Our History

Clarence Gamble, Pathfinder's founder, in Japan where he and later Pathfinder, provided financial support for projects to examine family planning and contraceptive use for 15 years beginning in 1950.

Edith Gates was an early Pathfinder pioneer. For 12 years, she traveled for Pathfinder and helped to establish 13 Family Planning Associations in Africa, many of which are still functioning today.

Edna McKinnon was instrumental in opening family planning clinics throughout the US on Clarence Gamble's behalf. After a stint as the Executive Director for Planned Parenthood Chicago, Edna worked for Pathfinder, promoting contraception wherever she traveled.

Pathfinder began the first community-based distribution of family planning information and contraceptives in 1979 in Bangladesh to help overcome cultural restrictions and travel difficulties.

In his efforts to find a cheap and simple contraceptive, Pathfinder’s founder, Clarence Gamble, led research in using a sponge soaked in a saline solution as an effective contraceptive method.

Pathfinder International was originally incorporated as The Pathfinder Fund in 1957. Our pioneering family planning work, however, began decades earlier in the late 1920s when Pathfinder founder, Dr. Clarence Gamble, supported efforts to introduce contraception to women and couples in the United States and 60 other countries. He also launched the first community-based service model, which is still the foundation of Pathfinder’s success today.

Despite the highly sensitive and complex nature of our work, Pathfinder has steadily expanded operations since 1957. Over the decades we have taken difficult positions to increase access to high-quality reproductive health services. This has earned Pathfinder wide recognition and respect throughout the world, highlighted by the 1996 United Nations Population Award.

Significant Events in Pathfinder History

1920s


Margaret Sanger founds American Birth Control League, opens first US birth control clinic in New York.


Cincinnati Maternal Health Clinic opens. Dr. Clarence Gamble gives $5,000 to cover first year costs, the first “Pathfinder grant.” Later the Maternal Clinic becomes the Planned Parenthood affiliate.

1930s


Gamble and team of female volunteers begin to introduce family planning programs in the US; launching birth control clinics and supporting contraceptive research in 40 US cities in 14 states. Most or all become Planned Parenthood affiliates after Planned Parenthood is organized.

1940s


With interruptions caused by World War II, Gamble reaches agreement with Margaret Sanger to focus on family planning work overseas rather than at home.


In initial overseas venture, Gamble makes first of many grants to family planning projects in Japan.

1950s


Gamble and his field workers visit more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America to discuss family planning and initiate small family planning and information projects. These visits result in the establishment of private Family Planning Associations (FPAs) in more than 30 countries. Most FPAs subsequently become members of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) once it is organized and established.


Family planning crusaders Luigi and Maria Luisa DeMarchi defy Italian law by opening birth control service in Rome with Gamble financial support.


1957 — The Pathfinder Fund, founded by Clarence and Sarah Gamble, becomes an incorporated, tax-exempt organization. As a tax-exempt organization, it is able to receive donations. Gamble family constitutes Board of Directors.

1960s


Pathfinder initiates family planning activities in Francophone African countries.


Pathfinder's annual budget is $250,000, in private funds, largely contributed by Gamble family.


Congress passes the legislation to provide first-time funding for support of both domestic and international family planning programs.

First worldwide USAID/Office of Population grant to Pathfinder for family planning service support for $10 million over five years.


Pathfinder opens Indonesia and Latin America offices.

1970s


1973 — The US Supreme Court hands down landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, establishing a woman’s right to choose abortion to terminate a pregnancy.


1973 — Helms Amendment to Foreign Assistance Act is passed, forbidding use of US government funds for any abortion-related activity.


1974 — The United Nations establishes a new division for population issues called the UNFPA and it holds a Global Conference on Population Issues in Bucharest.

IPPF Central Medical Committee formally approves and advocates community-based, non-clinical distribution of oral contraceptives.


Pathfinder opens regional offices in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America North; and opens country offices in Brazil, Egypt, India, Chile and the Philippines.


Bangladesh office opens, launching what would become more than $200 million of family planning services overseen by Pathfinder in that country.


Pathfinder sponsors conference on New Developments in Fertility Regulations (Airlie, Virginia) for physicians of the Americas to learn about new menstrual regulation techniques. Here, J. Villarreal, M.D., decides to open Latin America's first abortion clinic in Bogata, Colombia.


USAID central worldwide grant renewed to provide $50 million of family planning services and support for nine years.

1980s


Latin America office moves to Peru; offices open in Turkey, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mexico and Pakistan.


1984 — At the United Nations’ World Population Conference in Mexico City, US government institutes new policy denying US funds to any foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) that “performs or promotes abortion as a method of family planning.” This becomes known as the "Mexico City Policy" or the "Global Gag Rule".


Pathfinder Endowment Fund established with gift of $200,000.


Pathfinder files suit challenging US's "Mexico City Policy," and files amicus briefs in support of two other abortion-related cases.

1990s


1990 — Pathfinder’s landmark court case clarifies that the “Mexico City Policy” allows USAID support for postabortion care services, and recognizes a US-based NGO’s right to use private funds without any government interference.


The Pathfinder Fund becomes Pathfinder International.


Pathfinder convenes public policy forum for members of the US Congress. Heads of private sector family planning programs in Bangladesh and Colombia and public sector programs in China and Mexico meet Members of Congress and their staff to discuss global family planning issues.


A new program initiative in Viet Nam is begun to improve the accessibility and availability of family planning services. This program is funded entirely by private funds, both because of a visionary donor, and because Viet Nam and the US had not yet normalized relations.


Pathfinder receives first HIV/AIDS grant.


Pathfinder opens offices in Bolivia, Viet Nam, Uganda and Washington, DC.


1993 — President William Clinton takes action to restore a number of reproductive rights that had eroded—and overturns the “Mexico City Policy."


1994 — Pathfinder co-hosts a “Boston Town Meeting,” one of 12 organized throughout the US, to encourage public participation and input in the official US position for the 1994 United Nations (UN) International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt.


1996 — Pathfinder wins UN Population Award on the eve of its 40th Anniversary.


Pathfinder surpasses $55 million in annual revenues.

2000 - Present


2001 — President George W. Bush reinstitutes the “Mexico City Policy.”


Pathfinder launches African Youth Alliance program to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people aged 10-24 in Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. This program represents a collaborative effort of Pathfinder, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, and the UN Fund for Population Activities.


2005 — Pathfinder becomes a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the US government. The US District Court rules in favor of Pathfinder which successfully sought to repeal the sweeping restrictions placed on US groups participating in the federal government's funding of international HIV/AIDS programs. One such restriction requires groups to pledge their opposition to prostitution in order to remain eligible for federal HIV/AIDS funds. Currently, the court's decision is on appeal.


Pathfinder opens office in Papua New Guinea, entirely privately funded.


Pathfinder surpasses $90 million in annual revenues.


Three donors combine to make a $10 million pledge and request a dollar match. When all payments have been received, Pathfinder’s endowment and reserves will reach $10 million. A similar amount will be raised for new opportunities and ventures.


2007 —  Pathfinder celebrates 50 years of incorporation, and 80 years of “pathfinding” work in family planning.


2008 President Barack Obama rescinds the Global Gag Rule.


2011 —  Pathfinder announces the retirement of Daniel Pellegrom, the longest-serving president of a global reproductive health organization in history.


2012 — Pathfinder welcomes Purnima Mane as its new president.

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