Family ethic, birth control, intersectionality, motherhood, sterilization


This research examines birth control and sterilization practices aimed at low-income black women in the United States from 1939-1950, within the framework of specific race- and class-based constructions of motherhood in the Jim Crow South. How these social services aimed at reproductive health were grounded within differential ideals about family, childbirth, and motherhood for White versus African American women is explored. Evidence is presented from archival collections containing records for Planned Parenthood’s Negro Project, The Association for Voluntary Sterilization’s programs, and The American Social Health Association’s public health programs. Birth control services in the South were delivered within a framework mandating ideals of proper versus unfit mothers. While strict enforcement of Jim Crow segregationist policies contributed greatly to the lack of long-term sustained services aimed at poor Black women, the intersection of race, class, and gender in social constructions of motherhood also played a role.

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