MAKERS Profile

Faye Wattleton

Former President, Planned Parenthood of America

In this video

Faye Wattleton on the essence of reproductive rights and leading Planned Parenthood through violent attacks on clinics.
African American social activist, author, and businesswoman, Faye Wattleton has dedicated her life to preserving and protecting the rights of women, first as an advocate for reproductive self-determination and later as a catalyst for gender equality. Wattleton, born in St. Louis, Missouri, became interested in obstetrical care during her studies at Ohio State University. She graduated with a nursing degree in 1964, and three years later earned a graduate degree in maternal and infant care from Columbia University. Wattleton has said that choosing a career in nursing was perhaps her most important professional decision as it engendered in her a determination and commitment not to compromise on the gains that women have made with respect to reproductive choice.   In 1978, as the youngest President, first African American, and first woman to lead Planned Parenthood since its founding in 1942, Wattleton shepherded the organization through years of often violent attacks on clinics and legislative backlash. By the end of her tenure in 1992, a restructured Planned Parenthood had grown to become the nation’s seventh largest nonprofit organization, with an aggregate budget of $500 million, providing medical and educational services to four million Americans each year. In 1995, she co-founded the independent think tank, the Center for the Advancement of Women, conducting women-focused national research.   Wattleton has served on the board and advisory councils of many nonprofit and corporate organizations including Savient Pharmaceuticals, Estee Lauder Companies, and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. She is currently on the boards of Columbia University, the New York Blood Center, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2010, Wattleton joined Alvarez & Marsal, a global services firm, as a managing director. Wattleton has received 14 honorary degrees and numerous awards over the course of her career and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

More From Faye

My Illegal Abortion
Wattleton describes getting an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade and why it's vital that she continues to talk about it.

Imus as Litmus
Wattleton discusses shock jock Don Imus's 2007 comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Unintended Pregnancies
Wattleton corrects some misconceptions about abortion rates.

Battle Weariness
Wattleton wonders whether complacency has set in in the decades long fight for reproductive rights.

Pro-life Mom
Wattleton describes how she and her mother, a minister, are able to put aside their differences on reproductive rights.

The Unfinished Fight
What happens to women between their 20s and 40s that wakes them up to the fight for women's rights?

Movements Align
Wattleton explains the inevitable links between movements for social justice like civil rights and women's rights.

The Making of an Activist
Wattleton describes the experiences of racism as a child that shaped her lifelong commitment to social justice.