Forgotten Heroes is a series of posts about extraordinary men and women who are (probably) not remembered by the average person. Previous heroes include Josephine Butler and John Howard.
If you know of a forgotten hero who should be included in this series let me know about him or her in the comment section or via my contact form.
Place: Kitchener, Ontario.
Imagine having eight, ten, twelve children not because you dreamed of raising a large family but because it was illegal for health care providers to teach you about family planning.
When our grandparents or great-grandparents were young this was the reality for many families in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. (I don’t know enough about the history of other countries to say what their laws were on the subject but I am planning to research this for a future Forgotten Heroes post!)
The U.S. had Margaret Sanger working to change this. The U.K. had Marie Stopes.
And Canada had Alvin Ratz Kaufman. After the Great Depression forced him to lay off workers Kaufman was alarmed to see what the lives of his former employees were like. He noticed that employees with larger families understandably had a tougher time keeping everyone fed and clothed and thought that having access to safe, reliable contraception would help them.
In the 1930s he founded the Parents’ Information Bureau (PIB) and hired health workers to go door to door in poor neighbourhoods explaining how to use certain contraceptives and which doctors were willing to sterilize people (even though it was illegal.)
Between 1935 and 1960 the PIB helped about 200,000 Canadian women take charge of when or whether to have more children. Deciding to send health care workers to women instead of expecting women to line up at a clinic helped the PIB reach women who ordinarily may not have participated in such a thing.
Contraception was not only illegal then but highly controversial as well. Only a few years earlier the Lambeth Conference in 1930 made the Anglicans the first Christians to post a statement supporting the use of contraception instead of calling it a sin.
It would be disingenuous for me to hide the fact that Kaufman was part of the eugenics movement. Yes, some of the other people in that movement grossly violated human rights in the name of improving the human race but none of my research on Kaufman has ever indicated that he forced anyone to have (or not to have) children.
Kaufman simply believe in the power of information.
And for that I am deeply grateful.
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