Faye Wattleton

On this date in 1943, reproductive rights activist Alyce Faye Wattleton was born in St. Louis. Her mother was a Church of God minister who frequently preached in various locations, and her father was a construction worker. She spent much of her early childhood in the care of family and church members in different states while her mother evangelized.

Wattleton graduated from Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca, Texas. In an interview for O, The Oprah Magazine (December 2001), she said: “I was raised in a very sheltered, narrow environment. No smoking, drinking, dancing, movies. My mother taught me a lot of things, but they had big presuppositions built in — like her expectation that I’d be a missionary nurse in a religious order.” Her mother believed no profession was worth pursuing unless it also had a religious purpose.

She received her B.S. in nursing from Ohio State University in 1964 and her M.S. in midwifery and maternal and infant health from Columbia University in 1967. She later said that studying for a midwifery master’s was “perhaps the most dramatic phase and turning point in my life.” In between degrees, she taught maternity nursing in Dayton, Ohio.

Wattleton was named executive director of Planned Parenthood in Dayton in 1971, married jazz musician Franklin Gordon in 1972 and gave birth to their daughter Felicia in 1975. They divorced when Felicia was 6. In 1978 she was named president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America — its youngest and first African-American president and its first woman president since founder Margaret Sanger. She held this position until 1992. She then led the Center for the Advancement of Women and hosted a Chicago-based talk show.

In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her memoir Life on the Line was published in 1996. Wattleton co-founded and directed EeroQ, a quantum computing company. She was the American Humanist Association’s 1986 Humanist of the Year and received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Humanitarian Award and Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award. 

In a 2017 interview with W magazine, Wattleton was asked if she was surprised that Planned Parenthood was still under attack by conservative Christians and politicians. “The woman who founded Planned Parenthood went to jail seven times,” she responded. “The progression of this organization in advancing women’s possibilities has always been under attack.” 

PHOTO: Wattleton in 2019 at the New York premiere of the PBS documentary “Reconstruction: America After The Civil War.” Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.com.

Freedom From Religion Foundation