Newsletter #3 (Fall 1992)

International Planned Parenthood Celebrates 40th Anniversary

On November 29, 1952, at an international family planning conference held in Bombay, representatives from birth control organizations from eight nations (England, India, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden, West Germany and the United States) officially formed the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Its joint presidents were Indian birth control leader Lady Dhanvanthi Rama Rau and Margaret Sanger. Long a staunch supporter of an international birth control movement, Sanger hosted the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York in 1925 and organized the World Population Conference in Geneva in 1927. In 1930, Sanger and British birth control advocate Edith How-Martyn, founded the Birth Control International Information Center in London to create a clearing-house for birth control information and foster a network of birth control advocates around the world.

Sanger cultivated close relationships with leaders of the birth control movements through a series of international tours in the 1920s and 1930s, most notably to India, Hong Kong, China and Japan. After World War II, Sanger helped form the International Committee on Planned Parenthood (ICPP) which sought to revive the family planning movement after the devastation of the war. But the goal of the ICPP was to establish a permanent international organization to foster family planning on a global scale.

The success of the 1952 Bombay conference was largely due to the efforts of Margaret Sanger, who contacted Lady Rama Rau and suggested that she host an international conference in 1952 and who raised money to bring delegates to India and procured the public support of such notables as Albert Einstein. Her colleagues, while at times annoyed with her tendency to toward unilateral action, acknowledged her siginificant contributions by electing her, with Lada Rama Rau, as Honorary Co-Chair.

At a 1953 meeting held in Stockholm, an IPPF constitution was ratified, its goals and an organizational structure defined, and Margaret Sanger was elected president, a position she held until 1959. Though in her seventies and increasingly frail, Sanger nevertheless devoted her time to trying to direct the growth of the infant organization to reflect her unwavering conviction that by reducing the number of unwanted children, birth control would facilitate a more efficient allocation of economic and social resources.

Among the things revealed in Sanger's papers is her role in the conflict surrounding the definition of IPPF's agenda. While Sanger retained her commitment to birth control as a fundamental individual right of women, she pragmatically viewed the new post-World War II interest in population control with its strong ties to neo-Malthusian interests, as useful to the goals of the organization. "In this country," she explained to Sweden's Elise Ottesen-Jensen, "the population problems of the world are arousing greater interest than all our lectures and books combined could do." (MS to Jensen, April 22, 1949, Records of the IPPF). Sanger was also adamantly opposed to Swedish and Dutch groups who wanted to focus on marriage, infertility counseling, and sex education, not exclusively on population control. As president, she opposed all efforts to broaden IPPF's mission beyond the dissemination of birth control. When Sanger relinquished the presidency in 1959, the IPPF had grown into the largest, private international organization devoted to promoting family planning.