Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau physicians and nurses arrested in the 1929 police raid. (L-R: Sigrid Brestwell, Antoinette Field, Elizabeth Pissort, Margaret Sanger, Hannah Mayer Stone, Marcella Sideri)
Thanks to a 1918 New York Court of Appeals ruling in People v. Sanger, licensed physicians could legally provide information on contraception, as long as it was used primarily for the “cure or prevention of disease.” As venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea spread rapidly through the general population, especially via returning World War I servicemen, the courts followed the lead of public health officials in loosening restrictions on contraception as a strategy for reducing rates of infection. The ruling provided a significant legal loophole for women’s healthcare providers and enabled Sanger and her colleagues to open the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1923. It was the first legal birth control clinic in the United States. By the 1930s, the clinic served over 10,000 patients a year and trained thousands of doctors and nurses in contraceptive methods and clinical techniques.
While birth control activist Sanger was the most famous name associated with the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, even she admitted that the clinics’ guiding light was Dr. Stone. Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents in 1893, Stone earned a degree in pharmacology from Brooklyn College and began working at Bellevue Hospital in 1912. When the United States entered World War I, Stone began her training as a physician at New York Medical School. She received her M.D. in 1920 and then began working at the Lying-In Hospital on Second Avenue. When Stone took her position at the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1925, her supervisors at the Lying-In Hospital considered her clinic work a conflict, and they forced her to resign from the hospital.
In just few short years of practice, Stone had already witnessed the desperate need for clinical research and care for childbearing women. She eagerly took on the work of running the clinic, which required both intensive data collection and patient-centered work so that the clinic’s work could be published and shared in the wider scientific community. In an era when reproductive health was based more on myth than scientific data, Stone’s clinical research was essential in establishing protocols for sexual education based on evidence.