The Birth Control Movement in 1930s America

The birth control movement in the United States began in the early 1900s by many activist groups and individual citizens, such as Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League (ABCL), now called Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and coined the term ‘birth control.' During the same time period, Mary Dennet founded the National Birth Control League (NBCL), and pursued legal action to create legal access to contraceptives. 

This exhibit will explore the activism and legality surrounding the birth control movement during the 1930s, as Americans adjusted to the change in status and access around birth control. Legitimate and illegitimate forms of publishing and advertising will be showcased along with the change in legal status of birth control pertaining to the Comstock Law and obscenity laws. The motivations for this movement will be underscored through the exhibit, highlighting eugenics, population control, women's rights, and choice in family planning. 

Artifacts are sourced from lawyer and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) co-founder, Morris Ernst's, personal collection, held at the Harry Ransom Center. Ernst was a civil rights lawyer for the American Birth Control League and other human rights institutions and citizens between 1915-1976. This exhibit will preform as a snapshot of what is preserved and available to study at the Harry Ransom Center pertaining to Ernst, birth control, legality, or women's rights, and the histories Ernst's documents hold. 


Ann Marie Blackmon and Marley Philips