Throwbacklist Thursday: Women’s Work

Fifty years after the widespread release of the birth control pill, family planning remains a political and social hot potato. The future scrum for the White House will no doubt offer condemnations of Planned Parenthood and promises of a woman’s right to choose, forming yet another chapter in the story of the struggle to control women’s bodies.

Need to know more? You’ve come to the right blog, for the University of Illinois Press publishes a wide range of books on the earlier parts of that epic tale.

ahluwaliaReproductive Restraints: Birth Control in India, 1877-1947, by Sanjam Ahluwalia
Reproductive Restraints traces the history of contraception use and population management in colonial India. In revealing the elitist politics of the middle-class feminists Indian nationalists, Western activists, colonial authorities, and the medical establishment, Sanjam Ahluwalia finds that they all sought to rationalize procreation and regulate women while invoking competing notions of freedom, femininity, and family. Ahluwalia’s remarkable interviews with practicing midwives in rural northern India fills a gaping void in the documentary history of birth control and shows that the movement has had little appeal to non-elite groups in India. As she shows, elitist birth control efforts failed to account for Indian women’s values and needs and have worked to restrict reproductive rights rather than liberate subaltern Indian women.

gordonThe Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, by Linda Gordon
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title upon publication, this classic by Linda Gordon is the most complete history of birth control ever written. It covers the entire history of the intense controversies about reproductive rights that have raged in the United States for more than 150 years, from the earliest attempts of women to organize for the legal control of their bodies to the effects of second-wave feminism. Gordon defines the role that birth control has played in society’s attitudes toward women, sexuality, and gender equality, arguing that reproductive control has always been central to women’s status. She also shows how opposition to it has long been part of the conservative opposition to gender equality.

hajoBirth Control on Main Street: Organizing Clinics in the United States, 1916-1939, by Cathy Moran Hajo
Cathy Moran Hajo unearths individual stories and statistical records from previously overlooked birth control clinics to get past the rhetoric of the birth control movement and show the relationships, politics, and issues that defined the movement in neighborhoods and cities across the United States. Hajo’s pathbreaking research reveals how clinics tested, treated, and educated women regarding contraceptives and shows how clinic operation differed according to the needs and concerns of the districts it served. Moving thematically through the politicized issues of the birth control movement, Hajo infuses her analysis of the practical and medical issues with unique stories of activists. These people negotiated with community groups to obey local laws and navigated the swirling debates about how birth control centers should be controlled, who should receive care, and how patients should be treated.

sangerThe Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger, Volume 3: The Politics of Planned Parenthood, 1939-1966, edited by Esther Katz, Cathy Moran Hajo and Peter C. Engelman, Associate Editors
Volume Three of this ongoing project traces Margaret Sanger‘s quest for the “magic pill,” the non-barrier method of birth control she had envisioned since the early 1930s. Sanger’s lively and fascinating letters and other writings tell the story of her consequential collaboration with the philanthropist Katharine Dexter McCormick and their masterful direction of scientists, physicians, and birth control bureaucrats toward the production of the first contraceptive pill. Here also is Sanger’s attempt to guide the American birth control movement during World War II and its immediate aftermath, her controversial efforts to expand birth control services to African Americans in the rural South, and the campaign to incorporate contraceptive health care into state and federal public health programs—all undertaken while she battled with the leadership of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America over the direction of the movement.