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Gems from the Stacks (December 2004)

The Ames Family Papers, spanning six generations and nearly two hundred years, have recently been completely processed and are now open for research. Among the most fascinating of the individuals represented in this outstanding collection is Blanche Ames Ames (1878-1969), a dauntless suffrage activist and one of the most determined players in the early years of the birth control movement.

Blanche Ames on the porch of the governor's house, North Easton, Mass, circa 1901 (Ames Family Papers).

While serving as the first President of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts, which she also co-founded, Ames was instrumental in formulating The Doctors Bill to Clarify the Law. Its purpose was to elucidate language in laws regulating doctors' ability to provide birth control counseling to married women with health problems, and it was the cornerstone on which the case for universal access to birth control was built and eventually won. Massachusetts did not legalize contraception for married women until 1966, the last state in the nation to do so, and Ames set the standard for perseverance in the decades-long effort. She wrote the following letter in 1930 with regard to the Bill.
--Burd Schlessinger

My dear Mrs. Apthorp,

I am sorry not to accept your invitation to join the "Hundred Dollar Club."

All my energies are going into the work for the Doctors Bill to Clarify the Law.

There are so many men and women and organizations working for Peace! In the meantime these women die by the hundreds in Massachusetts for want of proper medical care. 2,717 Massachusetts men died in battle or of wounds received in battle in the [first] World War. From 1917 to 1929 over 7,000 women died of childbirth in Mass. The women's need is vital and present.

This is a critical time for the Doctors Bill because there is no organization to work for it except the Birth Control League [of Massachusetts].

So forgive my apparent singleness of purpose.

Yours sincerely,

[Blanche Ames Ames]

In addition to being politically active and pursuing her work as an artist, Blanche Ames was also a devoted mother to her four children. The following letter, written in 1927 to her daughter, Pauline Ames Plimpton (Smith 1922), shortly after the birth of Plimpton's first child, the writer and editor George Ames Plimpton, exemplifies the dynamic interest she took in their lives.

Dear Pauline,

I hasten to warn you and to fly to the protection of my grandson and to damn the doctors up hill and down dale. How dares he to advise you that three months nursing is enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don't ever have him again. Look at Lucy's puny children and take warning! You don't need a baby doctor anyway - G'Ames is a fine healthy fellow and doesn't need medical advice.

You nurse him through August and September if you possibly can manage it. The Lord backed by millions of years of nursing female ancestors can provide much better food for your son than a fool, cock-sure fashionable New York doctor who is apparently making business for himself at G'Ames' expense. And yours. For believe me - nursing him may be a nuisance but it isn't half the trouble mixing formulas and sterilizing bottles and worrying with a sick baby is. !XXX!!!!!!!!!!! You see how I feelů.

Much love, Mother

Blanche Ames (standing, right) with her daugher Pauline Ames Plimpton (seated, left), grandson George Ames Plimpton (standing with his mother) and various Plimptons, circa 1935 (Ames Family Papers).

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 © 2005 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063 Page last updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013