Making Birth Control Respectable: The Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress, and the American Birth Control League, in comparative perspective, 1921-1938

  • Caroline Elizabeth Louise Walker

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In both Britain and the United States, the interwar years witnessed the formation of a new organized movement for birth control; in both contexts, sharing a commitment to extend the provision of clinical contraception to the working-class and�?· indigent population. This comparative thesis examines the organizational ideology and activity of the associations founded by the birth control pioneers, Marie Stopes, and Margaret Sanger. In considering the ideological constructions of contemporaneous motherhood advanced by the two groups, I seek to reposition the Anglo-American birth control movements within the wider field of social reform. Examining the influences of maternalist politics, the eugenics crusade, the developing field of social work, and the medical hierarchy in shaping the visions of maternity employed in birth control discourse, the study considers both the contrasting and convergent interpretations utilized by the organizations in their campaigns for contraception. This thesis also explores the practical work of the organizations during the interwar decades, analysing the policies and internal politics of the two groups, coalitions with other reform groups, their respective roles within the wider national and international birth control movements, and the effects engendered by the move from lay activism to professionalism. The clinical networks established by both associations are also examined, considering the divergences and similarities in the models of clinic provision, the roles of medical providers, and results of birth control in practice. I contend that, in both their ideological interpretations, alliances, and practical endeavours, the two associations shared a common vision of transitioning clinical contraception from the radical associations of the past, towards a new respectability as a legitimate medical technique and form of social welfare provision.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish

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