Gamble, Clarence James (1894—1966) (birth control)

James Reed, in his history of contraception in the United States, regarded Clarence James Gamble, along with Margaret Sanger and Robert Latou Dickinson, as the three major forces in the birth control movement in the first half of the twentieth century. Sanger, he believed, gave expression to a feminist impulse, the desire to give women control over their bodies. Dickinson, on the other hand, believed that the main threat to a stable family life sprang from poor sexual adjustment and he championed birth control as a means of strengthening the family. Gamble was concerned that the poor had more children than those higher up in the social scale and feared that this differential fertility between classes would lead to a welfare state or worse. Gamble devoted much of his energy and money to a search for contraceptives that did not require a physician’s expertise for prescribing or fitting. The three often worked together. Their coalition was, in a sense, a fragile one because their own motives and causes had to be submerged in a pragmatic attempt to advance their own goals.

A physician, a millionaire (his family was the Gamble part of the Procter and Gamble Corporation), a dedicated Christian, Gamble started out as a medical researcher. His focus changed in 1929 when he became involved in the establishment of a birth control clinic in Philadelphia. His friends, Stuart and Emily Mudd, had opened the clinic as part of a program of the Committee for Maternal Health Betterment, which they had organized. They assigned Gamble the task of determining which of the contraceptive jellies would be most effective.

In 1929, Gamble also established a contraceptive clinic in Cincinnati, after which he began devoting himself full-time to birth control activities. After the success of the clinic in Cincinnati, Gamble went on to found one in Columbus and elsewhere. Initially he provided all the funds but gradually ceased this practice, insisting that the clinics do their own fund raising, which most did successfully. He supported Elsie Wulkop, a friend, as well as others as sort of missionaries for the establishment of birth control clinics. Even though Gamble was a physician, he opposed the medical monopoly on contraception and in 1934 persuaded the Committee for Maternal Health Betterment to do research directed toward finding better, cheaper, and more widely available contraceptives. He became chair of an American Medical Association (AMA) committee on contraceptives, which began publishing articles on condoms, jellies, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). He was a leader in having the AMA in 1943 define standards for contraceptives.

Gamble, even though a multimillionaire, lacked the resources of a Ford or Rockefeller Foundation. He wanted to initiate a variety of projects but also worried that some might defer to him only because of his money. His one inflexible requirement as a donor was that he be allowed to participate actively in the planning and execution of the projects he sponsored. He preferred a low public profile, but his desire to be part of the action brought him into conflict with those who wanted to mainstream the birth control movement. He often bombarded organizational officials with proposals that they ignored and he found himself in a struggle with the American Birth Control League over what they thought was his unwanted and mischievous actions and he was eventually forced out of the organization. He had similar struggles with the Population Council, the Clinical Research Bureau, and the Committee for Maternal Health Betterment. He often played the rival organizations against each other. When he could not get support for projects, he often went off by himself. For example, Gamble was instrumental in pushing for the IUD over the opposition of most of the professionals in the field. He also played an important role in expanding the testing of the oral contraceptive in Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

Increasingly pushed aside by many of the growing groups of professionals in the field, and as other groups and organizations took over tasks that he had originally started and funded, Gamble in 1957 established his own family foundation, the Pathfinder Fund, to carry out his work. It has since become one of the more important organizations in the field and its expertise has often been used by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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