excellent essay by Linda Kerber on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. She challenges historians and students of history to dig deeper into the history of abortion in their states and localities. The piece also serves as a bibliographic essay on some of the best books on the history of abortion in the United States.
Here is a taste:
Here is where our students—undergraduate and graduate—can make a real
difference by their research. Working with advisers and archivists,
they can frame questions, and they can seek to reconstruct a history
that is in grave danger of being lost. The answers they find can
contribute to the accumulation of necessary knowledge (see sidebar for
some sample questions); their research, and our own, is indispensable.
Activists in the 1960s—on both sides of the debate—are now in their
70s and 80s; activists of the 1950s are in their 90s. The time available
to us is short. Most have never been interviewed; many are hungry to
place their experience on the historical record. Some have the records
of the small groups of which they were a part and do not know that they
may be welcomed by historical societies and college and university based
archives. Local newspapers—many now digitized—can be searched...
...Many of us have already had the experience of how energized we and our
students become when their work can clearly be seen to have value
outside the boundaries of the course. Roe's 40th anniversary is
both a warning of rapidly fading memories and an opportunity to capture
a history that still shapes American lives and politics.
In a sidebar, Kerber raises several opportunities for further research in this area.
Here are her "Questions That Need Answers":
Do you know when the last abortion provider was found guilty of crime
in your state? (In my own state, Iowa, it was Dr. J. A. Snyder,
convicted in 1953.) Do you know when the first family planning clinic
was established in your state? In your county? Who were involved in
establishing it? Did they face any opposition?
Do you know if abortion reform was established—and on what
terms—in your state before January, 1973? Do you know whether your state
legislature debated abortion reform, and for how many sessions? Do you
know how many deaths in your county were ascribed to botched illegal
abortions in the decade before abortion became legal in your state?
Do you know who introduced bills for abortion reform into your
state legislature and in what year? Do you know to what party the
initiators belonged? [It surprises most of my students to discover that
most were Republicans.] Are any of those legislators still alive? Can
they be interviewed? Do you know when your own college's student health
service first prescribed birth control? Do you know many women students
in your own college or university died from illegal abortions in—pick a
decade, any decade— before 1973? Does your college know?