Lunchtime seminar – 1st March – Jessica Borge (Birkbeck, University of London)

Jessica Borge-page-001 (1)

Selling Condoms to Clinics: The London Rubber Company and the Family Planning Association in pre-‘Pill’ Britain

Inspired by Rose Holz’s recent work on American Planned Parenthood clinics (and based on a chapter from my forthcoming PhD thesis), this paper explores the curious, exploitative give-and-take relationship of two key actors from modern British contraceptive history.

The British Family Planning Association [FPA] was a voluntary organisation begun in the 1920s. Prior to the NHS reorganization of 1974, the FPA was the major supplier of non-commercial contraceptive services in Britain through its national network of clinics. Birth control advice was offered at subsidised rates to “all who wanted children by choice, not by chance” along with the concomitant apparatus of family planning – condoms, diaphragms, creams and the like.

Although it was funded by donations, the Association also depended heavily upon the benevolence of commercial contraceptive manufacturers who typically provided stock at cut-price rates in exchange for FPA endorsement. Such affiliations, however, were problematic, and none more so than the co-dependent relationship shared with the London Rubber Company.

As Britain’s biggest condom producer in the post-war period (and makers of Durex branded condoms and diaphragms), the Company had clout in the clinic supply chain, but was impeded by barriers to publicity. This paper explores how London Rubber courted the FPA with offers of financial, material and administrative support with a view to exploiting the results for its own commercial benefit, prior to the launch of the oral contraceptive ‘Pill’ in 1961.

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