4. “Get Your Diaphragms!” Birth Control for All: Dr. Rachelle Yarros
At the onset of the 20th century, little information existed regarding sex education and birth control. During the First World War the Untied States spent millions of dollars on campaigns to help stop the spread of venereal disease among soldiers in Europe. For people stateside, it remained illegal to use the United States Postal Service to transport any objects or information about birth control or sex. In direct defiance of cultural norms, Dr. Rachelle Yarros demanded that all Americansâwealthy and poor alikeâhave access to sex education classes, birth control, and venereal diseases. She stood up to the City of Chicago and in 1922, opened the nations second brith control clinic.
Rachelle Slobodinsky, born in 1869, radicalized in her youth. She grew up in the Russian Empire to wealthy parents. When she was 18 she was forced to flee Russia. She permitted her father to pay her fare to New York. In New York she obtained a job sewing in a garment factory. Like the other immigrant women around her, she worked long hours for low wages. Rachelle went on to earn a medical degree in obstetrics and gynecology in 1893 and went on to intern at the at the New England Hospital for Women and Children where she met Dr. Alice Hamilton.
Victor Yarros married Dr. Slobodinsky in New York. A year later, in 1895, the couple moved to Chicago where she began her medical practice. Impacted by a former patient that committed suicide when she found out she was pregnant, Dr. Yarros was an advocate for democratized sex education and birth control. Unplanned pregnancies often had negative outcomes for working women, primarily forcing them to quit their jobs. From 1907 to 1927 Dr. Yarros and her husband provided sex education classes and a free clinic at the Hull-House complex. She distributed diaphragms to married women against the wishes of the Chicago health commissioner who called Dr. Yarros all sorts of names in the press.
The name calling did not stop Dr. Yarros and she went on to assist Margaret Sanger in organizing the Illinois Birth Control League, which was the precursor to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. There is no way of knowing how many women Dr. Yarros helped move out of poverty simply by providing them with tools that permitted them to begin a family when they were ready instead of having a family thrusted upon them.