Up until the late 1900’s it seemed birth control was next to non-existent. However, birth control did seem to exist. It was just that not very many people chose to take it; Some people didn’t know about it or some did know and chose just not to speak up about it. There was a divide as to whether or not birth control should be used as it was viewed to question male dominance in households because females were not taken seriously during these times. Some women embraced birth control after having many painful abortions as they wanted a voice to how their bodies were used. Other women chose to look past the option due to religious practices or the views and opinions of the public eye. Birth Control was a step towards Women’s Rights, Independence and Self Care; A Great Divide.
Dating as far back as the 1600’s, a Woman’s body was never fully her own. Native American and Spanish women were used as bartering tools between societies for sexual gain and marriage purposes. African American women were generalized to be reproductive slaves. English women were expected to follow in the foot steps of their husbands and run properties, homes, bare children, tend to family lives and not ask questions; A stigma that ran deep into other cultures and communities as well. Proving that birth control during these times was absolutely unthought of and unheard of.
The information I have discovered led me to gain a new perspective on why during that time period birth control did not exist. It also led me to understand the push for birth control in a male dominated society. This topic was simply a divide between those who wanted the right to take care of their bodies and those who stood by their men or church unsure of whether it would benefit them to speak up. Why could women be against something so beneficial to them?
According to writer Warner Fite who wrote an article called “The International Journal of Ethics,” which was published by The University of Chicago Press in 1916, he stated that birth control was considered to be “race-suicide,”(Fite, Warner. “Birth-Control and Biological Ethics.” International Journal of Ethics, vol. 27, no. 1, 1916, pp. 50–66). This is one reason I found that people might stray away from the medicine. He also stated that people who participated in taking the birth control could hardly measure up to that of a good and old fashioned family. Which adds to the stigma that women were expected to behave a certain way and respond accordingly to the demands of their husbands because the man brought in the majority of the money to live comfortably. Birth control was not something that was freely spoken about.
When women would ask doctors the men would attempt to turn a blind eye because contraception was actually illegal at this point and they would only talk about it if a woman pressed the issue. So even a woman who is pretty educated wouldn’t know much because it wasn’t something that was highly practiced or spoken of at the time. A big part of the reason the contraception was considered “race-suicide,” was aimed at those who were married because it was viewed as “those who prefer single life” (Fite, Warner. “Birth-Control and Biological Ethics.” International Journal of Ethics, vol. 27, no. 1, 1916, pp. 50–66). It was almost seen that birth control was a offense at that given time. It was also seen that controlling reproduction was more science related and was morally wrong against religious standpoints.
At this point birth control existed but people were hesitant to ask and hesitant to take the contraception and not be looked down on in the public eye. How could a religion not support contraception as a form of health? I came across another article from 1965 written by Carl Reiterman who worked in the Department of Sociology at the California University of Berkley. He pinpointed the divide between religion and birth control among Catholics. One very valid point he made was that birth control is against natural law or ‘God’s law,’ the Church proclaims that it ‘has no power of any kind to alter the laws of God” (Reiterman, Carl. “Birth Control and Catholics.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 4, no. 2, 1965, pp. 213–233).
This basically just says that it’s not natural therefore it’s something unintended for use by god himself. This is a great argument that birth control should not be used so it’s easy to see how it could have persuaded women to be anti birth control and stand behind their faith. Another argument of the Catholic Church reads as; “Evil practices and the methods of pro- curing race suicide safely are taught by circulars and brochures to young and old and are even expounded in the Government schools” (Reiterman, Carl. “Birth Control and Catholics.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 4, no. 2, 1965, pp. 213–233). It was seen that birth control, which was created outside of the church was no more than propaganda. Propaganda was seen as something evil that was meant to break the church.
Many religious women believed that their body was a sacrifice to bare children. So in any case whether it be harmless or life risking, it was meant to be at the hand of god and they were willing to risk their life for a baby. They saw that if a woman was in danger and survived that child-birth she was blessed. The catholic church was really about being natural and raw to god and the church. Another argument provided by the Catholic Church was that its families were beginning to decline.
So preventing families from growing was going to completely get rid of the Catholic faith which was unacceptable. They began speaking out against doctors for having such current ideas and for promoting the end of child baring women’s lives specifically to spite the religion’s view points and beliefs. This was another reason many people stood by their church. After reading so many view points on why birth control was a divide between people I came across an article that actually promoted contraception. In 1967 an author and Doctor who went by the name of Margaret Sanger published an article called “The Journal of Sex Research.”
In this article she talks about her heart wrenching encounters with women in extreme conditions and how she could no longer stand by and do nothing. She traveled and studied multiple different types of contraceptives. It ranged from studying contraceptive jellies in Germany to relating and researching the cervical cap, then on to the intrauterine ring and many more. She was also a key person in the creation and distribution of oral contraception. Sanger believed that all women should have the right to contraceptives and she made it a personal mission for that to happen.
She became the founder of I.P.P.F also known as the International Planned Parenthood Fund. She created a place where women could go that was judgement free and provided services that benefitted their health. She was 100% supportive of innovative technology to further her ideas and wanted a worldwide solution. She was nominated for both a Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 and for the Presidential Freedom Award in 1965 and while she didn’t receive either she was proud to create an establishment for research and the protection of women and their bodies.
H. G. Wells also contributed the legacy Sanger was leaving behind by saying ‘The movement she started will grow to be, a hundred years from now, the most influential of all time in controlling man’s destiny on earth.” (Lehfeldt, Hans. “Margaret Sanger and the Modern Contraceptive Techniques.” The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 3, no. 4, 1967, pp. 253–255). This woman opened up a research facility and a haven for women to go to without fearing the judgement of those around them.
Margaret Sanger is also mentioned in our current History class textbook called “Through Women’s Eyes,” where her bibliography is listed of what drove her to be so passionate about the contraceptive industry. Sanger was called to a case where a woman had given herself multiple abortions and she fell ill because she didn’t have resources to prevent pregnancies from happening. She physically witnessed a male doctor turn a blind eye and laugh as if it were something funny, that a woman would ask for a way to keep from getting pregnant. This led Margaret Sanger to push for what became not only a legacy but a legend in the contraceptive industry and a step towards more women’s rights. If you are interested in reading her bibliography the title is “Woman and Birth Control,” by Margaret Sanger.
My conclusion of what divided people from being pro-contraceptive or anti-contraceptive; creating a great divide, is a matter of opinion and belief. There were people who simply thought it was outlandish that a woman would deny the seed of their husband making birth control out of the question. There was religious faith that denied birth control because they believed it was nothing more than propaganda and women were put on earth to pro-create and carry religious beliefs down the line so the church would not diminish. Lastly, there were people who believed birth control could solve health issues because it would prevent the creation of dangerous techniques to abort unborn children and harm the women in the process, possibly leading to their death or close to a deathly experience.
- Fite, Warner. “Birth-Control and Biological Ethics.” International Journal of Ethics, vol. 27, no. 1, 1916, pp. 50–66. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2376956.
- Reiterman, Carl. “Birth Control and Catholics.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 4, no. 2, 1965, pp. 213–233. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1384139.
- Lehfeldt, Hans. “Margaret Sanger and the Modern Contraceptive Techniques.” The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 3, no. 4, 1967, pp. 253–255. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3811979.
- Sanger, Margaret. “Woman and Birth Control.” Through Women’s Eyes, An American History With Documents. 1912, pp. 430-431