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Family Planning

Issues of family planning and concerns over population growth have long interested the Rockefeller family and their philanthropies. A variety of projects relating to these interests have received Rockefeller support over the past century.

Family planning and consultation in Taiwan: Explaining the small sperm, Tai-chung hsien (Taiwan) 1964

Family planning and consultation in Taiwan:
Explaining the small sperm, Tai-chung hsien (Taiwan) 1964

A Controversial Cause

Concern with family planning issues among the Rockefeller philanthropies began with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who developed an interest through his involvement with the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH). JDR Jr. hoped that support for family planning initiatives would help solve pervasive social ills, including poverty and crime.

In addition to funding the BSH, JDR Jr. also contributed privately to causes that the BSH was unable or unwilling to support. Following a request by Margaret Sanger’s American Birth Control League for $10,000 to fund research into contraception methods, RF trustee, Raymond Fosdick, expressed his thoughts on the importance of the proposed research

Personally, I believe that the problem of population constitutes one of the great perils of the future and if something is not done along the lines that these people are suggesting, we shall hand down to our children a world in which the scramble for food and the means of subsistence will be far more bitter than anything we know at present.[1] 

Fosdick’s letter went on to acknowledge the delicate nature of the birth control issue. Days later JDR Jr. authorized an anonymous donation to Sanger’s cause.

Confronting Population Growth

Perhaps inspired by his father’s example, population growth was an issue of particular interest to John D. Rockefeller, 3rd (JDR 3rd). In the 1940s an increasing global population coincided with growing public awareness of limited global resources. Moreover, population growth was, in part, the result of the success of modern public health initiatives, many of which had been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation (RF).

JDR 3rd’s support for family planning was more public than his father’s. He made his interest in the issue clear to RF trustees, and he pressured them to act more definitively on population control issues. At his urging a demographic survey of the Far East was organized in 1948. The subsequent report, Public Health and Demography in the Far East, noted the high rates of population growth in the region as well as the need for efforts in fertility control, education and agricultural development.

In spite of JDR 3rd’s pressure, few RF resources were devoted to