Additional papers of Mary Steichen Calderone, 1967-1982
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Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
.42 linear feet ((1 file box) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio photograph folder, 2 videotapes, 4 audiocassettes)
After graduating from the University of Rochester Medical School in 1939, she interned for a year with the Children's Medical Service at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, then attended the Columbia School of Public Health and received a master's degree in public health in 1942. It was during this time that she met Dr. Frank Calderone, whom she married in 1941. The couple had two daughters, Francesca and Maria. Her husband, then a district health officer, shortly thereafter became deputy commissioner of health of New York City. He later served as chief administrative officer of the World Health Organization and director of health services with the United Nations Secretariat.
Mary Calderone served as physician to the public schools of Great Neck, New York, until 1953 when she joined the staff of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as its medical director, a post she held until 1964. It was her association with Planned Parenthood that made her realize the widespread demand and need for more sex information. Planned Parenthood received a constantly growing number of letters asking questions not only about birth control, but sexual problems in general. The establishment of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) was formally announced in January of 1965 with its stated purpose: "To establish man's sexuality as a health entity: to identify the special characteristics that distinguish it from, yet relate it to, human reproduction; to dignify it by openness of approach, study, and scientific research designed to lead towards its understanding and its freedom from exploitation; to give leadership to professionals and to society, to the end that human beings may be aided toward responsible use of the sexual faculty and towards assimilation of sex into their individual life patterns as a creative and re-creative force."
During her years with SIECUS she traveled thousands of miles, addressing high school and college students, parents, educators, religious leaders and professional groups. A compelling speaker, she was especially popular with youthful audiences, who appreciated her candid no-nonsense factual replies to their questions. Calderone spearheaded a virtual revolution in liberalizing United States attitudes toward sex education, and as a result, became the target of extremist groups. In 1969 right-wing organizations spent an estimated $40,000,000 on a virulent "hate" campaign that reached its highest intensity in the spring of 1969.
Attacked, vilified, tagged a Communist and an "aging libertine," Calderone continued her work with equanimity. Describing SIECUS and her role as executive director, she said: "The point is, not that I am so important, but that I am the focal point in an organization that has become focal in a nationwide and worldwide movement -- that is, a movement on the part of the major professional groups in medicine, education, religion, nursing and others, to understand human sexuality on their own behalf and on behalf of the people whom they serve.... What I have been saying is that, unwittingly and involuntarily, SIECUS and therefore I, have become part of a nationwide trend that would seem to have significance for future historians of this epoch, from the sociological and political points of view."
Although she remained in close contact with SIECUS, Calderone resigned from the presidency in May 1982. She continued to speak internationally on the subject of sex education and other topics, such as aging and sexuality and sex for the physically handicapped. She served as an adjunct professor in the human sexuality program at the University of New York between 1983 and 1988. Mary Steichen Calderone died on October 24, 1998, at the Longwood Nursing Home in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She was 94.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Mary Steichen Calderone in 1982.
By: Sharon Owens
- Calderone, Mary Steichen, 1904-1998. Additional papers of Mary Steichen Calderone, 1967-1982: A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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