This Day In History: July 8th
Women’s health advocate and nurse Alyce “Faye” Wattleton began her mission during the 1970s and has since received numerous awards and inductions for her work. Wattleton was born on July 8, 1943, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Growing up, Wattleton moved around and changed schools often due to her mother’s profession. Her mother worked as a traveling pastor and her father worked in construction, typically leaving her in the care of different church members. Wattleton attended Ohio State University in 1964 and earned her master’s from Columbia University in 1967.
Following her graduation, Wattleton found work at Miami-Dade Hospital in Ohio, where she was able to serve as a nurse and teacher in 1970. Through her work as a nurse, Wattleton was able to see first-hand how poor health care can affect the population, and combating this issue became a major goal for her.
In 1978, Wattleton was put in a position to be a national voice for women’s health when she was selected to be the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This role was significant because Wattleton was unlike any other president the organization previously had since she was the first African-American woman to hold the position. She was also the youngest and only woman president since Margaret Sanger.
Under her leadership, the organization was able to develop national networks and become a strong political lobbying force. Wattleton helped to secure federal funding for birth control and prenatal programs, while also fighting against legislation to restrict access to abortions. She even established the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 1989.
It was created to inform and advocate for the advancement of access to sexual health care and defend reproductive rights. With Wattleton’s leadership, Planned Parenthood grew from an organization serving 1.1 million patients in 1978 to an organization serving approximately 5 million patients in 1990. Wattleton worked with the organization until her resignation in 1992.
After her time with Planned Parenthood, Wattleton served as president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. She has been awarded dozens of honorary degrees and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Faye Wattleton’s story was also captured in her memoir Life on the Line in 1996.