Birth Control Organizations - Margaret Sanger Research Bureau


The Margaret Sanger Research Bureau (MSRB) began as the Clinical Research Bureau in 1923, which operated under the direction of the American Birth Control League (ABCL). In 1928, Sanger resigned as president of the ABCL and assumed full control of the clinic, renaming it the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau (BCCRB). The BCCRB reunited with the ABCL in a 1939 merger that created the Birth Control Federation of America --changed to Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1942 -- but retained much of its independence. In 1940, the clinic changed its name to the MSRB in honor of its founder.

Under the guidelines of the 1939 merger, the MSRB was only loosely affiliated with PPFA until the mid-1950s, when budget deficits forced the Bureau to more closely align its services with the work of the Federation in exchange for financial assistance. The Bureau assisted with PPFA fund-raising, accommodated an increased number of PPFA board members on its board of trustees, and became the clinical research arm of the PPFA. In return PPFA covered the Bureau's growing annual deficits and supported individual doctors and researchers on the Bureau staff with grants. The Bureau continued to struggle with its finances in the 1960s, prompting an affiliation with Columbia University in 1968. However, in 1974 rising costs forced the Bureau to shut down its 17 West 16th Street building and combine its staff with Planned Parenthood of New York City in a new facility on Second Avenue called the Margaret Sanger Center in New York. In 1992, Planned Parenthood of New York City moved to the corner of Bleecker and Mulberry Streets, a site renamed Margaret Sanger Square.

From 1940, when the Bureau changed its name, until 1962, the last year of Sanger's involvement with the MSRB, the Bureau provided comprehensive contraceptive services for women and couples, and became the largest combined birth control and fertility center in the world. The diaphragm and spermicidal jelly was the Bureau's most prescribed method of birth control, although the shortage of rubber during World War II accelerated MSRB-sponsored research and testing of other contraceptives, including intrauterine devices, thought they were not widely used until the 1960s. By 1961, the Bureau was also offering the anovulant pill to its patients. While the Bureau did not perform abortions until 1973, it did run an Overdue Clinic that diagnosed and counseled pregnant women and referred patients to local hospitals and private doctors for medical care and in some cases legal therapeutic abortions. However, the Bureau took care to make it clear that its staff would provide no assistance if a woman requested an abortion.

After Medical Director Hannah Stone's death in 1941, Abraham Stone, her husband and successor, altered and expanded the MSRB to accommodate his growing interest and expertise in the field of infertility. In 1945, Stone inaugurated a Fertility Service that offered counseling, testing, and treatment for infertile couples. He expanded the Bureau's Marriage Consultation Service and steered the Research Department into a greater emphasis on infertility studies. While the Bureau continued to be associated with its contraceptive services, the number of users dropped steadily in the post-war years as contraception became more widely available through private physicians. However, the Bureau grew as a teaching center, offering seminars, research projects and clinical work for visiting doctors, nurses, and medical students. In addition to its medical and research programs, the Bureau also offered a fellowship program for gynecologists and obstetricians for intensive training in birth control technique.

Margaret Sanger, the founder and director of the Bureau, withdrew from day-to-day MSRB affairs in the 1940s, spending most of her time in semi-retirement at her home in Tucson. As director, she continued to make many of the budgetary and personnel decisions, but left most matters regarding the daily operation of the Bureau in the hands of the executive secretary and medical director. Though she disagreed with how the Clinic had evolved under Abraham Stone's leadership and sought to diminish the growing prominence of the its Fertility Service, she continued to raise funds for the MSRB. In 1950 Sanger turned over even more control to Stone, naming him director and selling him the West 16th Street building, but she remained on the board of trustees and continued to offer Stone her counsel.

Organizational Structure

Board of Managers/Trustees:

Consisted of the director, medical director, several physicians, benefactors, and usually two or more members of PPFA's Board of Directors. The Board advised on all aspects of the Bureau's operations, supervised budgetary matters and personnel decisions, and represented the MSRB in the medical community.

Contraceptive Service:

All new Bureau patients received an orientation lecture and medical examination. Physicians prescribed contraceptives in accordance with individual needs. The Bureau also offered a Safe Period Service for patients interested in the rhythm method, and a Diagnostic Service or Overdue Clinic to determine if women experiencing delayed menstrual periods were pregnant. They were interviewed, examined, and diagnosed only. If necessary they were referred to a private physician or local hospital.

Education Department:

Provided a Training Service consisting of lectures demonstrations, seminars and research projects for visiting doctors, nurses, medical students, and social workers. The Department also gave organized lectures and screenings of films for patients and staff, distributed literature on birth control and fertility, including a suggested readings list, and oversaw the Bureau's library.

Fertility Service:

Starting in 1945, patients with fertility problems referred by their physician or a public health agency received an orientation lecture, an examination, testing, and possibly some form of treatment. Certain treatments, including artificial insemination were performed at the clinic. Endocrinological and psychotherapeutic services were also available for cases of glandular dysfunction and emotional problems associated with infertility. The Fertility Service department also included a Preconception Service that offered exams and counseling for couples planning to conceive.

Marriage Consultation Services:

Offered both group and individual counseling sessions before and after marriage. A "Premarital Service" provided lectures and group discussions dealing with social, physical and psychological aspects of marriage and the family. The Marital Problems Service offered consultations for married couples primarily with sexual problems and was merged in 1953 with the Marriage Consultation Center of the Community Church of New York.

Medical (and Scientific) Administrative Committee:

Consisted of MSRB and PPFA board members organized in 1955 to negotiate cooperative research projects between the two organizations and report on new medical findings. The name of the Committee changed several times in the 1950s and 1960s.

Research Department:

Carried out research on all aspects of human fertility, and performed clinical testing on new contraceptive products. After World War II, the Bureau concentrated on infertility research.


The core staff consisted of a director, medical director, associate medical director(s), a medical consultant, full and part-time physicians (from 10 in 1940 to 30 in the early 1950s, and including gynecologists, urologists, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, and a cytologist), 9 or 10 nurses, social worker(s), lab technicians, an executive secretary, a treasurer, and 10 to 12 clerical and part-time employees.

(Many other committees operated for various periods of time between 1940 and 1962, including the Budget and Finance, Fundraising, Nominating, Personnel, New Directions, Administration, Associates, and Theater Benefit committees).

Staff, Board of Trustees, and Officers (1940-1962)