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La Leche League International
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Time Flies

Carole Wrede
Managing Editor
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 2, April-May-June 2006, pp. 34-35.

"Time flies when you're having fun!" is an oft repeated phrase, but how else to explain the passage of 50 years -- a lifetime -- since that famous picnic at Wilder Park? In July 2007 the 50th Anniversary of La Leche League will be celebrated at the LLLI Conference. Anniversaries are for memories and we will reprint back articles (some from very far back) in commemoration of all the people who made the LLL possible!

The first commemorative article is excerpted from "Ten Years of La Leche League," written for the Sept-Oct issue of LLL News by Betty Wagner Spandikow in 1966. Enjoy!

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In the fall of 1956 seven mothers got together and decided there was a need for an organized way to help women learn the art of breastfeeding. I was one of those mothers.

The reason women needed help was that doctors and nurses receive a very small amount of information concerning breastfeeding during their training. They are taught that breastfeeding is best; but the many tips that new mothers formerly got from their own mothers, aunts, or neighbors are not part of medical knowledge. Nursing, the feeding of well babies, isn't really a medical problem at all. It's a womanly art, and it's up to women who have learned it to pass it on.

In searching for a name for our group we finally decided on La Leche League. Taken from a Spanish title of the Mother of Christ: Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto -- "Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk," it means literally "the milk." We decided to be a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization. We set up a series of four meetings and a fifth meeting for fathers only, led by one of our medical advisors, Herbert Ratner, MD, Health Commissioner of Oak Park. We had no publicity, but we invited interested friends and neighbors. One mother told another, and so we grew.

After a few months, articles about LLL began to appear in magazines and newspapers, and we started to receive letters from all over the United States and Canada asking questions about breastfeeding. We divided these letters among us to answer. Soon we were saying the same things over and over again. It became obvious that we should have a course-by-mail to send mothers who were too far away to attend meetings. We hadn't worried about money up to this point -- we'd just used the dues as they came in and spent our own money if we ran out. But if we were going to print a course by mail, we'd need some money.

About this time we heard Dr. Grantly Dick-Read was coming to this country on a speaking tour. Dr. Dick-Read was quite well known as the author of Childbirth without Fear. We wrote to him and asked if he would visit with us. Soon he replied saying he would be glad to speak; his fee was $700. To me, with no money in the treasury and not much hope of getting any, this sounded ridiculous. We wrote again and explained our position. He answered and told us to go ahead without worrying; his name would draw an audience. So we went ahead without worrying, much. He was scheduled to speak in October 1957. We reserved the East Leyden High School auditorium, which seats 1,200, and sent out notices to all area colleges, libraries, and hospitals. Tickets sold for $1 each. When the night came, we admitted 1,250 people from three states, and turned away hundreds more.

The profit from Dick-Read's talk put some money in the treasury. Four of the other Founders wrote most of the course-by-mail. They were all mothers with family responsibilities; also, everything we wrote had to be approved by our medical advisors, so it wasn't finished until November 1958. That first edition was 8 1/2" x 11" and was 31 pages long. Between the time we started writing and the time it was completed, we decided not to send it out as a course-by-mail, a chapter at a time, but to put it all together in a folder, add an index, and call it THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. The price was $2.

Another important branch of our League was born in May 1958 with the first issue of the NEWS. We were all very proud of the five-page mimeographed first issue. We charged $1 per year for our bimonthly NEWS.

When THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING finally came out in November 1958, we had two publications of our own. We sold a few other books we felt would be useful to new mothers, making a small profit.

I did not have to worry about handling the money, even when this began to involve thousands instead of hundreds of dollars. Charles Cahill, husband of Mary Ann, one of the seven Founders, is an accountant. He has always been right there to help checking my books, and balancing them at the end of each year. Besides this accounting help, we have two husbands who are lawyers and one doctor-husband.

By January 1959, we were corresponding with mothers, doctors, and nurses in 36 states, Germany, Canada, England, Australia, and South Africa, and became incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Illinois.

During this year, an Ohio, USA mother formed our first out-of-state Group. She had been writing to us for some time and felt that such an organization would benefit the women of Cleveland. We had tried to avoid adding Groups, since we didn't want to bother with charters and all the work that goes with them. So we told the Ohio mother to go ahead and call her Group La Leche, and we would list it in our NEWS, but that we weren't planning any formal incorporation with them. This suited her fine.

We held Board meetings once a month, and all Chicago area mothers holding monthly meetings would come to these Board meetings. Many more mothers were helping us answer mail, and this monthly meeting soon proved a place to pass out supplies. A family with several children old enough to be helpful took over the mailing of both the NEWS and the manuals.

The manual was selling very well. We had ordered 1,000 copies of the first printing, and continued to order in 1,000 or 2,000 lots each time we needed more. All told, we used 17,000 of this edition. However, it wasn't long after its release that we realized it just wasn't thorough enough. As we kept learning more and more about breastfeeding, we decided to write a second edition.

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Look for more excerpts about the early years of LLL in future issues of LEAVEN!

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