Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Schneider, Robert W.||Hayter, Earl W. (Earl Wiley), 1901-1994

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Birth control; Population


In the middle of the twentieth century, the world has been threatened in many areas by the prospect of a population so numerous as to render attempts to improve the economies of emerging nations almost fruitless. Such conditions have fostered interest in the birth-control movement, the development of which belongs, for the most part, to the twentieth century. The problem of too large a population has not yet, and may never, become a serious one in the United States, although even here population pressures have caused school systems, welfare agencies, and government services to expand far beyond any past expectations. In the United States as elsewhere the population growth, especially since World War II, has increased interest in the birth-control movement. Spurned as a subject unfit for public or even private conversation in the early 1900's, voluntary family limitation has gradually gained an aura of respectability and practicality among most groups in America. Only the Catholic Church remains as the dominant bulwark against the practice of birth control, and even in this strong organisation there are indications of a willingness to accept family limitation within the confines of how the Church interprets natural law. The change In attitude of the American public towards the birth-control movement, first started in 1914 by Margaret Sanger, is reflected in the popular American periodicals from 1900 to 1964. The purpose of the study here summarized is to survey the magazines from 1900 to May, 1964 as indexed in the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, to determine the progress and major events in the alteration of public opinion toward birth control. Prior to 1900, there was very little interest in voluntary family limitation. Only a few brave souls, such as Charles Knowlton, K.D., dared to court the wrath of the American public and advocate birth control before the twentieth century. After 1900, there was some attention given in the periodicals to the problem of the declining birth rate. Some blamed the decline on the growing popularity of family limitation. In 1914, Mrs. Sanger officially launched the birth-control movement with the hope of alleviating the suffering of poverty-stricken families overburdened with too many children. She first aimed her efforts at destroying legislation prohibiting the dissemination of birth-control literature. Later she concentrated on establishing birth-control clinics throughout the United States. Mrs. Sanger's efforts and activities and the reactions to them are contained In the periodicals of the time. Interest in the movement dwindled during World War I and during the prosperous decade of the 1920's. The chaotic years of the Great Depression, however, greatly increased interest in the possibility and advisability of limiting the size of families. During the 1930's, the American Medical Association and many of the protestant church organizations formally recognized the birth-control movement as a trend toward social improvement worthy of serious investigation and consideration. Interest subsided again during World War II and continued to wane until the upsurge in birth rates after the war began to create problems for American institutions dealing with the younger population. In the 1960's with unprecedented breakthroughs in birth-control research, excitement over the movement has reached new heights. Magazines which previously avoided the subject of family limitation as too volatile have felt impelled to include articles on birth control. A topic generally unpopular during the first decades of the twentieth century has thus gained recognition through the efforts of individuals, groups, and periodicals supporting the birth-control movement. A survey of popular American magazines since 1900 reveals the growing trend of acceptance of voluntary family limitation on the part of the American public.


Includes bibliographical references.


164 pages




Northern Illinois University

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