Notes on diaphragm-shaped sponge

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The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
May 19, 2011, 4:34 p.m. (view history)

Research Completed: MS wrote: “We are making good progress with the sponge, cut and shaped like the Dutch pessary.  We put the hollow cup side with Marvosan “about a teaspoonful” and insert the sponge with the jelly next to the womb.  It can remain there twenty hours if necessary.  Then boil the sponge and use again when needed.  Try this on some of the poor women.  The sponge to be the size and shape of the Dutch pessary.” (4/7/1931)           

MS wrote: “ Don’t forget that the sponge can be scooped out and shaped like a pessary, dipped into any solution that is cheap (quinine water, soap suds, vinegar water, or anything like that).  Or vaseline, glycerine dipped or smeared into the hollow before insertion.  This can be very useful and cheap.  It must be big enough to cover the cervix--about three inches in diameter usually.  Try that sometime.” (4/8/1931)          

Ishimoto wrote: “  First of all, I must thank you for your kindness in sending me the samples of sponge pessaries.  I have sent them to some of the clinics, and they thought they are very interesting except that there should be some changes in the size to make them suitable for our women.” (11/20/1931)

Left to Do: There were a lot of potential sources in Google Books--try limiting the search to books published 1920-1940 to get more relevant ones.

Places to Check:    Per Google Books:

Rachel Lynn Palmer, Facts and Frauds in Women’s Hygiene (1936) [water damage at NYAM, try Bobst ILL]

Also Checked: Tone, Devices and Desires; Himes, Medical History of Contraception, Google books and JSTOR, New York Times;Kenneth Fuller, M. J. Rosenau,  Preventive Medicine and Hygiene (1951)

“Product to Protect Women from H.I.V. is Elusive,” The New York Times, July 3, 2001. Research: Trying to develop a sponge that will be HIV resistant. The research is not being done in NYC, but is more focused on providing this type of product to women in Africa. Otherwise, there are no current projects researching this contraceptive.

Stopes: [133] “There is much to be said for the sponge, and although some of the more modern practitioners greatly condemn it as being impossible to cleanse thoroughly, others still consider it the very best method for general use. Its principal advantages are that it is cheap, generally safe, very easy to manipulate, easily understood even by a stupid women (and the stupid are exactly the people who most require birth control information and who in the interests of the state should be encouraged to practise contraception). It does not require accurate adjustments as does the internal cap, and it can be inserted by the woman herself without the co-operation of her husband which again is a point of racial value among [134]  the poor and illiterate, often overburdened, women whose husbands are either lascivious, careless or drunken.”           

[134] “Sponges of the modern rubber tissue have advantages over the natural sponge in being less inclined to harbour putrefying material.”            

[135] “The sponge is most suitable contraceptive for various types of cervical abnormality. Nevertheless, in spite of this and of its particular value to poor and ignorant people who cannot afford or who cannot understand more precisely adapted contrivances, I do not greatly favour the sponge myself for general use.”          

 [157] “The addition of the sponge which is attached so as to cover the whole rubber cap makes it possible to dip the cap into vinegar or a solution containing some other of the many spermaticides, and this double security is liked by [158] some people. I think, however, that the method has all the disadvantages of the ordinary sponge, and destroys some of the advantages of the rubber cap...I think continued use of a cervical cap rendered heavy by its attached sponge and liquid it holds is more than likely to have injurious effects on some cervices.”

Pierpoint: [275] Watery solutions are often used, secondly, to soak a sponge or a tampon of cotton wool, which is then inserted into the vagina with the object of occluding the external os. We have already considered the possible harmful effects of the chemical. The action of the sponge or tampon remains to be considered. If it is too small it may obviously be pushed into one of the fornices and fail to cover the os.”

Serlin: [283] The “disposable sponge-diaphragm...has the reinforced  rim of the conventional diaphragm to make it easier to insert and  retain in the right position.” However, the diaphragm is made of a collagen sponge with a high dose of spermicide. This form was under trial in the early 1980s.

Roberts:  [339] “The best type of sponge, such as the 'Racial,' is a flattened disk-shaped soft rubber sponge, sufficiently large to cover the whole of the roof of the vagina, and about an inch thick. Such a contraceptive sponge can be cut from an ordinary rubber sponge and there is no need for an enclosing net and strong attachment if the patient can remove the sponge from her vagina by hooking her finger over its edge and getting sufficient purchase to pull it out. When it is about to be inserted, the sponge should be soaked in some contraceptive fluid (such as olive oil, soapy water, or equal quantities of vinegar and water). The second line of defence should be a chemical contraceptive (suppository, tablet, or jelly), or a douche used the following morning when the sponge is removed. After use, the sponge should be washed in warm soapy water, thoroughly rinsed, and either kept in a solution containing disinfectant or else dried. Occasionally it should be boiled for a minute."