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Between 1916 and 1945 the American birth control movement secured the legalization of contraception and gave women access to birth control in more than eight hundred clinics across the country. In a provocative history of the behind-the-scenes struggle leading to those achievements, Carole R. McCann reassesses the movement's successes alongside its compromises. As she traces shifts in alliances, strategies, and rhetorical appeals, McCann shows how the politics of race and sex influenced the movement to rely on eugenicist arguments that eventually eclipsed the feminist claim to women's right to control their reproduction.
McCann examines the birth control movement's coalitions with white laywomen, eugenicists, and physicians throughout the period and with AfricanAmerican professionals who became involved in birth control advocacy in the early 1930s. Commitments to asserting the traditional principle of female chastity, she shows, led major feminist organizations—the League of Women Voters, the National Woman's Party, and the Children's Bureau—to refuse to support Margaret Sanger's demand for women's right to contraception. McCann argues that the birth control movement ceded far too much to the inherently racist eugenicist arguments in order to avoid the controversy that the asserion of women's right to sexual enjoyment and reproductive freedom provoked.
McCann Carole R. :
Carole R. McCann is Associate Professor of American Studies and Director of the Women's Studies Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
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