Dhanvanthi Rama Rau and the Third ICPP

The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
Aug. 25, 2011, 11:48 a.m. (view history)

Rama Rau was the hostess for the Bombay Conference, held in 1952, which introduced her to the international planned parenthood community.

Need context for:

Blacker wrote: “It was in Bombay in 1952 that the most brilliant and successful of the early post-war conferences on birth control was convened. This conference was the outcome of the co-operation between Mrs. Sanger and another woman--perhaps another woman of destiny--Lady Rama Rau.” (12/-/1966)

See reports on the Watumulls and the Third International, for earlier efforts that Rama Rau was aware of, preceding Dec. 1951. Not such a surprise to get MS's invitation.

Thanks for her letter of the 11th and congratulations on the Conference, with attendance of 700. Says she is glad that Stone and Professor Ogburn were there, and that Rama Rau should not have been surprised by the turnout given the interest, says she has received hundreds of letters since the War from India.

Sanger agrees that Bombay is a better location than Madras. "Of course New Dehli is also a place that might be worth considering, but we do want the National Health authorities to be informed. We would like to have those officials or politicians in New Delhi to attend the Conference whenever possible. Often they will not leave the city to go to hear even the best speakers, but they will drop in if it is at their convenience and the Conference is held nearby. That is why so many Conferences in this country are being held in Washington, rather than New York, which after all is only an hour away by plane."

"I believe that Nov. 26. to December 1st. would be very good, because Dr. Blacker, who will be our International Director from London, would like to be home at Christmas. Many of the scientists would be happy to get away about that time and to be back in their homes for the holidays."

"If you think kindly on New Delhi I would prefer it to any other place, mainly for the reasons given above. I agree that the Conference should be six to seven days.I would like to have someone from Japan invited. And I think all the subjects that you mention could very well be stressed." Also notes that Gamble could present a paper on sterilization. Asks for a budget for the organization, and says that she and Watumull will "get together and do something to help you."

Notes her letter of Sept. 5, which was sent to her in Paris from London. She left the ICPP to reply, which she hopes that they did. Once she returned to NYC, Sanger started working on "your good invitation. We held a meeting of the American International Committee...and there was much enthusiasm about India. Also about Mr. Nehru's brave and courageous address and much enthusiasm about the general interest and activities in many countries of the world. It is our belief that a successful Conference could be held in India in 1952 dealing with Population Problems of the world as well as of India, trusting that delegates will not be afraid to mention Birth Control or contraception or Planned Parenthood or family planning as of one of the direct means for constructive peace, international culture and welfare."

Asks her for advice on where to hold the meeting: Bombay, Madras, or New Delhi;  What the best time of year is, and how many days ought the meeting be? How many delegates would Rama Rau like to see from the United States, England and other countries? What subjects do you think "best to cover the needs for educational pubicity?" Will they need money for their headquarters  for staff and general office work? Is there a possibility of hospitality for the American and English delegates, if not, what is the average hotel price? Will the All-India Women's Conference help with the organizing? Would a Western organizer, like Sanger, be helpful if she came ahead of time to help out?

Sanger plans to spend the weekend with Watumull to see whether they can help with office expenses; if Rama Rau could send a budget that would be most helpful. Also discusses Stone's visit to India under the WHO asks for Rama Rau's support. Best wishes for their national meeting.

Gives the dates of the proposed Third International meeting, Nov. 24-Dec. 1, in Bombay. Writing to MS (and probably others, it looks like a form letter) for input on topics, speakers from her area that might want to present papers. Time is short so they'd also like to know who among your people plan to come as delegates.

Topics include: Place of Family Planning in Human Culture, Basic Investigation of Human Reproduction, Contraceptive Methods, Organization of PP clinics and Training centers, Ecological Aspects of FP, Interrelation of Social Security and PP, Psychological Aspects of FP, Marriage Counseling and Sex Ed, FP in Public Health Programs, Methods and Sterilization.

MS writes at the bottom: History of International BC Movement, Problems of Future World Population, and Natural Resources limitation.

Happy to receive her letters of April 24 and May 2, "to know that things are at last moving in the International sphere in the way in which the success of the International Conference will be ensured." Discussed two meetings of Medical Committee and the suggestions received from doctors on the topics MS outlined.

They think that both "Place of Family Planning in Human Culture" and "History of the International Birth Control Movement" should be the subject of a "popular lecture in connection with the conference and not a topic for discussion."

Topics they want to add include: Induced Abortion, Medical Aspects of Family Planning from the point of view of Maternity and Child Welfare and the prevention of diseases, and Sterility. Would like MS's opinion.

Medical Committee is chaired by A. P. Pillay.

DRR agrees with MS on stationary gives a list of people that she has already invited--

Happy to receive contraceptive exhibits that can be displayed. Believes that she has adequate secretarial help in Bombay. Provides information on hotels, weather, and travel. Notes that there are other conferences that might attract some delegates right after the meeting.

Ellen Watumull sent her a skeleton day to day programme which she studies.

Rama Rau is still "not well" and Peters is still dealing with her mail. Says that she is not sure that Rama Rau can take over the "Preisdency of the World Conference" as she has been "ordered to rest for several weeks, if not longer" by her doctor.

They are working on the sponsor lists and will let MS know of the accepted "personalities." Will write after their committee meeting this week with an updated agenda and program.They have 6 paper presenters agreed, have not received answers from many, expect that many Indians will participate, good to hear that Gamble is willing to lead on on sterilization.

Dr. Rao will head a section on "Nutrition and Fertility" a popular topic in India. Likely that Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, India's VP, will inaugerate the conference, but no publicity yet and they do not have his formal acceptance.

Would very much like the DeVilbiss foam powder, which they are investigating again, after some problems with the foam/sponge method.

Rama Rau tells MS (and others) that A. P. Pillay has received a letter from Conrad vanEmde Boas, which she quotes extensively:

"The congress in Bombay. Well that's a long and rather difficult story. As you know I am one of the representatives from Holland in the International committee for Planned Parenthood. The Dutch organization takes the stand, which, as a matter if fact is not opposed to the International Secretariat, that the Conference in Bombay cannot be considered as legitimate International Congress, because it was brought about in a way contrary to the rules of organizations like ours: the facts are in short as follows: Originally Holland was to be the place, where the second International Congress in 1952 should take place. The program suggested by us, which put more stress on the cultural aspects of the sexual problem than on Neo-Malthusian ones. After all it was decided in Cheltenham to put up an International Committee for planned parenthood, and sex education has been rejected mainly due to the pressure of the American members of the Committee. Later on it was decided to have the second congress in 1953 in Stockholm. The Conference in Bombay, now announced as the second International Conference has been organized in the beginning without our knowledge at all and later on against our protest. Although the Dutch organisation is not going to make a prestige-question out of it and will therefore not leave the International Committee, we shall for obvious reasons not be represented at the Conference officially, nor shall the organization supply the money to send an observer. I am not exactly informed about the latest correspondence between Amsterdam and London, as I have only just returned from holidays. It is clear, however, that the only possibility for me to attend the Conference would be a personal invitation from India. I would indeed, for different reasons, be very interested to attend the Conference and to join in the discussions." He then talks about a letter how wrote to the Indian government about a new method of contraception "on a pharmacological basis" but they told him that they were not interested. Says he would like to attend the Conference, but neither he nor his organization can afford the expenses.

Rama Rau then suggests "it would perhaps be diplomatic if we would send him a personal invitation which I did when we first begin arrangements for the Conference, as he happens to be a member of the International Committee...Do you think it would be a good idea for you to write to him also and if is is at all possible to make some sort of financial arrangements for him to be agble to attend the Conference. I am afraid our committee will not be able to afford any contribution towards his travelling expenses."

 Long letter describing the success of the All-India Conference on Family Planning; answers MS’s questions about plans.  They think Bombay is the best site; close to government and the people who are interested in the topic; city has municipal birth control clinics and private clinics. Only snag is that the International Conference on Child Welfare (Bombay) and International Conference on Social Work (Madras) might limit dates.  December would be good, right after the other ones.   Time: best is Nov-March, she thinks the conference should last 6-7 days. Number of delegates, she sees as about 100-150 foreign, 50 from India and they would also like Asian Countries represented.  Subjects should include “Health, Economics, Food, National Resources, Sexology, Sterilisation, B.C. Appliances, Pilot Schemes, and allied topics.  Much interest is being taken in the subject of cheap contraceptives.” They need financial help, suggests similar division of labor that they had with Child Welfare Conf--FPAI provides meeting halls, office rooms, conveyance, side trips, social entertainments; they sent invitations, print reports, papers, cover secretaries, office expenses.  Says they can provide hospitality to a few delegates, the rest can be put up in hotels.  AIWC will give “whole hearted cooperation.” They are new to this work, so any help will be gratefully accepted. 

 “Dr. Stone stayed with me.  We had many interesting conversations, and I took the opportunity to express doubts about the Rhythm System, especially for India, with her large illiterate population.  I also told him that a number of us felt that he would be undermining the work we had been doing, for there was an impression spreading that a well known expert like him was propagating the Safe Period theory in preference to contraceptives.  He tried to clarify this position is his public speeches.  He is a very charming person and left behind a lot of admirers.”

ICPP Location: "We think that Bombay is better than any other town for the Conference, as both the authorities as well as the general public are more conscious of the subject than anywhere else. The Bombay Municipality has seven B.C. clinics in different parts of the town and are soon opening four more. There are also several private organisations and medical practitioners, who have opened their own Clinics. The subject is openly discussed and written about frequently. The only snag is, that there is to be another International Conference here from the 5th. to the 12th Dec. 1952, i.e. the I. Con Child Welfare and immediately after, from the 15th to the 21st the International Conference of Social Work is Meeting in Madras. Now, if you think that Nov. 26 to Dec. 1st would be all right, we could manage that. If you fee that it would be better later on, then it would have to be either in Madras following on the Conference on Social Work, or a little later, taking us into 1953, and then it can be arranged in New Delhi."

Time of Year: She says that November through March. She thinks six or seven days.

Number of Delegates: Rama Rau thinks they should have 100-150 delegates from abroad, with about 50 from India. They would also like Asian countries represented.

Subjects: "Health, Economics, Food, National Resources, Sexology, Sterilization, B.C. Appliances, Pilot Schemes, and allied topics. There is a lot of interest in cheap contraceptives.

Funding: "We certainly would appreciate financial help for organising the Conference as our resources are limited, and those are greatly depleted after this last Conference.  Says that for the International Conference on Child Welfare, FPA India is providing "Meeting Halls, Office rooms, Conveyance and Visits to Interesting Centres of work, and Social Entertainments. They send all invitations and are responsible for printing of reports papers, secretaries and Office Expenditure." They will be grateful to hear what the ICPP can offer.

Hospitality: They can provide hospitality for about 12 delegates, the rest can be put up in hotels, which cost about 35-50 Rupees per day, including board.

AIWC The All-India Women's Conference will offer them "whole-hearted cooperation."

Early Birds: She welcomes any help with the conference organizaing, Sanger or anyone else, saying that they are new to thisw work.

"You will be glad to hear that I am very much better now and able to attend to office work for a couple of hours every morning. Fortunately my office is in my own home, so the strain of doing the work is not likely to affect me adversely. Dr. Hannah Peters and Dr. S. Gore have been carrying on the work very satisfactorily with Mrs. Vembu to help."

Discusses the new lists of topics, seems that DRR thinks that they can all be covered under the June 14 provisional program Peters sent to MS. She thinks it is more a matter of asking speakers to give consideration to the points that have been suggested, rather than rearrange the panels.

Rama Rau is happy to have Vera Houghton come a month or two in advance of the conference.  Notes there is a disagreement over including "Criminal Abortion" - MS and the Americans don't want it, but the Indians do; says by labeling it "Criminal" it is clear that they think it "NOT" the solution. Hopes that she will allow it on the agenda.

Chit chat about Watumull and Amolak Mehta, then to the suggested topics for the 3ICPP.

"The question of induced abortion is a little more difficult for us here. The laws have been so strict about abortion, and the damage to a doctor's reputation who is known to perform them is tremendous; and while there have been and are some specialists, it is difficult to have them come out in the open. Japan has been doing a great deal of work along this line, as there are no government restrictions or laws in Japan about performing abortions. Certainly Russia has had thousands, and hundreds of thousands of performed abortions under Government rule--and if we could find someone from Russia who could come to India to present a paper on that subject, we might receive some valuable suggestions."

On sterility, she says they have experience on this, some doctors with male and some with female sterility and they could try to find someone who can deal with both; Frances Shields would be good, has had wonderful success overcoming female sterility, but perhaps RR can suggest someone closer, who would not cost as much to travel.

Lots more suggestions....lots.

[48] Says Sanger asked Rama Rau to host 1952 International Conference on Planned Parenthood before the 1951 All India Conference on Planned Parenthood had happened, and that Rama Rau accepted though was concerned that they might not be able to get a large attendance.  Controversy followed the decision because MS has unilaterally made the request and other nations were outraged.

[53] Quotes Sarah Gamble, saying that the conference was like “taking an ocean voyage with a hand picked passenger list,” and likened Rama Rau to the ‘captain.” described her as having “the ability to command, with all the charm so necessary in a woman.  Tall, noble in appearance, always exquisitely dressed, she has a warm deep voice which communicates directly to an audience as if by to one person...”

[57]  1952--post conference.  When the IPPF was established and regions set up, there was no mechanism for financing or administering them.  Rama Rau was “very concerned.  Not that she felt negative about the idea; on the contrary the possibilities of such a scheme seemed immense.” Watumull donated $1K for research and Gamble allowed money he had in FPA India to be used to set up the Asian Region of IPPF.  [58] They left the whole matter unresolved for the time being and RR did not think this was a bad thing; “because there was so much to be done within India.  There were many areas lacking in family planning activity, and it was essential to try to begin work.”

Form letter sent asking for program topics that they could use in addition to a list provided:

  1. Place of Family Planning in Human Culture
  2. Basic Investigation in Human Reproduction
  3. Contraceptive Methods
  4. Organization of Planned Parenthood Clinics and Training Centres
  5. Ecological Aspects of Family Planning
  6. Interrelation of Social Security and Planned Parenthood
  7. Psychological Aspects of Family Planning
  8. Marriage Counseling and Sex Education
  9. Family Planning in Public Health Progammes
  10. Methods of Sterilization (added by hand)

Asks for opinions, suggestions, and suggestions of names of people from her country that could prepare papers. "As the time is short, we would be grateful to know your suggestions for the Programme, as well as the names of the delegates who are likely to attend the Conference in India." Asks her to also send names directly to the ICPP to get the invitations issued quickly.

"I received your cable yesterday, and was able to consult the secretary of the Family-Planning Association about sending a formal invitation to the International Planned Parenthood Society to hold the next International Conference in India in December 1952. We have discussed this question several times, and were waiting for the All India Conference that we have called on the 30th Nov and the 1st and 2nd of December this year this year, before we issued a formal invitation. You realise that this is the first time that an All-India Conference on this topic has been arranged, and we are still not sure what the attendance will be, or how much interest will be aroused in the country. In any case we are prepared to take the risk and work for the International Conference, if our invitation is accepted. I am therefore, authorised to issue this invitation, and request you will use your influence, and persuade the International Organisation to accept it, as it will greatly encourage our work here. There are to be two other International Conferences in India in 1952, i.e. the International Conference of Social Work, and the International Conference on Child-Welfare. We feel that there are likely to be common Delegates for these Conferences, so that the risk is not as great as it might be otherwise. Please let me know what your opinion is."

MS wrote at the bottom: "Lady Rama Rau. She is the leading personality there & heads the Bc work. There are several clinics in India some left over from my years work in 1936."

On the Report of the International Conference, Sanger is "more than pleased at its make-up and accuracy and carefulness of its content. Mrs. Brush was evidently the first one to receive a copy and she called me on the 'phone to tell me what a splendid job it was. I congratulate you all. I think it is going to make a fine impression here as the different 215 recipients will see what excellent papers and what splendid support the Conference had, not only from England and the United States, but also from your country. I am very, very pleased with it and indeed you can well be gratified. It in no way looks like the 'first' effort. It has all the look and feeling of a fine, professional job."

"I think that Mrs. Wadia and Mrs. Vembu have done a very splendid job on the Proceedings." Doesn't know how long it will take until the 215 recips have them.  Asks for a per volume cost, Vera Houghton told her it should not be over $3. Sanger plans to send her a check as soon as she gets the figure. "I am so happy to know that that huge piece of work is off your hands, for I do know what it means to have a printing job of that kind hanging over your head."

Rama Rau shared Watumull's letter with her Committee especially the portion about demonstration models for their clinics. Tells her about the Government's Plan and the family planning portion of it, that includes state funding for sterilization facilities, research and information centers looking for cheap contraceptives and analyzing overseas information. Hopes that the plan will be accepted and passed by Pariliament.

"We are arranging an All-India Conference on Family Planning on the 1st and 2nd of December in Bombay. I shall let you know how we get on. In October we are starting an experimental clinic for a semi-rural population about twelve miles out of Bombay, where we are going to try out the dehydrated jelly, and one or two other contraceptives that do not require the aid of a Doctor. This experiment is being sponsored by the UN Department of Population Studies. I have had an offer of finances for a similar experiment from Dr. Gamble, but I would like to wait and see how we progress with our first experiment."

[No mention of the International Congress--odd in that Watumull said that she was looking for more details.]

Discussing the report of the Conference, she is thrilled by Sanger's praise of it; They were nervous about the reactions, having been the first time they had taken on such a big job. Some discussion of sales and where they might sell them.

"I am very glad to say that the Report is doing quite well in India. Several of the Govt. Departments of Health has asked for copies and so have several of the Municipalities that are taking up schemes of Family Planning. We have already sold 300 copies and are having requests almost daily." She has sent copies to 12 important newspapers asking for reviews.

"I am beginning to be extremely worried as I have not heard from Mrs. Sanger or Dr. Abraham Stone and I am still in doubt with regard to the International Conference on Planned Parenthood, that is provisionally arranged for the 24th November this year. There are important questions of policy and procedure to which I must have answers as soon as possible:

  1. Have invitations to this Conference been issued to representatives of all countries?
  2. Has a provisional programme been drawn up by the International Committee? If so, may be have copies immediately for distribution in India?
  3. Is the Conference to be weighted with technical experts according to the suggestions that had been made n me on the advice of Dr. Abraham Stone when he was in India?
  4. Am I to call for papers on subjects chosen for the Conference from specialists in India? Or will the International organization do so?
  5. Have you any ideas about the persons we should approach to preside over the Conference? Would you prefer a prominent Indian or would you suggest an International Authority?
  6. Would it be desirable to have a prominent Indian to inaugurate the Conference?
  7. Are representatives of the United Nations Social Welfare Agencies being invited as Observers, and would you suggest that representatives of the Central and State Governments in India be also asked as Observers?"

She also asks for a list of invitations already made.

"You realize that we have very small contacts with international specialists on the subject of Family Planning and it will be necessary for the central organization to interest these in the proposed Conference in India. I do not know whether any of the suggestions I made in my letter to Mrs. Sanger have been considered by the Committee and what conclusions they have arrived at." Asks to treat the matter as urgent.