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October 16: Birth Control, in Yiddish

October 16, 2011

Fania Mindell, a Jewish social worker, helped Margaret Sanger (not Jewish) open the first birth control clinic in America on this date in 1916, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than a hundred neighborhood women were served by the clinic on its opening day. Mindell administered the storefront clinic during its first week, canvassed the neighborhood with flyers written in English, Yiddish, and Italian, and read birth control literature in Yiddish to Jewish clients. When Sanger and her sister, Ethel Byrne, a registered nurse, were arrested by vice squad police on October 26, so was Mindell, who was convicted of disturbing the peace and fined $50. Sanger's clinic was only the second in the world (the Dutch Jewish physician Henrietta Aletta Henriette Jacobs opened the first in the Netherlands). Other Jewish women who helped pioneer the birth control movement were Anna Lifschiz, Sanger's secretary; Emma Goldman, who was speaking out on behalf of contraception as early as 1900 and was arrested several times for publicly defending the work of her fellow socialist, Margaret Sanger; Rose Pastor Stokes, another noted orator; and Gertrude Weil, a suffragist and civil rights activist in North Carolina.

"The National Council of Jewish Women pioneered the establishment of birth control clinics, usually referred to as Mother's Health Bureaus, during the 1920s and 1930s. . . . . Female Jewish doctors directed birth control clinics throughout the country, Rachelle Slobodinsky Yarros . . . in Chicago; Bessie Moses . . . in Baltimore; Sarah Marcus . . . in Cleveland; and Nadina Rinstein Kavinoky . . . in Los Angeles. For all of these women, working in a birth control clinic provided the professional recognition and responsibility still largely unavailable to them in the male-dominated worlds of academic medicine and hospital politics."
-Rebecca Davis, Jewish Women's Archive