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Planned Parenthood Turns 80!

Founded in 1939, Planned Parenthood South Texas is the leading provider of reproductive health care in South Texas. We are proud to be celebrating our 80th Anniversary in 2019. 

Check in monthly for updated information on our history. 

A history of contraceptives

Pills, implants, shots — birth control has come a long way from animal-poop suppositories and opium cervical caps.

As long as people have understood where babies come from, they have been trying to control their fertility. Contraceptives have been used for thousands of years, and some cultures have been very creative when it comes to family planning.

Only recently has highly effective birth control been so widely available that it has transformed women’s lives in many countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named family planning as one of the 10 great public health achievements in the 20th century. The pill allowed women to pursue education, expanded employment opportunities and allowed them to earn more money.

MODERN CONTRACEPTIVES

CONDOMS made of rubber were mass-produced beginning in the 19th  century. Today, “rubbers” typically are made of latex, although alternatives are available for people who are allergic. And “lambskin” condoms —actually made from sheep intestines — are still available.

The female condom, also called the internal condom, became available in the U.S. in 1994. These are soft plastic pouches that are inserted into the vagina before sex to block sperm.

BARRIER METHODS became more sophisticated, more effective and less messy. In the 1830s, a German gynecologist created custom-made rubber pessaries, devices that were were inserted into the vagina to block sperm from reaching the uterus.

The modern version is the diaphragm, a shallow, silicone cup that covers the cervix. Cervical caps are smaller and with a different shape. An earlier form of diaphragm was the primary contraceptive provided at Planned Parenthood clinics beginning in 1916.

A sophisticated version of an old method, the Today sponge became very popular when it entered the American market in 1983. Instead being soaked in alcohol, oil or vinegar, the modern sponge contains the spermicide nonoxynol-9.

Diaphragms and cervical caps are also paired with spermicides. Contraceptive foams, jellies, creams and films are the updated version of honey, animal dung and other substances believed to kill or immobilize sperm.

While diaphragms, cervical caps and sponges are still available on the market, they’re fallen out of favor compared to hormonal methods that don’t need to be inserted before sex.

The Pill 

The pill revolutionized birth control in America. San Antonio played an important role in the birth of the modern birth control pill, which was under development in the United States by the 1950s.

Dr. Joseph Goldzieher at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education (now Texas Biomedical Research Institute) tested the drug on 200 women with the cooperation of the Planned Parenthood Center of San Antonio. The FDA approved distribution of the Enovid contraceptive pill in 1960.

Enovid contained large doses of hormones, which caused serious side effects, and is no longer produced. Today, there are many varieties of oral contraceptives with lower levels of hormones. The pill remains the most used form of birth control among Planned Parenthood South Texas patients.

Oral contraceptives paved the way for other hormonal methods that deliver pregnancy-preventing hormones without the necessity of taking a daily pill. Depo-Provera, an injectable hormonal contraceptive that provides three months of protection in one shot, was approved by the FDA in 1992 and remains popular among Planned Parenthood patients.

The patch and the vaginal ring both were approved by the FDA in 2001; the patch provides one week of protection against pregnancy, and the ring provides four weeks.

Emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) is a dose of oral contraceptives that can be taken soon after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It’s much more effective and safer than douching with Lysol, as was common in the early 20th century. It was first approved by the FDA in 1998. Some have since become available over the counter, while the most effective type is prescription-only.

Hormonal Implants

The hormonal implant came onto the U.S. market in the 1990s. Norplant, a set of small silicone capsules filled with hormonal birth control, was implanted into the skin of the upper arm to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. The current version is Implanon, a single-rod implant effective for up to three years.

Inrauterine Devices

IUDs took a while to perfect. IUDs made of silkworm gut, gold, and silver were used in the early 20th century but often caused infection. A German physician introduced a safer version in the 1920s. Dr. Jack Lippes, an American doctor, invented the “Lippes loop,” a double S loop made of plastic, in the early 1960s.

The Dalkon Shield was an IUD used in the 1970s that came to market without being properly tested for safety. This device caused severe pelvic infections and even death; too many women became pregnant using it and miscarried. The manufacturer stopped selling the device in 1974. The Dalkon Shield gave IUDs a bad name in the U.S., which persisted even when safe, effective IUDs became available.

The copper IUD, available in the U.S. since the 1980s, is made of a flexible piece of plastic shaped like a T, wrapped with copper wire. Copper ions cause uterine fluids to become toxic to sperm and prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. This hormone-free IUD is extremely safe, highly effective and lasts up to 12 years.

A hormonal IUD was approved by the FDA in 2000. Also T-shaped, it releases small amounts of pregnancy-preventing hormones and is good for up to five years.

IUDs and implants are known as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), the most effective methods of reversible birth control. Tubal ligation and vasectomies offer lifelong protection. The only 100% effective method in pregnancy prevention is abstinence.

New developments

Researchers continue to develop and refine methods of birth control. For example, a new vaginal ring that can be reused for up a year has recently been approved by the FDA. And some ancient methods are still in use today, including withdrawal and tracking fertility cycles, although they are not as effective as hormonal methods. At Planned Parenthood South Texas, our well-trained, compassionate staff works with each patient to decide on the best birth control method.

EARLY CONTRACEPTIVES

CONDOMS have been around for thousands of years. In fact, an illustration of a man wearing a condom during sex is painted on the wall of a cave in France and is estimated to be 12,000-15,000 years old. Condoms were often made of animal guts. The famous womanizer Casanova is said to have worn linen condoms.

BARRIERS AND SPERMICIDES were also used by ancient peoples to block, absorb or kill sperm before it reached the uterus. Women used halves of fruits, such as lemons and pomegranates; wads of seaweed, moss and bamboo; sponges soaked in vinegar or brandy; elephant or crocodile dung; beeswax; honey; cocoa butter; balls of opium; and rock salt, among many other substances.

ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES existed long before the pill. For thousands of years, women around the world have ingested a variety of different herbs and fruits, from papayas to pomegranate seeds to Queen Anne’s lace, to control fertility. Modern science suggests they may have been effective, if not always safe. Centuries ago, Chinese women drank mercury or lead to prevent pregnancy, which could be fatal.

San Antonio’s first birth control clinic

When a group of San Antonio women decided to open a birth control clinic in 1939, it wasn’t exactly an easy sell.

“We tried to do things in a quiet way without controversy, but it came anyway,” founding member Catherine Harding Halff recalled in a 1984 story in the San Antonio Light.

“We encountered opposition from several religious leaders. Several of our contemporaries felt we should stay at home and concern ourselves with our own families. Many of our friends who wanted to help us were prevented from doing so by their husbands.”

But these two dozen women, who came from some of the city’s most wealthy and socially prominent families, were passionate, determined, and brave. They met for the first time on the lawn of Jamie Armstrong Bennett’s home — now part of the San Antonio College campus — on May 11, 1939.

What may have looked to passersby like a genteel ladies’ garden party was in fact a milestone in the birth control movement in San Antonio, an event that would shape South Texas families for generations to come.

At the time, the United States was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression. World War II was on the horizon in Europe. America was on the cusp of profound change.

Margaret Sanger had established the country’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916 — the origins of Planned Parenthood — and soon similar clinics began opening across the country, including Texas. Providing free birth control education and supplies to low-income women would empower them to plan their families and thereby change their lives.

The founding board members of the San Antonio clinic had ambitious goals: reduce maternal and infant mortality; preserve the mother’s health and increase the chances babies would be born healthy; ensure women and men had only the number of children they could properly support; and help families be financially independent instead of reliant on government assistance.

Mollie Bennett Lupe and Catherine Harding Halff were elected the board president and vice-president, respectively. The group of women met throughout the summer to articulate the clinic’s missions and policies. At one point, the board decided to require patients present a written consent from their husbands in order to obtain services. This decision was reversed a month later.

The board, a medical advisory board and 10 young doctors established the clinic in a small adobe house at Goliad and Water streets, in what is now Hemisfair Park. It opened its doors in July 1939.

San Antonio’s clinic, like many other Texas clinics, was called the Maternal Health Center and was affiliated with the Birth Control Federation of America. (The Birth Control Federation would change its name to Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942, and the Maternal Health Center of San Antonio would change its name to the Planned Parenthood Center of San Antonio in 1946.)

The clinic operated with an all-volunteer staff to educate women about birth control and provide them with diaphragms. While the board wanted to reach women in need, it was also careful to minimize controversy. In fact, its publicity committee was committed to keeping news of the clinic out of the local newspapers.

In its first year, the Maternal Health Center served 354 women. It was so successful, it expanded its services and moved to a larger location at 1130 W. Houston St. in its second year. In January 1966, Reverand John Platt helped open a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brownville. Today, Planned Parenthood Cameron County is a cherished part of the Planned Parenthood South Texas family.

In the eight decades since our founding, Planned Parenthood South Texas has served generations of families who have come to rely on us for compassionate, high-quality health care. We remain thankful to the forward-thinking women who dared to defy society to help women control their reproductive lives. We strive every day to honor their legacy in our work.

The women behind San Antonio’s birth control movement

The birth control movement took root and flourished in San Antonio thanks to the passion, resolve and energy of several women.

Margaret Sanger

The nurse and activist visited Texas several times to speak to groups about birth control. In October 1931, she stayed in San Antonio at the home of Mrs. H.A. Hirshberg. Sanger wrote to her host to thank her for her hospitality, adding, “I shall look forward to news of a possible clinic in S.A. & will be happy to send you all necessary facts and suggestions for your venture.” Hirshberg would later join the honorary board of the Maternal Health Center.

Mollie Bennett Lupe

A native of San Antonio, Lupe graduated from St. Mary’s Hall before attending Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington D.C. A compassionate young woman who was active in the community, Lupe wanted to help poor women who were struggling to care for large families during the Depression. She took the lead on establishing the Maternal Health Center of San Antonio when she was in her late 20s, less than a year after she had her first of two children. She continued her work at the center until her death from cancer at age 32.

Catherine Harding Halff

A lifelong friend of Mollie Bennett Lupe, Halff graduated from Old Main High School and Vassar College before helping to raise money and recruit board members for the Maternal Health Center of San Antonio. The board raised $2,000 to fund the first year of service delivery and solicited donations of cabinets, tables, rugs, and other clinic furnishings. Halff continued to support Planned Parenthood throughout her life.

Agnese Carter Nelms

One of Houston’s community leaders in the first half of the 20th century, Nelms helped establish the Maternal Health Center in Houston and the Birth Control League of Texas in 1936. She was passionate about providing free health care and birth control to women who lived in poverty. “All mothers have the right to decide for themselves how many children they want, and all children have the right to be born under conditions which make for a strong, happy and useful citizen,” Nelms said. She was present at the first meeting of the San Antonio center to offer guidance on opening a clinic. She also helped open other birth control clinics in Austin, Fort Worth and Waco.

Mrs. Fred Shield

A founding board member and registered nurse, Shield served as the first clinic supervisor. “Mrs. Shield gave a brief resume of her training and the active board feels very fortunate to have her in charge,” wrote board secretary Mrs. Ernst Schuchard in the notes from the board meeting on May 18, 1939.