Birth Control Organizations - Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau

Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau - History

The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB) began in 1923 as the Clinical Research Bureau (CRB), the first legal birth control clinic in the country. Opened in New York City by Margaret Sanger, the CRB operated under the auspices of the American Birth Control League (ABCL) and functioned primarily as a contraceptive dispensary and research laboratory. It quickly emerged as the nation's primary facility for the testing and study of contraceptive methods and devices. In June of 1928, when Sanger resigned as president of the ABCL, she assumed full control of the CRB (renaming it the BCCRB) and severed all legal ties with the ABCL. The BCCRB served as an autonomous clinic and research facility from 1928 to 1939. In 1939 it reunited with the ABCL to form the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA), which in 1942 changed its name to Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). The BCCRB, which continued to function as the largest contraceptive clinic in the country, changed its name to the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau (MSRB) in 1940 in honor of its founder.

The BCCRB served well over 10,000 patients each year by the 1930s. It provided contraceptive instruction for married women and couples, a range of gynecological services, and training for physicians and students. The BCCRB also established a nationwide network of affiliated clinics and supervised numerous field projects in the rural south. Clinic staff worked in close association with Sanger's National Committee for Federal Legislation for Birth Control (NCFLBC), and promoted the inclusion of contraceptive instruction in public health programs throughout the country. The clinic's detailed follow-up work with patients and careful record-keeping enabled medical researchers, contraceptive manufacturers, and associated clinics to study the effectiveness and safety of particular forms of birth control, including the diaphragm and jelly, condom, and the rhythm method.

From 1925 to 1929, the Maternity Research Council (MRC), a group of New York physicians led by Robert Latou Dickinson, attempted to take control over the Clinic. While Margaret Sanger negotiated with the MRC and made several concessions, she abandoned the proposed merger in 1929 after the MRC failed to secure a dispensary license for the Clinic.

The BCCRB sought to operate within the constraints of New York State law, which stated that doctors could prescribe contraceptives only for the prevention or cure of a disease, including tuberculosis, syphilis, and various types of psychoses. The BCCRB broadly interpreted the law to allow parents interested in spacing their children to be eligible for contraceptive information, while treating countless other patients under a catchall of medical indications, such as general debility. The Bureau was challenged on several occasions for illegally dispensing birth control devices and information, most notably in April of 1929 when police raided the clinic, seized records and equipment, and arrested Medical Director Dr. Hannah Stone, along with four other staff members. A judge later dismissed the charges against the clinic and its workers, citing insufficient evidence. The raid generated significant publicity for the clinic and helped secure long-sought support from New York's medical establishment, which emphatically condemned the police action, called for a return of all patient records, and lent credibility to the work of the clinic.

In 1933 the BCCRB also participated in a test case to challenge the federal obscenity laws. Sanger arranged for a package of pessaries to be sent from Japan to the Bureau's medical director, Dr. Hannah Stone. The package was seized by customs officials. After an extended trial (U.S. v. One Package) and appeal process, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd District ruled in favor of releasing the package in 1936, stating that physicians could circulate and prescribe contraceptives and contraceptive information in the interests of the health and general well-being of their patients. As founder and director, Sanger managed the internal operations of the BCCRB as well as fund-raising, public relations and the pursuit of new research and testing. She was more intimately involved with the administration of the BCCRB than with any of the other organizations she established or directed during her long career. By the early 1930s, however, she left the daily management of the Bureau largely in the hands of its medical director, Dr. Hannah Stone, while concentrating her efforts on fund-raising activities and her campaign for federal birth control legislation.

Organizational Structure

Advisory Council
Consisted of physicians and gynecologists who advised on particular medical matters and publicly defended the clinic from criticism within the medical community.

Board of Managers
Comprised of wealthy donors, most of them women, the Board of Managers guided the clinic during a period of extensive growth, encouraging field projects and establishing fund-raising strategies. The Board of Managers was replaced by a Board of Trustees in 1932, but continued to operate as an Auxiliary Committee to the NCFLBC.

Board of Trustees
Organized in December of 1931, the Board of Trustees officially replaced the Board of Managers in March of 1932. Sanger opted to create the more prestigious Board of Trustees in order to receive wider medical approval for the Bureau. The Board was primarily concerned with the public image of the clinic, fund-raising, and affiliation with medical groups.

Executive Committee
Founded in 1935 to help manage the BCCRB and the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control (NCFLBC) while Sanger was abroad. The Committee consisted of between 3 and 5 individuals who advised on all aspects of the management and affairs of the Bureau.

Education and Research Department (Public Progress Committee)
Provided publications, press releases and form letters to inform a large number of clients and supporters. The Public Progress Committee organized members to engage in letter writing campaigns.

Harlem Branch
In an attempt to give African-American New Yorkers greater access to birth control services, Sanger opened a satellite clinic in Harlem in 1930. For six years the Harlem Branch served a mostly black clientele in the upper Manhattan district. The Harlem Branch operated in conjunction with the New York Urban League, had its own advisory board, and carried a staff consisting of two physicians, a nurse and a social worker. Class and racial tensions, and severe financial problems led to the closing of the Harlem Branch in 1936.

Journal of Contraception
Started in 1935, the Journal published articles regarding research on contraception, sterility, and other biological aspects of reproduction. The Journal changed its name to Human Fertility in 1940.

Marital Advice Bureau
Offered counseling services for engaged or married couples seeking information on contraception and sexual relations.

Motherhood Advice Bureau/Book Department
Responded to inquiries from across the country regarding birth control methods and availability; and distributed pamphlets, lists of regional clinics, and other educational literature as well as Sanger's books.

Recreation Rooms and Settlement Branch
A demonstration birth control clinic located in the lower East Side of New York that operated in conjunction with the Recreation Settlement. The clinic ran periodically from 1933-1935.

Research Committee
Supervised research projects including laboratory testing of new contraceptive products and statistical studies of clinic patients.

A director, assistant director, medical director, treasurer, 8 to 16 women doctors, an equal number of nurses and clerical staff, and 1 social worker.

Staff, Officers, Council Members, and Board Members