to what Clinical Research Bureau meant and would be helpful to many who have tried to locate the Bureau on 7th Avenue without success. It was decided to postpone any decision on this question until the following meeting.

   With regard to other meetings, it was decided to hold one more meeting on the 3rd Wednesday in June, or June 17th, before adjournment of the Council for the Summer. The first Fall meeting will be held the 3rd Wednesday in September, and once a month the 3rd Wednesday of each month thereafter. 4:30 p.m. will be the time unless otherwise stated.

   There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.


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