NL 2004/08

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966), mysterious ‚Lily’ latex condom from Shanghai





Dear friends of the Museum of Contraception and Abortion,


A first presentation of our ever-growing museum was possible last September in the form of a touring exhibition at the FIAPAC conference in Vienna. Topics were “the pill & suchlike“, “condoms“, “vaginal rinsing“ and “iuds“.


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“... theoretically, it would be one of the greatest triumphs of humanity... if the act responsible for procreation could be raised to the level of a voluntary and intentional behaviour in order to separate it from the imperative to satisfy a natural urge.“

Can you guess whose prophetic words these were?

They come from prominent Viennese psychiatrist Siegmund Freud’s (1856 – 1939) ’Sexuality in the aetiology of neuroses’ (Wiener Klinische Rundschau, Nr. 2, 1898). He himself had a vasectomy by the way, a method made acceptable at the beginning of 20th century by Viennese surgeon Eugene Steinarch (1861 – 1944).

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Sadie Sachs, 25, from New York was married to a truck driver and mother of three children. In July 1912 she undertook a self-abortion; her husband found her lying on the kitchen floor bleeding heavily and unconscious and called for the doctor. When her sepsis had been successfully defeated after desperate weeks she pleaded with her doctor: “How can I avoid having more children?“ His simple answer was: “Tell your husband he should sleep in the loft.“

Three months later Sadie was dead; this time she had been to a five-dollar-abortionist. It was not the first case that nurse Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966) was confronted with. “I can see them in front of me, these poor, weak, frail and devastated women. Year after year there is a new baby on its way, then another, and another.“ No less than 100,000 illegal abortions per year were estimated for New York alone. Little Sadie’s fate influenced Margaret Sanger’s decision to finish her palliative work as a nurse and in social service so she could “understand the evil’s roots and do something to improve the outrageous misery of unlucky mothers.“

In 1912 she began writing a column on sex education for the “New York Call“, entitled ’What Every Girl Should Know’. This experience led to her first battle with the censors, who suppressed her column on venereal disease deeming it obscene. Two years later Sanger published the first issue of “The Woman Rebel“, a monthly that advocated militant feminism including the right to practice birth control. In 1916 Sanger opened the USA's first birth control clinic but after only nine days in operation it was raided, and Sanger and her staff were arrested. The following year she established another monthly, the “Birth Control Review“, and in 1921 she embarked on a campaign of education and publicity designed to win mainstream support for birth control by establishing the “American Birth Control League“.

In 1929 Sanger formed the “National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control“ to lobby for birth control legislation that granted physicians the right to legally distribute contraceptives. In 1952 she helped found the “International Planned Parenthood Federation“ (IPPF).

Through all her work for birth control, Sanger was consistent in her search for simpler, less costly, and more effective contraceptives. Not only did she help arrange for the American manufacture of Dutch-style spring-form diaphragms that she had been smuggling in from Europe, but in subsequent years she fostered a variety of research efforts to develop spermicidal jellies, foam powders, and hormonal contraceptives. Finally in the 1950s, her role in helping to secure critical research funding made possible the development of the first effective anovulant contraceptive - the birth control pill.


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One of our favourite items is the mysterious “Lily“ latex condom for women produced by “Shanghai Lily Life Rubber Product Ltd.“ and distributed by Chinese family planing services. With a little imagination its appearance reminds you of a sea anemona. We are not even sure which way up it should be used (where is the top?). Being a cervical barrier it’s more or less a diaphragm, a fact supported by its usage together with a cream. None of our efforts to gain further information or additional samples has been successful so far. Any helpful hints would be most welcome!

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With a number of interesting new objects having already been donated, we are still happy to receive any objects for the planned Museum for Contraception and Abortion, such as films, posters, leaflets, books, documents, statistics, devices and instruments for contraception, for pregnancy-testing and for abortion - from past and present times, from locally and elsewhere.

You can also support us by sponsoring the purchase of objects which otherwise we would not be able to finance.


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