Last Wednesday, November 9th, about 100 people gathered at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport to hear author and historian, Jean Baker, talk about her new book, Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion.
Dr. Baker teaches history at Goucher College and has written several books on various topics in American history. Her lecture was enlightening and inspiring. Baker talked about Margaret Sanger as a person who was committed to improving the lives of women and their families, a woman who was a product of her times and who could be difficult, but who nevertheless gave her life to the effort to assure that every woman was, in Sanger’s own words, “the absolute mistress of her own body.”
In talking with Dr. Baker at the start of the evening, I was impressed by how interested she was in what’s happening with family planning in Maine. She asked as many or more questions than she answered. But Dr. Baker and her lecture are just a part of what made the evening so special to me.
What moved me just as much were the people who came out for the event. There was a real mix of people who have very different life experiences relative to family planning and reproductive rights.
I was very impressed by the number of elders in the room. As I looked around, I thought, “Wow, these are men and women who lived through the days before legal abortion, people who remember a time when birth control was very limited — both in terms of access and types available.” I can just imagine the stories these folks can tell about being young single people or young married couples in need of reproductive health care in the forties and fifties.
Then there were the midlife people, like myself, who have grown up as the first generation with access to legal birth control and abortion for most of our lifetimes. Much is made of how young people today don’t understand what it was like before Roe v. Wade. But I was only 13 years old when that Supreme Court decision was handed down — young enough that I’ve never really known a time when abortion wasn’t legal in this country. In that regard, I’m not so different from my children’s generation.
One of the coolest things about the event last week was the attendance of several young adults — college students who carpooled to Freeport together and young women who were enjoying a night out with their moms. It was just wonderful to share that space with them. I hope it was equally wonderful for them to be in the presence of several generations of reproductive rights advocates.
Then there was the large number of FPA staff members who attended. These are people who had worked all day to support family planning services in Maine, either directly in our clinics or in our administrative offices. Even after a long work day, they came out to spend their evening to hear about a piece of our history.
Dr. Baker gave us a historical perspective on the work we do today but she did so much more than that. The evening with her was an affirmation of our work.
All of us who do this work — either as our paid jobs, as volunteers, or as advocates and supporters — have a commitment to the well-being of Maine women and their families. Events like Dr. Baker’s lecture are a wonderful opportunity for us to come together to both celebrate our history and re-energize ourselves for the work ahead.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Margaret Sanger, check out this interview from hairpin.com with Jean Baker.