January 24, 2014

Meddler or Martyr?

Within the Public Relations subseries of the Federation subgroup, there are two boxes of biographical information. Most files in this section consist of multi-page forms called “Biographical Information on Federation Leaders” that were in active use from the 1940s through the 1970s. These forms were distributed to Federation donors, board members, staff and others by the FJP Public Relations Department, who would collect back the completed forms. Here is an example of the front and back pages of a typical Biographical Information form:

ImageAnd here is a form letter from Public Relations Director Robert Smith encouraging the recipient to participate by filling out the form:

ImageThese files most likely served as a general reference resource within the agency. Whenever a person was slated to speak at a fundraising event, for example, PR staff could consult the person’s bio file to write a short introduction for them. These bio files also would have been quite useful for PR staff as they crafted press releases. The FJP PR subseries also includes some such press releases and quite a few of the newspaper clippings that resulted from them.

Besides these forms, there are some general biographical files on those less directly affiliated with Federation, including some famous names. Unlike the “Biographic Information on Federation Leaders” forms, this material seems to have been culled by staff through research, rather than supplied by the individuals themselves. Some of the celebrities who FJP PR staff kept reference files on include: Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Bolger, Victor Borge, Edna Ferber, Judy Garland, John Gielgud, Oscar Hammerstein, Judy Holiday, Jackie Robinson, and Margaret Sanger. This bio sheet found in the Tallulah Bankhead file was one of the more colorful (“Daahlings”!) documents in this section.

ImageWhen in the course of processing the biographical files I encountered a file on Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), a nurse and activist who had been instrumental in legalizing contraception in the United States, this page of a magazine article on Sanger entitled “Margaret Sanger – Meddler or Martyr?” stopped me in my tracks.


Sanger ran The Birth Control Council of America, an agency she founded, which would later become Planned Parenthood, out of the building in this picture. This building is located right next door to the Center for Jewish History, where the American Jewish Historical Society is located today. I pass this landmarked building every day coming and going from work. It has changed very little since 1935 when the magazine photo was taken. Indeed, here is how it appeared during my lunch break yesterday:

ImageGiven Federation’s role as a social services agency, reproductive rights was an issue that came up from time to time for FJP. Having information available on Sanger would have therefore proved useful again and again. Susan found evidence of this and in May 2012 wrote on this blog about how Federation dealt with the issue in relation to The Welfare and Health Council of the City of New York in 1953.

If you would like more information on Margaret Sanger, many published biographies and even an autobiography are available. Just last year, a critically acclaimed graphic novel about Sanger called Woman Rebel came out.  The National Archives has a “Teachable Text” webpage on Sanger that draws upon some Sanger documents held in the NARA New York office.


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