Diverse Science

Wattleton, Faye | Life on the Line

  • First edition, first printing of the autobiography of the first Black president of Planned Parenthood, Faye Wattleton, who was responsible for turning the organisation into a politically engaged leader in the fight for abortion rights. Presentation copy inscribed by the author on the half title, “To Gordon, Some people are put on Earth to enrich us all. Thanks for being one of those people in my life. With much love and affection, Faye, 9-30-96”. (The identity of the recipient is unclear; while the last name of Wattleton’s former husband is Gordon, it seems unlikely she would use his surname for the inscription.) A special edition of this book was published concurrently for Ms. Magazine and those copies are often described as signed, but they are actually facsimile signatures. Copies of the regular first printing with real signatures, or as in this case, full presentation inscriptions, are less common.

    Alyce Faye Wattleton (1943 - ) earned two nursing degrees and then undertook a master's in maternal and infant healthcare at Columbia University. As she explained in a 2017 interview with W Magazine: “At that time, abortion was illegal, and so I saw the benefit and the dangers and the results of illegal abortion. My clinical training was at a large urban hospital, and so poor women came in, injured, bleeding, and in one or two cases, I actually saw and witnessed the death of a woman that I cared for. So it didn't take a great deal of courage to speak on behalf of what I had seen, not what I thought about or theorized about, but rather, what I had seen that goes on in women's lives.”

    Following the completion of her master’s degree, Wattleton worked at the Dayton, Ohio Public Health Department, where she saw a need for improved prenatal care and founded a network of clinics to provide it to under-served groups.

    In 1970 Wattleton became the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Miami Valley, Dayton, where she “was at the forefront of the fight to legalise abortion” (Krapp, Notable Black American Scientists, p. 310). She was selected as the head of the national organisation in 1978, five years after Roe v. Wade was decided. In Life on the Line she “recounts her numerous battles with political conservatives, anti-abortion activists, and the religious right... Two of Wattleton’s biggest struggles during her 14 years at Planned Parenthood focused on Title X in 1981 and a United States Supreme Court case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services in 1989” (Krapp).

    During the Title X debate Wattleton testified before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, coming to the conclusion that Planned Parenthood must become “more politically forceful”. Following the decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health services to allow states to restrict abortion services, Wattleton told the media, “Our anticipation is that we will fight on to make certain that all women in this country continue to have access to safe abortion. We are not daunted by this Supreme Court decision”.

  • New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

    Octavo. Original grey boards, burgundy paper backstrip, titles to spine gilt. With the dust jacket. 8 double-sided plates from photographs. Head of spine slightly bumped, edges of boards just a little faded and rubbed. An excellent copy in the jacket that is a little sunned and creased along the edges and spine panel.