Any Friend of the Movement
Networking for Birth Control, 1920–1940
Jimmy Elaine Wilkinson MeyerWomen, Gender, and Health
$27.95 paper 978-0-8142-5380-9
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“This work makes an important contribution to a growing body of scholarship that seeks to uncover the great variability in the struggle for both the legalization of birth control and the provision of contraception to American women. Local circumstances underscore the creativity of birth control reformers and enrich our understanding of the obstacles they faced, the opportunities they had, and the decisions they made.” —The Journal of American History
“This well-researched and fascinating book offers valuable insights into social change and reform networks in the 20th century, as well as women’s reproductive history.” —Choice
“While the meticulous documentation will be a boon to medical and social historians, the book also makes a larger contribution. Meyer gives ample evidence for her claim that the actions of specific individuals, groups, and organisations are the stuff of making history. By detailing the patterns of networking amongst family and friends within Cleveland and nationally, she demonstrates aspects of white upper middle-class women’s working lives as volunteers in their communities. . . . Through such philanthropic and health work, they secured class-based networks but also challenged accepted ideas of the appropriate scope of women's activities.” —Labour History
“In this important contribution to the burgeoning literature on the history of birth control, Meyer brings to life the stories of women who established, ran, and used the Maternal Health Association of Cleveland in the interwar years.” —Andrea Tone, Georgia Institute of Technology
In the 1920s, a few Cleveland women perceived a need for reliable birth control. They believed that health and social service professionals denied women, especially poor and working-class women, critical health care information. Any Friend of the Movement tells the story of these women, their actions, and the organization they created—the direct forerunner of a modern Planned Parenthood affiliate. The disparate threads of this particular tale include the suicide of a pregnant woman, the gift of a bereaved inventor, smuggling contraceptive supplies across state lines, and sponsoring ice skating galas to fund the work.
Any Friend of the Movement breaks new ground in the history of birth control activism in North America. Meyer argues that private philanthropy and voluntary action on the part of clinics like the Maternal Health Association (MHA) and their clients vitalized the larger movement at its roots and pushed it forward.
Meyer adds new voices to the history of the national birth control movement and its leaders. A cache of letters from clinic clients to the MHA offers an unusually intimate look at the personal side of this reform. Meyer uses other evidence, such as speeches, reports, founders’ personal papers, newspaper accounts, and magazine and journal articles, and adds photo illustrations. Genuine concern for other women, eugenic and racist considerations, gender and class, networking, the prevailing cultural unease around sexual matters—these elements all shaped the MHA and, in doing so, shaped the larger struggle for reproductive rights.
Jimmy Elaine Wilkinson Meyer is assistant editor of Wooster, the magazine for alumni and friends of the College of Wooster.