Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Eleanor Dwight Robertson Jones, 1880-1965
By Thomas Wirth and Askia VanOmmeren Briggs, State University of New York at Cortland
and Theodore K. Andrews, undergraduate student, Saint John's University, Queens, N.Y.
Women's Political Union of New York; President, American Birth Control League, Woman Suffrage Party of New York City; Executive Vice-President, Euthanasia Society of America
Eleanor Dwight Robertson Jones (also known as "Mrs. F. Robertson Jones" and as "Eleanor Dwight Jones") was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 14, 1880 to William Cook and Susan Coffin Boyd Cook. Her father taught German at Harvard, and she attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, graduating in 1902. Jones went on to teach English at both Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia from 1903-1906 and at Miss Chapin's School in New York City from 1906-1908. She married Frederick Robertson Jones, an economics professor and insurance expert, on June 20, 1905. The couple had two daughters, Eleanor and Katharine.
After moving to New York with her husband, Jones pursued an interest in two major women's issues: suffrage and birth control. With respect to the former, Jones joined the Woman's Suffrage Party of New York City, and in 1916 served as second vice-chair of the party campaign board of directors under the direction of Mary Garrett Hay. Jones also acted as director of the party's picture committee in 1917, coordinating suffrage propaganda through stereopticon images. These suffrage propaganda pictures, guided by the slogan "eye arguments for suffrage," were designed to attract working-class immigrant women who struggled with English and found it easier to learn the language "by seeing." The slide presentations were shown at suffrage club meetings and at movie houses around the city. Jones also organized suffrage parades in New York and gave open-air speeches to crowds that gathered under the Third Avenue elevated train line near her home in Upper Manhattan. In addition to her work for women's suffrage, Jones was active in the Municipal League of New York, the Women's Political Union of New York, and the Yorkville Neighborhood Center.
Jones is perhaps best remembered for her role in the American birth control movement and her clash with American Birth Control League (ABCL) founder Margaret Sanger. Beginning as a volunteer for ABCL in the early 1920s, Jones eventually rose to a position on the league's board of directors. Sanger recalled in her autobiography Jones's tireless commitment to the movement, noting that she "went to meetings in blizzard or rainstorm, by subway or on foot if necessary." In 1926, when Sanger took temporary leave from the ABCL to participate in the World Population Conference in Geneva, she named Jones acting president. Jones immediately put to use her talent for organization, initiating administrative reform through changes to ABCL governance, accounting procedures, and fundraising methods. While Sanger was not initially opposed to the changes, upon permanent return to America in early 1928 she took umbrage at what she perceived as Jones's officious style of management, having replaced the more relaxed environment ABCL veterans had grown accustomed to under her leadership. Sanger quarreled with Jones and the ABCL board of directors after resuming her post as league president in 1928. Where she favored a bold agenda for the league, including passage of federal birth control legislation, she claimed that the new generation of ABCL leaders appeared overly concerned with pecuniary interests. Sanger relinquished her presidency to Jones in June 1928 and an arrangement that allowed Sanger to retain control of the ABCL's flagship publication, the Birth Control Review, unraveled soon after.
Following Sanger's ousting, Jones focused organizational policy on distancing the ABCL from its past as a propaganda and lobbying agency. The goal of the ABCL in the early 1930s, as historian Carole R, McCann has written, was to win legitimacy as a "professional public health agency." To achieve this objective, Jones sought an increase in the number of birth control clinics within "hospitals, settlements, and other maternal centers," thereby expanding contraceptive and educational services under the aegis of experts from the American medical community. Jones viewed clinic organizing as a step toward standardizing birth control practices in concert with doctors, nurses, and social workers. Like her predecessor Margaret Sanger, Jones also used the ABCL to advance Malthusian and hereditarian arguments for fertility control. During the Great Depression, Jones explicitly tied the relief crisis owed to mass unemployment to the putatively damaging impact of a growing population of "socially unfit" in America. As she wrote in the Birth Control Review in 1933, "When we consider the lowest economic class of all (those who are chronically dependent because they are socially inadequate), we find that birth control has made practically no progress in either country or city—a baby or an abortion every year is the rule." Jones and other ABCL advocates contended that wider availability of birth control promised to ease the strain on government relief agencies, thus saving the individual taxpayer money, and in the long term would contribute to "racial improvement." Jones considered an ABCL merger with the American Eugenics Society (AES) in 1934. Although a formal union between the two groups never materialized, the ABCL invited AES cooperation on a 1935 campaign to petition the federal government to make birth control education mandatory for families receiving welfare relief.
Jones left the birth control movement in 1935 to pursue a developing interest in euthanasia, another movement with close connections to eugenics. In the late 1930s and 1940s, she worked closely with Charles Francis Potter, founder of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA), to gather state-level support for the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. Seeking respectability for the fledgling ESA, Jones concentrated on gaining endorsements from America's "moral leaders," such as ministers and physicians, in order to shift the opinions of state lawmakers concerning euthanasia legislation. Legalized euthanasia never came to pass in the United States, but Jones remained an "indefatigable" crusader in the cause, serving as executive vice president of the ESA from 1942 until her death on July 29, 1965 at the age of 84. She is recognized today among the important activists to bring euthanasia to public consciousness in the twentieth century.
- "Mrs. F. Robertson Jones Dead: Birth Control Movement Leader," New York Times, July 31, 1965, 21.
-"F.R. Jones is Dead; Insurance Expert," New York Times, December 29, 1941, 28.
"BIRTH CONTROL LAW URGED," New York Times, March 1, 1927.
"SUCCEEDS MRS. SANGER," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1928.
- John W. Leonard. Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (American Commonwealth Company 1914), 439. [LINK]
- Who's Who Among Association Executives, 1935 (New York: Institute for Research in Biography, 1935), 279-280.
- Adaline W. Sterling, "The Woman Suffrage Party of New York City," The Woman Voter 7 (5) (May, 1916), 24.
- "Suffragists Seek Census Takers," Columbia Daily Spectator July 19, 1917, 4.
- Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. The History of Women's Suffrage. Vol. 6. National Women's Suffrage Association, 1920.
- Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 237-238.
- Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger: An autobiography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1938), 384, 394-395.
- Carole R. McCann, Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 177-182.
- Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America (University of Illinois Press, 2002), 213-214.
- Eleanor Dwight Jones, "Let Us Take Stock," Birth Control Review 1 (3) (December, 1933), 2-3.
- Ian Dowbiggan, A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 73-75.
Jones, Eleanor Dwight. Eleanor Dwight Jones to Charles Malik, April 17, 1952. Letter to the Commission of Human Rights for the legalization of Voluntary Euthanasia. New York: Euthanasia Society of America, Inc., 1952. http://www.lifenews.com/2014/04/02/just-discovered-letter-shows-margaret-sanger-was-part-of-euthanasia-society/. (Accessed on April 26, 2017).