Founded in 1881, the Dutch Neo-Malthusian League (NMB) promoted contraception both at an ideological and a practical level. Its practical support could include a qualified medical doctor or midwife sympathetic to the goals of the NMB inserting a diaphragm for “women who so requested”. Given the shortage of both doctors and midwives willing to work for the NMB around the turn of the century, the League decided to employ unqualified “nurses”. They were thought especially suitable for helping women of limited means.
A tumultuous debate on this issue is mentioned in a recent addition to the NMB archives, minutes of NMB meetings in its early years.
At a meeting in The Hague on 27 January 1901, the famous feminist Dr Aletta Jacobs fiercely opposed the use of amateurs.
But first, she asked the NMB Board to explain why they were being used.
“Mrs Rutgers explained how in May 1899 the Board had decided to launch a pilot and appoint women trained by real doctors in the practice of inserting prophylactics.
This was because many complaints had been received about the lack of medical personnel, particularly for the needy….”
Dr Aletta Jacobs insisted that the Board had taken the wrong decision. Generally, “competent personnel” is taken to mean “qualified personnel”. Free help is wrong, because it is not wanted. The impact of a uterine infection owing to a diaphragm being wrongly inserted is much more severe in the case of poor women, who have to move about and stand up more than well-to-do women do”.
Were Class and health care related? One of those present at the meeting accused the Board of the NMB of being content with inferior health care for the poor.
A certain Mr Kemper noted that the new so-called “experts” were being trained by Dr Rutgers himself. And he added that the Rutgers were not averse to abortion. Dr Rutgers jumped to his feet at these accusations and threatened to summon the police. Huge uproar in the hall. Kemper was forbidden to speak, and he stormed out of the meeting, renouncing his membership of the NMB.
After a lengthy debate, a vote was held. Twenty-four people voted to appoint unqualified personnel; there were two votes against, with two abstentions.
Contraception anno 1904, from Bro 3691/1. See also the Web expo Neo-Malthusianism in the Netherlands