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La Leche League International records

Identifier: MSS0009

Scope and Contents

The La Leche League International, LLLI, records span the dates 1956 to 2011. The records include documentation about the organization's foundation, mission, and expansion since 1956. Materials include publications, meeting minutes, correspondence, conference files, reports, and some photographs and memorabilia. Some of the significant topics represented in these files are women's health issues, breastfeeding research, role of women in society and family, parenting, and the global reach of La Leche League International. Researchers should note that there is a great deal of overlap between series in the LLLI records. Series, files, and documents throughout the collection are highly inter-connected because on the nature of the organization, its reliance on volunteers to serve as LLLeaders, and the goal to keep these roles mother-sized. For example, information in the Physicians series can be complemented by also reading the Medical, or Professional Advisory Board minutes in the Board of Directors series. Many of the individual projects or departments within LLLI are also represented to a lesser degree in the Betty Wagner series. Correspondence of all types tends to overlap. It is always worth checking correspondence of a similar date range across series if researchers are looking for a particular topic, or threads of correspondence that have been mentioned. Generally, using date ranges to track topics or events is an effective way to navigate the LLLI records.


  • 1956-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1960s-1990s


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use. Some materials located in Special Collections and cataloged individually.

Biographical / Historical

La Leche League International, LLLI, was formed in 1956, in Franklin Park, Illinois, by a group of seven mothers who wanted to provide breastfeeding help and support to interested women. Two mothers, Mary White and Marian Tompson, were breastfeeding their children at a church picnic and many other women expressed interest, or told them how they had wanted to breastfeed but failed. Breastfeeding was not encouraged by the medical establishment at this time and thus very little practical support existed for those women who wished to breastfeed. White and Tompson realized that there was a need for information and advice. They enlisted the help of five other friends and acquaintances and the seven women began to hold meetings. The Founding Mothers of LLLI were Mary Ann Cahill, Edwina Froehlich, Mary Ann Kerwin, Viola Lennon, Marian Tompson, Betty Wagner, and Mary White. The basic format for the meetings and the local structure of LLLI was in place very early. A series of four meetings would be held, once a month, dealing with topics from pre-natal issues to childbirth and breastfeeding. Some women just came for the series, but some began to attend on an ongoing basis. From its earliest days, LLLI was affiliated with doctors who provided medical advice and support for any issues with breastfeeding. These doctors also helped shape what was to become LLLI’s main focus, mothering through breastfeeding. In addition to breastfeeding, LLLI meetings also focused on childbirth, and the practice of natural birth as opposed to the preferred practice of heavily drugged childbirth of the 1950s. LLLI regarded an engaged birth process as part of the whole breastfeeding relationship, partly for the opportunity this afforded for early nursing of the baby and partly for the enhanced mother-baby bonding.

One of their most important early supporters of home-birth and breastfeeding was Mary White’s husband, Dr. Greg White. Dr. White and Dr. Herbert Ratner formed the basis of the Medical Advisory Board that became a crucial part of LLLI’s operation. In 1957, an important event in the early history of LLLI took place. A book that was popular amongst the founders was Childbirth Without Fear by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, a British doctor who also supported natural childbirth and bucked the trend of the medical establishment of the time. LLLI invited Dr. Dick-Read to speak in Franklin Park, Illinois, raised the money needed for his fee, and sold seats to his lecture. The event was a tremendous success in terms of turnout and raised awareness of LLLI and its services. The high demand for this kind of information convinced the founders even further of the need for LLLI.

The group meetings were held by a Leader, someone approved by LLLI to run the meetings and moderate the discussion. LLLI grew from a local to a national, and then international organization in response to what was clearly a tremendous need for this type of mother-to-mother support network. A fifth meeting was added to the series about the fathers’ roles, and LLLI continued to develop its holistic approach to mothering. Throughout the 1960s, LLLI grew quickly. In 1964, an Executive Board was established and the growing amount of doctors that provided advice were formalized into the Medical Advisory Board, which met with the Executive Board. At this time LLLI was receiving numerous medical questions from women who wanted to breastfeed but who were being told by their doctors to wean their babies for various reasons, or that they could not breastfeed at all. LLLI developed a system whereby these letters would be circulated to the Medical Advisory Board, the answers collated and a reply sent to the mother. In most cases, the doctors of the Board would recommend that breastfeeding could continue. These letters are found in the Physicians series of the LLLI records and are a valuable resource for exploring how LLLI began to challenge the medical establishment on the question of breastfeeding. The letters also show how the Medical Advisory Board provided legitimacy for the advice that LLLI provided and supported the passing on of mother-to-mother wisdom and intuition. The involvement of the physicians enabled the women to be surer of their own judgment and instincts when it came to matters of mothering. LLLI held its first conference, in Chicago, in 1964. From this point on, conferences were held every 2 years. In 1971, Princess Grace of Monaco came to speak at the conference, solidifying a high-profile alliance which LLLI maintained throughout the years. Further details of this relationship can be found in the History series and in Marian Tompson's files.

In 1972, the structure of LLLI governance changed from an Executive Board to a Board of Directors, and Betty Wagner formally became the Executive Director, reporting directly to the Board. Board discussions and minutes throughout the 1970s reflect the continued growth of LLLI and the amount of outside influences and challenges. LLLI decided to restrict the scope of their activities to their stated purpose mothering through breastfeeding. This determination to not take a stand on other issues, even related ones, was put to the test in 1971, when the issue of abortion became a pressing matter for the Board. Many of the LLLI members and some of the Board of Directors wished to have LLLI take a public stance against abortion, as they felt that this was in keeping with the nature of the organization. Other Board members felt that even in this case LLLI should not mix causes as they saw it. The Board voted to not take a position on abortion. However, some of the Board, including founders Mary Ann Cahill and Mary White, were very much in opposition to this decision. The end of the 1970s also saw another change in governance for LLLI with the elimination of the position of President, held by Marian Tompson since 1956. The role of public face of LLLI then became the responsibility of the Chairman of the Board. Tompson was therefore the first and only president of LLLI, and after her presidency ended, she remained very active in LLLI in other roles.

Although LLLI chose to not take a position on topics that were outside of its stated purpose, there were issues that they did choose to address, seeing them as an integral part of their parenting philosophy. This included areas such as discipline, nutrition, and fathering. Other issues, such as feminism or working mothers, had to be addressed as they became such prevalent topics in society as a whole and within their membership base. One of LLLI’s central positions was that there should be no mother-child separation during infancy. They would not accredit a Leader who did have any scheduled separation from their child. This naturally precluded working mothers from LLLI Leadership. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed and working mothers became more numerous, the questions of how to address breastfeeding and working surfaced much more frequently. Between 1986 and 1988, there was a great deal of discussion about the potential accreditation of the first working mother Leader, who had particular circumstances forcing her to work. The correspondence related to this is revealing in terms of how LLLI as an organization regarded working mothers and how individuals within the organization responded to and implemented these standards (see the Betty Wagner series, Box 41). Throughout these years, LLLI continued to have conflicted views about how to approach working mothers, on the one hand wanting to help all women who wanted to breastfeed, and on the other having a conviction that mother-baby togetherness was the ideal situation and one which they wanted to promote.

As LLLI grew, its organizational structure became very complicated. What started with a simple system of Leaders and attending members began to have many more administrative and supervisory layers added as the numbers of groups and areas increased. There needed to be local support for the Leaders and then larger regional support for those administering the Leaders, all the way up to the central office, ultimately headed by the Executive Director. The key to the complicated structure and the many layers of administration is found in the volunteer nature of LLLI and the fact that practically everyone who held a position in LLLI was a mother, often of small children. The need to keep each of these volunteer jobs mother-sized, i.e., at a size that a mother could handle the responsibility and hours without taking anything away from her family, led to this highly complex organizational structure. As each job had to be kept somewhat small, many more positions and divisions of positions were necessary than might be required in a different type of organization. Consequently, the LLLI records reflect this organizational structure and can sometimes be challenging to navigate and researchers may find that relationship between departments, divisions, or job titles are often hard to define. International was added to the organization's name as LLLI increased its geographical scope. A Canadian division was added in the 1960s, and the Around the World ATW division was formed in the 1970s. Later, certain countries such as Great Britain, New Zealand and Switzerland became Affiliates, regions that were still part of LLLI, but more autonomous in their operations. In the 1990s, international zones were created to provide an international presence on the Board of Directors, but although this was a major shift of governance, it did not really affect the relationship between local branches and the central office.


140 Linear Feet (204 boxes)

Language of Materials



The LLLI records document two distinct phases, 1956 up to 1991, and post-1991 in the organization's history. The records of LLLI are organized into thirty series and multiple subseries: History, Publications, Executive Director 1956 - 1991: Betty Wagner, Executive Directors 1992-2005, Board of Directors 1964-1991, Board of Directors 1991-2005, Physicians, President 1956-1980: Marian Tompson, Local Groups and Affiliates, Center for Breastfeeding Information, Central and South American Projects, Conferences, Continuing Medical Education Program, International Action and Development, Lactation Consultant Workshops, Peer Counselor Program, Walkathon, Multimedia, Memorabilia, Betty Ann Countryman Files, Carol Kolar Files, Mary Lofton Files, Martha Pugacz Files, Judy Torgus Files, Hope Melnick Files, President 1956-1980: Marion Tompson December 2011 Addition, Mary Lofton Files: 2011-2012 Addition, Nancy Heezen Files, May 2014 Addition, and Barbara Rozek Files.

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession 2006.26; 2010.01; 2010.11; 2010.20; 2011.02; 2011.07; 2011.08; 2011.37; 2011.38; 2012.07; 2012.08; 2014.068; 2015.119; 2016.020; 2016.089

Processing Information

H. Fedchak, E. Boden, L. Kreps. S. Koechling 2009; H. Fedchak, K. Gosa 2010; M. Salvon 2016; J. Soltman 2017

Guide to La Leche League International records
H. Fedchak, E. Boden, L. Kreps. S. Koechling 2009; H. Fedchak, K. Gosa 2010; M. Salvon 2016; J. Soltman 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the DePaul Special Collections and Archives Repository

John T. Richardson Library
2350 N. Kenmore Ave.
Room 314
Chicago Illinois 60614