Global Health Centre
Nicole Bourbonnais

Human Love and Human Suffering: Family Planning, Humanitarianism, and Medical History Melodrama

Nicole Bourbonnais
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Global Health Centre Research Seminar

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This research seminar will map the geographic and ideological landscape of the mid-twentieth century transnational family planning movement through analysis of a ten-year run (1952-1962) of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)’s Around the World newsletter.  It will illustrate how the paper constructed a global community of advocates by spinning an emotive narrative of inspirational heroines driven by “human love and human suffering,” situating family planners as modern-day missionaries/humanitarians.  The family planning movement’s popularity reflected its ability to provide an arena for the expression of a variety of international and local concerns, including population growth and eugenics but also family health, women’s wellbeing, unsafe abortion, sex, married life, freedom, justice, child rights, women’s rights, and infertility.  This complexity, however, can sometimes be lost in medical history melodramas that portray the movement as either a story of women’s liberation or a story of reproductive control from above.



  • Nicole Bourbonnais, Co-Director, Gender Centre; Associate Professor of International History, The Graduate Institute
  • Moderated by Ryan Whitacre, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Global Health Centre
The Global Health Research Seminars aim to build community and advance research in global health.