ETOL Writers: Antoinette Konikow

Note on Antoinette Konikow

I find Dr. Antoinette Konikow to be a very interesting woman.

Dr. Antoinette Konikow was a major figure in the earliest years of the 20ieth century in the fight for educating women and physicians who take care of women regarding reproductive function and control of same. She was a woman physician in an era when being such was still quite unusual. She was in many respects a similar prominent early fighter for women’s rights to... and a contemporary of ... Margaret Sanger.

She also was a founding member of the Workers / Communist party of the USA, and one of the first half dozen founders of the American Trotskyist movement when its leaders were first expellect from the CP late in 1928. She in fact distinguished herself in her public writing as a Trotskyist critic of the increasingly Stalinized American CP a month or so BEFORE James P Cannon (founder of American Trotskyism) first did! She was a prominent and dedicated and active Trotskyist until her death in 1946.

We present here four of the five revisions / editions of her ground-breaking pamphlet Voluntary Motherhood, intended to educate physicians regarding providing women with birth control measures. These are rare today, held by very few special collections libraries, and few if any hold more than a single edition. To my knowledge no scans of this pamphlet were available anywhere on line before. It may seem at first glance obsessive, collecting as many as I could (4 out of the 5 printed) different editions of the "same" pamphlet. But if you compare them carefully you’ll see each revision is quite significant, with changes in the organization, the text, and the illustrations.

Also presented here is her roughly 260 page 1931 book Physicians Manual of Birth Control. This has been scanned in the past, but all such scans that I have been able to locate were hidden behind a pay wall or a wall of "restricted to members" of this that or the other elite academic or other club. So I made a high quality scan of my personal copy of the book, which we of offer free to all.

I also have provided plain text and scans of an article she wrote that appeared in the January 1931 Birth Control Review journal, which reveals dramatically the legal and social state of physicians offering birth control advice and measures at that time.

Additionaly, we present here two or three political and birth control-related articles by her that appeared in US Trotskyist newspapers (Socialist Appeal and The Militant).

I have also included a scan (made by someone other than myself) of Bulletin No.1 of the International Communist League, December 1928, a very early publication of one of the very first Trotskyist opposition groups in the U.S. , in which Konikow breaks with the Stalinized CPUSA and publishes a criticism of it in line with that of Trotsky’s left opposition.

Regarding the pamphlet Voluntary Motherhood:

Neither Konikow’s public name nor her original name is mentioned anywhere in the 1st (1923) or third (1928) editions of her pamphelt. [I’ve yet to see a 2nd 1926 edition, and NONE are listed in WorldCat.] This reflected the SEVERE legal repression at the time of those... even physicians... who would publicly discuss and advocate such things as birth control and education regarding such. The absence of her name is DOUBLY significant in that Konikow was a life long and very public and prominent communist. Thus one NOT shy about standing up for her beliefs, no matter how unpopular or sanctioned against by society. AND she had the relative privilege of being a physician. Despite BOTH of those factors, the repression of those who dared to advocate and teach birth control back then in the US was SO great that EVEN Antoinette had to act with the discretion that is sometimes the better part of valor and refrain from putting her name on the first three editions of her book. It’s only in the fourth edition, printed in 1933, that we find her name on the pamphlet. A decade after the historic original pamphlet things apparently had changed enough so that she finally first dared put her name on the published work.

Note: The 1923 and 1928 1st and 3rd editions of Voluntary Motherhood bear no copyright notice. Thus they are in the public domain without need of further research. The 1933 and 1938 4th and 5th editions of Voluntary Motherhood bear a copyright notice. But there is no indication the copyright was renewed in the Stanford University copyright renewal database. Thus it’s resonable to assume those two pamphlets are in the public domain as well, barring any documented objection to this assumption.

Dr. Antoinette Konikow died in 1946. 4 years before I was born.

I regard it as an honor and privilege to be able to make a small contribution to helping preserve to the world of medicine, the world of those who continue to struggle for the rights of women, and the world of the working class movement / movements for social justice the record of her life’s work.

Martin H. Goodman MD
Director, Riazanov Library digital archive projects
Board of Directors, Holt Labor Library of San Francisco


The two editions of Voluntary Motherhood... 1928 and 1933... that I now own and personally scanned were very kind personal gifts from a prominent collector and scholar of the periodicals of the US socialist and communist left, Mr. Tim Davenport, from his personal collection. He operates the Early American Marxism web site, one of the older and more respects sites providing the public with such material, and is among many other things a prominent expert in matters of the history of the Socialist Party of the US in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The scan of the rare 1923 first edition of Voluntary Motherhood was very kindly and generously made for me (us) by the University of Southern Illinois special collections library, who are the only institution listed in WorldCat to hold that rare first edition.

The scan of the 1938 5th and final edition of Voluntary Motherhood was kindly and generously made for me (us) by the University of Richmond, Richmond Virginia’s special collections library. Only two or three insitutionts were listed in WorldCat as holding copies of this edition of Voluntary Motherhood.

Technical notes: The scans I made of the 1928 and 1933 editions were done employing 600 dpi single bit BW scanning mode, though the cover of the 1933 edition we also scanned in 300 dpi color to capture the use of green ink on the cover. The scan made for me of the rare landmark 1923 1st edition of this pamphlet by U of Southern Illinois was done using 300 dpi 24 bit color mode throughout. At my request, the University of Richmond of Richmond, Virginia scanned for me their holding of the 1938 5th edition at 600 dpi 24 bit color. It is presented here in BW.

Last updated: 13 January 2017