Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861-1950

Alternative names
Birth 1861
Death 1950

Biographical notes:

Robert Latou Dickinson, 1861-1950, MD, 1882, Long Island College Hospital, was a gynecologist and obstetrician at Brooklyn Hospital and also taught at Long Island College Hospital. Dickinson served as secretary to the National Committee on Maternal Health, senior vice-president of Planned Parenthood Federation, president of the Euthanasia Society, and was president of the American Gynecological Society and New York Obstetrical Society. In addition to research on obstetrics and diseases of women, Dickinson wrote manuals on birth control, illustrated his own writings, and sculpted obstetric teaching models.

From the description of Papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1883-1950 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 281440759

Physician and author.

From the description of A Washington walkbook: literary manuscript, circa 1942. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79423959

Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), for forty years a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist at Brooklyn Hospital, was an editor of the American Text Book of Obstetrics and author of about a dozen books and 200 articles on subjects ranging from maternal and child health or hospital organization to marriage counseling, family planning, and human sexuality. Today he is largely remembered for interests that he pursued after the acme of his career as a successful practitioner, when he became one of the foremost medical men of his time to promote new knowledge in the fields of conception control and sex research. To the birth control movement in America, then solely the property of radical feminists and lay organizations, he brought respectability and an aura of solid professional authority. James Reed, the leading historian of the movement, has referred to RLD as Margaret Sanger's "most astute critic, sometime rival, and finally, comrade-in-arms."

A gifted artist with the eye of a born naturalist, Dr. Dickinson produced charming renderings of scenes wherever he went. He crafted provocative thumb-nail drawings of friends and colleagues as well as a series of birth sculptures and pelvic models featured at the New York World's Fair and detailed illustrations for his Sex Atlases. His contributions to the growth of his specialty were recognized in 1920 by his election to the presidency of the American Gynecological Society; in addition, he was an active participant in such organizations as the New York Academy of Medicine, American Gynecological Club, American Geographical Society, and Euthanasia Society. However, he was, and still is, most closely identified with the National Committee on Maternal Health (NCMH), for which he served as secretary from its founding in 1923 until 1937 and thereafter as honorary chairman. Indeed, anyone doing research on RLD will want to examine not only the collection described here, but also the Records of the NCMH, which came to the Countway Library of Medicine through the courtesy of Dr. Christopher Tietze of the Population Council and were organized and catalogued as a separate collection some fifteen years previously. Jim Reed's book, From Private Vice to Public Virtue: The Birth Control Movement and American Society published the same year (1978), still remains the best source of information on Dickinson to date.

The Dickinson Papers were gathered from two sources, one from his daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Dickinson Barbour of Cincinnati, Ohio, the other from the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana--Kinsey removed some of the them from Dr. Dickinson's office in the New York Academy of Medicine for his personal research. What was formerly a fragmentary collection of odds and ends and miscellany has been shaped into an arrangement that begins with two sets of alphabetical files, one of names, the other of subjects relating to RLD's professional interests. The subject files are followed by subject notebooks and card files containing case histories and patient records; correspondence with and re patient is also included here. As always with respect to files of confidential nature, access and use of these materials may be restricted. The Doctor of Marriage Counselor is an unpublished manuscript of a book that was to be Dickinson's crowning achievement but remains incomplete. The drafts of chapters and related materials often contain copies of typescripts and manuscripts prepared for previously published works. There is also a section for other manuscripts and publications--books, contributions to books, and articles. The personal and biographical unit has a sizeable posthumous section in addition to the usual family letters, diaries, scrapbooks and memorabilia. There are both autobiographical and biographical sketches of Dickinson here; unfortunately, George Barbour's projected biography of his father-in-law never got past the early years. The last section contains examples of RLD's skill as an artist: his miniature portraits, designs, and scenes, as well as artwork for medical illustrations and slides. All in all, the collection amounts to 544 numbered folders and items plus unnumbered card files, slides and occasional pieces, preserved in a total of 22 Paige boxes.

From the guide to the Papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1883-1950 (bulk), (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.)


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Ark ID:


  • Marriage counseling
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Obstetrics
  • Medicine in art
  • Marriage Therapy
  • Sexology--Research
  • Women physicians
  • Gynecology
  • Medical illustration
  • Birth control
  • Medicine and art
  • Illustration, Medical
  • Contraception


  • Gynecologists
  • Physicians
  • Obstetricians
  • Authors


  • United States (as recorded)