Hudson River Maternal Health Center

173 North Broadway, Yonkers

In June 1939, a women’s group at St. John’s Riverside Hospital founded the Hudson River Maternal Health Center. The organization included a committee of medical professionals in Westchester Country dedicated to providing women with information about and access to birth control. The Hudson River Maternal Health Center hosted educational programs about family planning and ran a birth control clinic. The clinic offered birth control services to women across Westchester, with most women coming from Yonkers, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown. Women learned about the clinic through local newspapers, social agencies, or word of mouth. 

The clinic’s opening is a manifestation of changes surrounding birth control with multiple roots. Local birth control activists in the early decades of the twentieth century were primarily concerned with accessibility. The desire to make birth control accessible to women with limited financial means was a driving force behind the establishment of local birth control clinics across the United States. The clinic in Yonkers also represents a shift in public opinion about birth control. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the birth control movement in the United States was associated with groups considered radical due to their concern for women’s rights and sexual freedom. To win the support of the medical community, birth control activists shifted the focus of birth control to arguments for reducing maternal and infant mortality. Conversations about birth control became even more normalized as a consequence of the Great Depression, with families interested in managing their size in the face of economic devastation. 

These factors combined to create a dramatic shift in public opinion in the United States about birth control. One poll conducted by Gallup in 1938 showed that 79 percent of U.S. women supported the use of birth control. By the late 1930s, it was common for women and families to seek birth control for economic reasons, whereas before birth control was only legally available to women whose health was at risk.

Within the first year of its opening, the number of women the Hudson River Maternal Health Center clinic served more than doubled. In 1940, almost a thousand women visited the clinic, and the demand for birth control services continued to increase during World War II. During those years, the clinic began offering evening hours to accommodate the schedules of women involved in work related to the war effort. 

To financially support its work, the Center often ran fundraising events, and its committee of medical professionals made annual contributions. The clinic wanted to give women access to birth control regardless of their ability to pay. Many of the services the clinic provided were free, otherwise fees were determined by a woman’s income. 

In 1943, the Hudson River Maternal Health Center in Yonkers became a chapter of Planned Parenthood and formed the Hudson River Committee for Planned Parenthood. In addition to the clinic in Yonkers, the organization expanded to operate two additional clinics, one in Tarrytown and one in Ossining. The Yonkers clinic moved locations several times. It is unclear when the Hudson River Committee for Planned Parenthood ceased to operate from its original home on North Broadway. Today, the site of the original clinic is a private residence. 

View of the original location of the Hudson River Maternal Health Center from Google Maps Street View.

Getting there:

From the Yonkers Train Station, go east until North Broadway, then turn north. (0.6-mile, eleven-minute walk.)

To learn more:

Bronxville Review Press and Reporter, August 17, 1967, p. 5. Retrieved from HRVH Historical Newspapers. 

Cathy M. Hajo, Birth Control on Main Street: Organizing Clinics in the United States, 1916-1939. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

The Irvington Gazette, May 30, 1940, p. 3. Retrieved from HRVH Historical Newspapers. 

The Irvington Gazette. (Irvington-On-Hudson, N.Y.) 17 Feb. 1944, p. 4. Retrieved from HRVH Historical Newspapers.

Robyn Rosen, “The Shifting Battleground for Birth Control: Lessons from New York’s Hudson Valley in the Interwar Years.” New York History, vol. 90, no. 3, 2009, pp. 187–215. 

Dina Onish, Geography, Class of 2023.

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