Adelaide Brown: An Online Exhibit of a Stanford Medicine Pioneer

Family Planning

Image of the Birth Control Review

Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review began publication in 1917 while Sanger was in jail for providing contraception to women in New York City. Sanger later founded the American Birth Control League, which took over her editorship of the Review in 1928 and which changed its name in 1942 to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Image courtesy of the Stanford Medical History Center

Family Planning

Adelaide Brown saw her commitment to women’s health as extending to family planning. She partnered with Florence Holsclaw MD in establishing the Maternal Health Center in San Francisco in 1929, which later became Planned Parenthood Northern California.

Their project involved personal and professional risks.

Before the Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, it was illegal for healthcare professionals to provide information to their patients about contraception and abortion. Although Brown and Holsclaw managed to avoid arrest while they operated the Maternal Health Center, they faced opposition from many quarters, including some of the same kinds of women’s organizations with whom Brown worked on milk safety campaigns. Landlords refused to rent space to the Maternal Health Center and telephone directories refused to give them listings.

Family planning advocate Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review noted

“Owing to the ambiguities of State law, the Maternal Health Clinic, as well as other clinics in California, do not publish their addresses; neither do they seek publicity. On the contrary, they endeavor to avoid it.”

Nevertheless, information about the Maternal Health Center spread by word of mouth, and thousands of women went to the clinic within the first years of its opening.

1935 Correspondence

In this 1935 correspondence, Margaret Sanger spurs Adelaide Brown’s efforts in California to lobby for birth control legislation at the national level.
Image courtesy of the Stanford Medical History Center

1934 Fundraising Letter

This 1934 fundraising letter for the Maternal Health Clinic conveys a record of their work, while also alluding to the Great Depression’s impact on women’s ability to seek medical attention
Image courtesy of the Stanford Medical History Center