Family Planning

Date: c. 1980
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images


This Brazilian poster informs the public about several different birth control methods, including birth control pills, IUDs, condoms, vasectomies, the calendar, and diaphragms. Although public education on birth control has become quite common throughout the Americas, the early twentieth century debate about birth control was inextricably wrapped-up with the controversial new science of eugenics. Like other scientific movements of this era, eugenics took on a hemispheric aspect. The Pan American Association of Eugenics and Homiculture met concurrently with the PASB and tried to homogenize how eugenics was understood and practiced throughout the Americas.

Since the Association's very first meeting (in Havana, 1927), there was an ideological rift between eugenicists from the U.S. and those from Latin America. According to historian Nancy Leys Stepan, U.S. eugenicists hoped to implement strict policies, such as forced sterilization, that did not go over well with Latin Americans who favored a "softer" form of eugenics. Because Latin American eugenicists continually resisted pressure from the United States and Puerto Rico to pass hard measures regulating marriage, immigration, and social actions aimed at racial "purity," the Pan American Association of Eugenics disintegrated after only its second meeting (in Buenos Aires, 1934).

Most Latin Americans eugenicists hoped to improve their nations' gene pool by ensuring that children and mothers received sufficient prenatal care. Thus the Pan American Association that brought them together helped to spread important public health measures, like Uruguay's Codigo del Nino, throughout Latin America. Birth control, in its most positive form, was meant to help the lower classes avoid poverty and to ensure that women had a measure of control over their own health.

Stepan, Nancy Leys. "The Hour of Eugenics": Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

CITATION: Planejamento Familiar. United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A031920