Celebrating the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut

via Ms Magazine blog. On June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision, Griswold v. Connecticut [PDF] which struck down an 1879 state law “that prohibited the use of contraceptives and made it illegal to assist, abet or counsel someone about contraceptives. Griswold established a constitutional right to marital privacy that, in the words of Justice William O. Douglas, would no longer allow ‘the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives.'”

At left is a photo from Corbis.  The image is from an awards ceremony on October 19, 1965.  

Original caption: Dr. C. Lee Buxton (Left) and Mrs. Estelle T. Griswold are shown with planned Parenthood awards they received on October 19, at the annual dinner of Planned Parenthood at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel here. Along with the gold statuettes each gets a scroll and they share the 2,500 Albert Lasker Award of Planned Parenthood-World population.
Now, I’ve always wondered why Dr. Buxton seldom if ever gets mentioned in the commemoration of this event.  I reckon it’s because he was a male doctor, and that just doesn’t fit with the over-simplified narrative of the women’s health movement of women combatting the “evil,” mostly male medical profession.
I don’t want to overdo it and give Buxton too much credit — but what I’ve heard from the residents who worked under him at Yale-New Haven Hospital  is admiration for his willingness to put his reputation and career on the line to fight the state’s restrictions on contraception.  This acknowledgement came even from Virginia Stuermer,  who said that while Buxton was very progressive on issues of birth control and abortion, he was not”so hospitably disposed toward young women who wished to become resident physicians in our department. At a time when the government was scrutinizing the hiring practices of universities which received federal grants(vis-a-vis women and minority groups),our chairman still felt he could ask women residency candidates if they would forego childbearing for the duration of the four-year program. Needless to say,fewwomen became residents during that chairman’s tenure.Today, a preponderance of residents in our department is female. This fact has certainly brought a sea of change in the attitudes of physicians in my field in this community.”  Nevertheless, Stuermer acknowledged that Buxton’s work along with Griswold’s, was “paramount” in the struggle against Connecticut laws banning birth control.  Buxton also was willing to enlist Stuermer and another junior faculty member as clinicians at the New Haven Planned Parenthood clinic.  After the Griswold decision was handed down, Stuermer replaced Buxton as medical director at Planned Parenthood, and abortion became the “next battleground” in the Nutmeg state’s history of reproductive rights.  At the forefront of these efforts were female physicians and law students at Yale.
This “sea change” among women professionals in medicine and the law deserves more attention,.  For a start, see  the essays by Sandra Morgen and Naomi Rogers in Women Physicians and the Cultures of Medicine, edited by Ellen S. More, Elizabeth Fee, and Manon Perry (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

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