This week is the 100 year anniversary of the first birth clinic in US which opened 16 Oct 1916.
Charlote Altar of Time has a superb article telling us how difficult and taboo it was to open such a clinic in 1916 even in the US. It all started with a nurse called Margaret Sangner who just changed everything:
There was not yet a “secret” birth control that could prevent pregnancy, but there was an enormous amount of ignorance about basic biological processes. So Sanger started writing, aiming to prevent young girls from “entering into sexual relations whether in marriage or out of it, without thinking and knowing” how their bodies worked. Multiple essays she wrote were banned as obscene, she was indicted and she fled the country. She returned when one of her children died of pneumonia, and the charges were dropped.
That’s when Sanger, along with her sister Ethel Byrne and a nurse named Fania Mindell, started the first birth control clinic in the United States, which opened its doors on Oct. 16, 1916 at 46 Amboy Street in Brooklyn.They distributed pamphlets that said: “Can you afford to have a large family? Do you want any more children? If not, why do you have them? DO NOT KILL, DO NOT TAKE LIFE, BUT PREVENT.” Women lined up around the block, paying 10 cents to meet with the nurses.
The clinic stayed open for only nine days before it was shut down by an undercover policewoman posing as a patient. It opened again and was shut down again, and Sanger was arrested for maintaining a public nuisance. She opened the clinic a third time, on Nov. 16, but authorities forced the landlord to evict her, and all three women were arrested. When Sanger appeared before the judge, he waved a cervical cap from the bench and argued that no woman should have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” She went to jail for 30 days.
Even though the first clinic stayed open for only nine days, it was the beginning of a birth control movement that would radically revolutionize the way women live their lives, and the way society functions. Five years later, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. Twenty-one years after that, that organization was renamed Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood was at the forefront of every birth control milestone of the 20th century.
The idea though was not hers. People realised it earlier that they needed to control number of children:
Sanger’s movement didn’t happen in a vacuum. The birth control movement had its roots in earlier social-justice movements: when women became involved in the abolition movement in the first half of the 18th century, they began to realize that the size of their families determined their ability to participate in the outside world. That’s when family size began to fall for the first time, according to Jonathan Eig, author of The Birth of the Pill. “Women realized that if they want to stay engaged in the community, if they want to stay active, they have to have fewer children,” he tells TIME. “That’s when you start to see women realizing that there is a tie between family size and political power.”
The personal and political ramifications of that first birth control clinic are countless. “You can look at all of human history and see that for 99% of it, women were considered objects, like vessels for birthing and caring for children,” says Eig. “Once you can control your own body, you can control your own life, and then you can assert yourself in your family, your community, in the workplace.”
It is no coincidence, then, that the rise of birth control coincided with women gaining power in politics, business, education and numerous other areas of life. Though the paths to that power may have varied, every one is connected to the ability to control family size.
“It seems like a long time, a hundred years,” Eig says. “But if you think about how much has changed in a hundred years, how unimaginable this would be—women on the Supreme Court, a woman running for president, there’s no doubt that it’s all connected to access to reliable birth control.”