Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Debate on Morality

In 1922, Katherine Bement Davis published the first statistical study of the use of contraceptives in the United States. Mrs. Davis interviewed 1,000 married women, all either college alumnae or women's club members. Nearly 75 percent, she reported, used contraceptives. Similarly, Robert and Helen Lynd found in Middletown in the mid-1920s that though birth control was "strongly tabooed," the prohibitions against it were losing their effectiveness among the more prosperous classes. "The behavior of the community in this matter of the voluntary limitation of parenthood," said the Lynds, "presents the appearance of a pyramid. At the top, among most of the business group, the use of relatively efficacious contraceptive methods appears practically universal, while sloping down from this peak is a mixed array of knowledge and ignorance, until the base of ignorance is reached." 1.

In spite of the "practically universal" practice of birth control by the middle and upper classes, members of those classes displayed a persistent caution about the subject in public. The editor of Hearst's Magazine in 1920 privately acknowledged that "the subject is important and radiant." But, he said, "Mrs. Sanger's specialty is so much like Lydia Pinkham's" that a family magazine could not discuss it. 2. E. A. Ross, ordinarily a courageous man, approved of birth

____________________
1.
Katherine Bement Davis, "A Study of the Sex Life of the Normal Married Woman," Part I: " The Use of Contraceptives," Journal of Social Hygiene 8 ( 1922): 173-89; Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in American Culture ( New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1956), p. 125.
2.
K. M. Goode to Ada Patterson, October 28, 1920, MSP-LC.

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