Eugenics & Contraception, part 14

Estelle (Trebert) Griswold was born in 1900. She paid her way through music school and took work as a singer in Paris before returning to her hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. There she married her husband Richard in 1927. He was an advertising executive; during WWII he held a government job in the Office of Political Affairs which stationed him in Europe. Immediately after the war ended Estelle flew out to join him. 

She became involved in refugee work for Eastern Europeans, and witnessed extreme poverty and starvation. She chalked this up to overpopulation and lack of contraceptive access, rather than the war, the Holocaust, and refugee status. This simplistic narrative can be deceptive. It is true that voluntary free access to contraception is an important tool in allowing peole to decide how many children to have and when. It’s also true this can liberate people who’ve felt shackled by fertility, or who are denied social and economic freedoms because they are mothers. 

It’s also true that “overpopulation” is very often an eugenics. It was a theory that became popular in Queen Victoria’s day but was not applied to the mother of nine. It was and is presumed that the people who there are too many of are not like the speaker. It is always India, Africa (one big continent shaped country), and Mexico which must “breed” less. It is the poor, the criminal, the feeble and insane. The usual targets of eugenics. 

In 1950 the Griswolds moved to New Haven, Connecticut. They lived next door to the local Planned Parenthood non-clinical offices. By that time they had confirmed their fertility woes medically. Griswold established a research fund at Yale University to find new cures and treatments for infertility. She also volunteered as Executive Secretary of the Human Relations Council. Planned Parenthood wooed her, despite her relative unfamiliarity with birth control methods, because she was respectable and they wanted that for the upcoming fight. 

Griswold resisted their efforts for a couple of years, but joined on when her husband was diagnosed was th emphysema and could no longer work full time. In 1954 she became the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. Her job included “border runs”, taking patients to bordering states with less strident anti birth control laws. But her primary mission was to challenge those laws in Connecticut. 

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