Legitimacy as Strategy
The primary focus for many birth control activists became removing the stigma of promiscuity and establishing birth control as a legitimate cause in the public sphere. Unfortunately, the legitimacy of organizations like the American Birth Control League often hampered other efforts by individuals to advance the movement. Radical clinics that didn’t follow ABCL standards were shut down, and publications like this one seen as “shady” were dismissed. While seemingly 'legitimate,' The Birth Control Outlook sparked huge controversy among activists and organizations, including the ABCL. The magazine plagiarized several articles from the ABCL's The Birth Control Review, a publication that dominated the movement and was created by Margaret Sanger. In addition to the reprinting of articles, Skeehan's magazine radically printed medical advertisements and other material that only belonged in medical journals (according to then laws).
The following items showcase the development of Josephine Lewis Skeehan's original ideas of a women's weekly that would "appraise the achievements of women in every field of activity and stimulate them to their best growth and sense of responsibility for civilization," to a magazine centered upon women's access to birth control that fell into the shadows of legitimate and mainstream publications.
In a New York Times advertisement, Josephine Lewis Skeehan seeks funding to aid her magazine. Whether she actually had support for her magazine or not, this ad marks an attempt by Skeehan to garner legitimacy by way of established women in society. In the earliest days of the movement, Margaret Sanger also used the strategy of pretending like she had support before that was a reality.
A few weeks after her initial fund-raising advertisement, Skeehan placed another ad cancelling the luncheon. This series shows an effort by Skeehan to validate her cause through prominent women in society, including then-First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.
In this letter, Josephine Lewis Skeehan, editor of The Birth Control Outlook, writes Mrs. Morton Keeney, one of the vice presidents of the ABCL. This correspondence documents Skeehan's personal knowledge of the ABCL, The Birth Control Review, and Margaret Sanger. Here we see Skeehan's perseverance in creating a monthly magazine with a national scope. In the correspondence below, the ABCL maintained that Skeehan had no affiliation with their organization or Margaret Sanger.
These letters document attempts by the American Birth Control League to what could be seen as an illegitimate publication that might jeopardize the progress of women's rights advocates.
The ABCL provides information showing the obscenity of The Birth Control Outlook based on contraceptive advertising only acceptable in medical journals. Additionally, Stella Hanau (ABCL publications director) claims that The Birth Control Outlook reprinted at least three articles from The Birth Control Review without permission.
This envelope marks a failed attempt by the American Birth Control League and their legal aid to contact The Birth Control Outlook office, which may have had locations in both Chicago, IL and Oakland, CA. Should legal action have been taken by the ABCL, cases would have had to be pursued in those locations.