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Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts records

Identifier: SSC-MS-00359

Scope and Contents

The following abbreviations are used for the organizations in these records:

American Birth Control League: ABCL

Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau: BCCRB

Birth Control Federation of America: BCFA

Birth Control League of Massachusetts: BCLM

International Planned Parenthood Federation: IPPF

Massachusetts Mothers' Health Council : MMHC

National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control: NCFLBC

Planned Parenthood Federation of America: PPFA

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts : PPLM

The original members of the PPLM were primarily devoted to amending the Comstock laws of the 1870s which prohibited the giving of advice on birth control on the grounds that it was obscene and therefore illegal. The PPLM Records reflect the many ways the organization undertook to change Massachusetts law from its early origins in 1916 to the mid 1960s. Minutes of meetings of executive committees, boards of directors, and staff organizations from the first PPLM organization, serve as the best introduction to the activity of each organization.

After the police closed the Mother's Health Office clinics in 1937, PPLM (at that time the MMHC) directed its energies toward changing the Massachusetts law. The two initiative and referendum campaigns, launched by PPLM in 1942 and 1948, as well as subsequent test cases and legislative attempts are documented in the legislative files in SERIES VI. LEGISLATIVE FILES. This series contains legal briefs and hearings, correspondence with lawyers and supporters, voting records and background information for PPLM's own research. Much of the material in other series is the result of programs developed by PPLM in conjunction with these legal campaigns. Publicity in the form of publications, brochures, form letters, essay contests, the Speakers' Bureau (an extensive program that arranged to have prominent businessmen, lawyers, and doctors talks to various organizations and groups about the need to control births) evidence PPLM efforts to stimulate the public to concern themselves with birth control and family planning, and ultimately bring about a change in the law.

Offshoot organizations such as the Clergymen's Advisory Committee conducted publicity campaigns similar to those conducted by PPLM itself yet aimed at specific community members. These campaigns were well documented and are reflected in the records collected here. The Conference on Tomorrow's Children organized in the early forties by Eugene Belisle, then Executive director of the MMHC, and held during three consecutive summers at Harvard University, brought to the Boston area many of the leading population theorists. The conference series contains speeches presented at this conference and other related correspondence.

The PPLM Records provide a unique source for the study of the establishment and development of an organization largely run by women. SERIES III: CENTRAL ADMINISTRATIVE FILES and SERIES VI. LEGISLATIVE FILES provide the richest documentation in the collection. The former contains the central administrative files dating from the organizations inception in 1916 and the latter covers the Initiative and Referendum Campaigns of the 1940s. The material reveals PPLM's connections and conflicts with the Catholic Church and physicians' publicity campaigns. Correspondence with various groups and individuals illustrates their strong support of PPLM's cause.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1859-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1916-1960


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open to research according to the regulations of Smith College Special Collections with the following exception: for correspondence from individuals requesting birth control located in boxes 19 and 20 along with records of the Mother's Health Office located in boxes 29, 30, and 31, researchers will be required to sign an "Access Agreement" form agreeing to preserve the confidentiality of physicians who did not publicly identify themselves with the birth control movement. Please consult with special collections staff at to begin this process.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they owns copyright, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts has retained copyright in its works donated to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

In 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Act which declared contraceptives and any literature describing contraception as obscene. Six years later Massachusetts passed an even more restrictive "Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order" law which prohibited the selling, lending, giving away, or exhibiting of contraceptives. It was in the opposition to these restrictive laws that the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts had its roots.

In the summer of 1916 Van Kleek Allison, a Fabian socialist agitator, was arrested for distributing family planning pamphlets to workers at Boston's North End Candy factory. A group of citizens, known as the Allison Defense Committee, formed in his support (Allison was sentenced to two months in prison in 1917). By August 1916 the group was sufficiently organized to vote to change its name to the Birth Control League, although beginning with the October 30, 1916 minutes, the group referred to itself as the Birth Control League of Massachusetts (BCLM). Separate funds were raised, one for Allison's Defense and the other for the League. In autumn a constitution was drafted and adopted with Blanche Ames Ames as President.

Over the next few years organizers of the League developed ambitious and far-reaching plans designed to make birth control a public issue. They were active in educational work, meetings, and conferences, and membership slowly grew. In May 1919 under the leadership of Dr. Evangeline Young, the League reorganized as the Family Welfare Foundation.

The Foundation was unsuccessful in its goals and the group voted in 1920 to disband. In February 1928 one of the original members of the BCLM, Dr. Antoinette Konikow, printed a flyer inviting interested women to her house for a discussion and demonstration of contraceptives. She was arrested on the evening of the meeting and was charged with violating Massachusetts law against "advertising" or "exhibiting" contraceptives. (She was later acquitted.) Members of the old BCL formed the Emergency Defense Committee on her behalf. In May 1928 the Emergency Defense Committee returned to the old name of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts (BCLM) with Blanche Ames Ames once again as president. (She held the post until 1935 when she resigned along with Cornelia James Cannon because of a conflict over the wording of an advertisement that ran in Boston newspapers). During the next year the membership campaign continued and by May 1930 a paid field secretary, Caroline Carter, was engaged and an office rented in her home on Joy Street in Boston.

In 1931 the League went before the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Health for a hearing at which fourteen physicians testified to the medical need to give contraceptive advice to married women for medical reasons. A petition, "The Doctor's Bill to Clarify the Law," was signed by more than a thousand physicians and presented to the committee. It was unsuccessful. However, in 1932 Attorney Murray Hall advised the league that it would be acting within the law if it opened clinics, and funds were raised for the establishment of the Brookline Mother's Health Clinic. The following year a similar clinic opened in Springfield, followed by clinics in Worcester, Fitchburg, Salem, New Bedford, and in the South End of Boston. The League sponsored these clinics (Mother's Health Offices), placing them under the supervision of a Medical Advisory Committee. By 1936 the Mother's Health Offices or doctors in the outlying districts who worked in cooperation with the League to care for patients unable to pay the usual doctors' fees were serving five hundred people yearly.

Although the League was operating under the assumption that these clinics were legal, the Salem clinic was raided by police in 1937. The police took all the patient records and filed complaints against the doctor, nurse and social worker. The clinic was closed pending trial. Two more clinics, Brookline and Boston, were also raided and similar charges made, although no records were seized. The League then closed all the clinics. The clinics, which cared for 3000 low income married women, never reopened.

In 1939 the BCLM became the Massachusetts Mothers' Health Council (MMHC) and the members began working to change the anti-birth control laws through legislation. After three attempts (1940, 1947 and 1948) to put a referendum on the ballot and much soul searching, the Council decided to abandon further attempts to change the law and to work within it using education about family planning and modern methods of birth control. It channeled inquiries for advice on birth control to out-of-state clinics and established offshoot organizations including the Clergymen's Advisory Committee, the Physicians Committee for Planned Parenthood, and the Men's Committee for Medical Rights, to broaden the base of community support. These organizations conducted membership drives and solicited funds and support for legislative efforts especially the 1942 initiative and referendum campaign. In 1945, following the example of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America of which it was an affiliate, the Massachusetts Mothers' Health Council changed its name to PPLM and became a voluntary health education agency.

While attitudes and laws toward birth control changed around the country, Massachusetts and Connecticut remained the only states still operating under the Comstock laws of the 1870s. Although federally funded family planning programs were beginning to operate across the nation, Massachusetts law denied physicians the right to advise or prescribe birth control measures to women whose health would be endangered by becoming pregnant. In 1966 a group of Massachusetts physicians challenged the law through the courts. The passage of their bill, House Bill 2965, made it legal for married women to receive contraceptive advice through a physician and to obtain birth control devices through registered pharmacists.

Although PPLM decided not to open any clinics, it helped establish, fund, and support clinics within existing hospitals and health care agencies throughout the state believing that family planning should be an integral part of comprehensive health care services provided.

It was not until 1972 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Eisenstadt v. Baird that Massachusetts laws restricting the availability of contraceptives to married women were unconstitutional on the grounds that they discriminated against unmarried women and, therefore, did not guarantee equal protection under the law. This victory for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, along with the legalization of abortion in 1973 (Roe v. Wade), brought to a close the long effort by the PPLM to make contraceptives readily available.

Despite the legalization of abortion, in January 1976, a Massachusetts court convicted Dr. Kenneth Edelin, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Boston City Hospital, for performing an abortion on a woman in her twenty-fourth week of pregnancy. During the appeal that overturned the conviction, PPLM and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America joined forces to file an amicus brief in Dr. Edelin's defense.

In the 1980s Planned Parenthood began offering HIV testing and counseling. When it became clear that the need exceeded available services, PPLM again decided to open clinics which would provide a full range of reproductive health care services. In 1983 it opened a clinic in the Worcester area and in 1987 one in Greater Boston. The two clinics endured virulent protests, clinic blockades, and invasion. In 1993 PPLM's advocacy helped pass the Clinic Access Bill, the first pro-choice legislation ever passed in the state. On December 30, 1994, a gunman, entered PPLM's Brookline center and murdered a staff member, critically wounded three others and then attacked Preterm Health Services, killing another staff member and grievously injuring two more victims. As a result of this incident, Preterm Health Services merged with the Brookline center to become Planned Parenthood/Preterm Health Services of Greater Boston and moved into a PPLM-owned, state-of-the-art medical facility in Boston. In 1999 PPLM extended its medical services to the Western Massachusetts community, purchasing a practice in Springfield.

PPLM continued to solidify its role as a leader in reproductive health care while the national climate continued to become more hostile toward reproductive rights. In April 2004 PPLM sent thirty buses of students and supporters to the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C., the largest political demonstration in American history. PPLM achieved one of the organization's most significant legislative victories in 2005 with the passage of "An Act Providing Timely Access to Emergency Contraception." Thanks to strong bipartisan support, and a major statewide lobbying campaign by PPLM activists and allied organizations, the Massachusetts House and Senate overwhelmingly overrode Governor Mitt Romney's veto and enacted the legislation.

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts celebrates its 80th Anniversary in 2008. It continues a commitment to preserve and expand reproductive rights and unrestricted access to health care.


Blanche Ames Ames
1916-20 (?); 1928-35
Mrs. William P. Everets
Linda Hawkridge
Cornelia James Cannon
Loraine Leeson Campbell
1940-42, 1945-48
Elizabeth B. Borden
Loraine Leeson Campbell
Dr. Florence Clothier
Dr. Theodore H. Ingalls
Dr. Lendon Snedeker
Dr. Karl Sax
Samuel S. Auchincloss
Robert Fiske Bradford
Stephen J. Plank
Elliot Rivo, M.D.
Dianne Luby (president/CEO)
1999- present

Executive Directors

Eugene Belisle
Amelia K. Fisk
Chase des Granges,
Hazel Sagoff
William d. Strong
1970 (Jan - Nov)
Richard B. Rogers
Nicki Nichols Gamble

Executive Secretaries

Mary East
Mary White
Caroline Carter Davis
1931-40 (also Field Secretary and Educational Secretary)


57.564 linear feet (133 containers)


Birth control advocacy organization. The records provide a unique source for the study of the establishment and development of an organization largely run by women. They document the half-century struggle to revoke the Massachusetts Comstock Laws through state initiative and referendum voting (1942, 1948) campaigns for the right to disseminate information on birth control. Also of interest are letters to and from Margaret Sanger, and from General Douglas MacArthur forbidding Sanger from visiting Japan; individual files of Loraine L. Campbell, birth control crusader and President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in the 1950s; and files on such topics as maternal and infant health, abortion, African Americans and birth control, population and public policy, eugenics, marriage and sex counseling, connections and conflicts with the Catholic Church, and contraceptive research. Types of materials include organizational records, conference proceedings, financial records, publicity, photographs, scrapbooks, a large amount of correspondence, and reports.


This collection is organized into ten series:

  2. SERIES II. STAFF (1930-72)
  10. SERIES X. MICROFILM (1931-61)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The records of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection through the efforts of Loraine Leeson Campbell beginning in March 1949. Margaret Sanger referred Campbell to the SSC. The first accession was received in July 1949 and additional material was sent in various accessions through 2002. Lorraine Leeson Campbell's family added to the Records in 1986.

Existence and Location of Copies

Forty-five scrapbooks have been microfilmed for preservation purposes.

Related Materials

Additional records and papers related to PPLM can be found in the Mary Faulkner Papers, the Ames Family Papers, and the records of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, all located in the Sophia Smith Collection. There are also records at Harvard University at the Schlesinger Library and the Countway Library of Medicine.

Processing Information

Processed by Susan Boone, 2006-08

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts records
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Susan Boone.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:15-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063