Summer 2016

Issue 117:2

Special Issue: Regulating Birth

For the Summer 2016 OHQ we are excited to share a special issue on "Regulating Birth." From the regulation of midwifery and home birth, to the history of genetic counseling, to the impact of federal Indian policies on Native communities, the history of birth reflects both cultural values and government power.

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In this Issue 

Regulating Birth: Locating Power at the Intersection of Private and Public in Oregon History


Historicizing birth — working to understand how and why the practices and experiences of childbirth have developed and changed and how efforts to "regulate birth" have shaped both its practice and experience — allows us to chart shifting dominant values as well as the impacts of those changes. Social anxieties about citizenship, family, and life itself often underlay birthing regulations. From the impact of federal Indian policies on Native communities, to the role of labor unions in advocating for access to birth control, to the unfolding history of genetic testing and its influence on birth choices, to the history of midwifery and home birth, the regulation of birth both reflects and shapes community assumptions regarding inclusion and exclusion. The articles in this special issue present a compelling case for focusing historical attention on childbirth. As historians of women and gender have long argued, centering historical inquiry on experiences previously dismissed as merely "women's issues" can both deepen our historical knowledge and challenge traditional narratives.

Changing the Debate: A Twentieth-Century History of People with Disabilities, Their Families, and Genetic Counseling


The first People First convention, held in Oregon in 1974, was a key moment in the beginning of the self advocacy movement of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/D) in the United States. The self advocacy movement grew in part out of the parent advocacy movement, which had been lobbying for better residential, educational, and training programs for people I/DD since the 1940s. The parent advocacy movement gained momentum at the same that a new field, genetic counseling, began to expand in labs and medical centers. Although the parent advocacy movement had only occasional interaction with the fields of genetics and genetic counseling until after the 1980s, both groups addressed similar questions around disability and, in their early decades, shared an interest in prevention.

Health and Well-being: Federal Indian Policy, Klamath Women, and Childbirth


Klamath women's health and experiences of pregnancy and childbirth have been dramatically transformed by shifting federal Indian policies that have structured their lives form the nineteenth-century institution of the reservation through the mid-twentieth-century period of termination. Federal policies that may initially appear disconnected from health and health care have devastated the Klamath people's overall "well-being" in two ways. Federal policies, beginning with the reservation system but also including the later policy of termination, disrupted traditional Klamath birth practices, replacing them with the western medical model of care. After disrupting those traditions, the federal government repeatedly failed to provide both funding for and access to any adequate level of western health care. These continuous failures reflect the ongoing nature of settler colonialism and its impact on Klamath women's birthing experiences.

Birth Activism, Law, and the Organization of Independent Midwifery in Oregon


This article explores the development of birth activism and independent midwifery in Oregon, from their emergence in the countercultural atmosphere of the 1970s through the passage of "voluntary licensure" legislation in 1993. It traces the emergence of birth activism in Oregon and the struggle to develop a state organizational structure that was consistent with members' commitments to birth, in opposition to national movements they perceived as replicating the authority structures of organized medicine. It then explores how legal uncertainty was experienced by activists during the 1980s and ways in which the Oregon Midwifery Council organized in response, including involvement in passage of a voluntary licensure law in 1993. The author mined newsletters of local and state midwifery organizations and conducted oral history interviews with Oregon birth activists.

Birth, Healing, and Women of Color: Symposium Keynote Lecture and Discussion


Shafia M. Monroe offered the keynote lecture at the Oregon Historical Society's November 17, 2015 symposium on "Regulating Birth," bringing with her three women who spoke to the particular experiences women of color have as birth attendants and as mothers. Read the edited transcript in Oregon Historical Quarterly; or watch the full recording.

"We can give birth. We can do it." Reflections on Learning and Promoting Midwifery in Oregon


Holly Scholles, Sarah Taylor, and Mary Solares participated in a panel discussion with Eliza E. Canty-Jones about their experiences as midwives at the Oregon Historical Society's November 17, 2015 symposium on "Regulating Birth." All three women began their careers as midwives in the 1970s. Read the edited transcript in Oregon Historical Quarterly; or watch the full recording.

"Lewd, Obscene and Indecent": The 1916 Portland Edition of Family Limitation


Margaret Sanger's birth control pamphlet Family Limitation significantly shaped American thought, values, and behavior.  In the early decades of the twentieth century, the content and distribution of Family Limitation roiled communities throughout the United States. Public officials of Portland, Oregon, first engaged in the controversy when Margaret Sanger visited the city in June 1916. Other accounts have detailed Sanger's troubles in Portland — the only city on her tour to place her behind bars. But the 1916 local edition of Family Limitation (revised by Marie Equi) has not previously been analyzed or compared with editions that preceded or followed it. The Portland version was distinctive for a strong marketing appeal to union members that reflected the intersection of labor organizing and advocacy for reproductive rights. The pamphlet also directed specific advice to men, deleted specific mention of abortion, and criticized local authorities and the medical profession.

Adventures in Family Limitation


This graphic short story uses visual narrative to depict events that occurred during the 1916 visit to Portland, Oregon by birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. It relies on evidence and imagination to portray the lectures, arrests, and rally supporting Sanger. Graphic nonfiction can enhance historical events and engage readers with visual information that is more evocative and nuanced than narrative text alone.

Birth Home, Inc.: Discovering the Records of an Independent Birth Center


Birth Home Inc. opened in 1982 as a freestanding birth center in Portland, Oregon staffed by medical doctors, nurse-midwives, and registered nurses. Its home-like ambiance provided an option for families seeking alternatives to hospital births. Throughout its short history, the founders' thoughtful balance of idealism and professional pragmatism characterized the Birth Home. Just four years after the Birth Home opened, it was unable to maintain professional liability insurance, and therefore was forced to close. The records of the Birth Home, located at Oregon Health & Science University Historical Collections & Archives, are in-depth documents of the medical and nursing professions' engagement in alternative health care. The collection also presents case studies in issues around grassroots organization of health services and reflects the dawn of insurance crises that would profoundly change health care in the late twentieth century.

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