NL 2004/09

‚Hygiene of human reproduction’ (1926), Ishimoto Shidzue (1897 – 2001), IUD 'Majzlin Spring'





Dear friends of the Museum of Contraception and Abortion,

“If women realise that the number of children they have is up to their sole discretion, they are mislead and might want just one child or at the most a second one as a toy. This would be in contrast to their social function, where they have a duty to give birth to and bring up a flock of at least three children, preferably more.” [free translation]

The ideas outlined above are found in a book we have, "Hygiene of human
reproduction", which was published in 1926. The author, Alfred Grotjahn (1869-1931), was the first to hold a university chair for social hygiene in Berlin. He was a passionate supporter of sterilisation to prevent the birth of children who might have genetic defects. It is difficult today to read his views impartially without taking into account the most tragic subsequent political and historical developments.

This book and a number of other historic books have been scanned. They will be available on our website as soon as legal and technical issues have been resolved.

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If you read our previous issue about American family planning pioneer Margaret Sanger, then you might also be interested in ’The Margaret Sanger of Japan’ Ishimoto Shidzue (1897 – 2001).

Ms. Ishimoto was born into an affluent, ex-samurai family but grew up familiar with Western culture. Her first husband, Count Ishimoto Keikichi, was a Christian humanist interested in social reforms who took his young wife to the coal mines in Kyushu where he was a mining engineer. Living with the poor coal workers – males and females, adults and children – they experienced their unsocial, unhygienic and unhealthy living conditions. The Count began to turn away from his Christian humanism towards radical Communism based on the Soviet model, and after three years moved to the USA in order to fight for the workers’ movement.

Meeting Margaret Sanger at the beginning of the 1920s proved a turning point in Shidzue’s life. She realised that her true goal was to bring birth control to Japan, in order to give women control over their reproduction and allowing them to plan their families responsibly rather than suffer the miseries of unwanted children. The military regime in Japan during the 1920s and 30s was fiercely hostile to limiting the country's growing population and in December 1937 she was arrested. After being detained for two weeks she was forced to close her clinic in Tokyo which had been started thanks to funds from America.

As a feminist Shidzue had to fight against the taboo of being a Japanese woman who had stepped out of her traditionally submissive role and who had taken a social initiative. Furthermore in the circles in which she moved, the subject of birth control was definitely the least mentionable one.

In 1946, when Japanese women were given the right to vote, Shidzue Kato (in 1944 she had married the prominent socialist leader Kanju Kato) became a member of the Japanese Parliament. Up to her death at the age of 104 she continued to work tirelessly for women’s welfare in Japan, especially for their right to family planning.

We thank Prof. Helen Hopper for informations about Shidzue. Prof. Hopper is author of "Kato Shidzue: A Japanese Feminist"(IBSN 0-321-07804-7).

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We are grateful for a donation of a number of historic coils (IUDs) from Percy Skuy, founder of The History of Contraception Museum in Toronto. They are of the most ludicrous shapes imaginable. Some of them look like rings and leaves and wheels and hearts or – most simply – just a knotted piece of fishing line. In contrast, the shape of the Majzlin Spring is terrifying: a flat piece of stainless steel folded in a zig-zag. Between 1967 and 1973 it was used by about 100,000 women. It had to be withdrawn from the market because of potentially serious complications associated with its use, including bleeding, infection, perforation and difficult removal.

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With a number of interesting new objects having already been donated, we are still happy to get interesting 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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