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COLLECTION Identifier: 77-M164--77-M183

Papers of Ruth Proskauer Smith, 1959-1975


Correspondence; minutes, bylaws, etc., of Ruth Proskauer Smith, advocate of family planning and legal abortion.


  • Creation: 1959-1975

Access Restrictions:

Access. Two folders of correspondence and minutes from NARAL (#7 and 8) are restricted in accordance with the agreement between the Schlesinger Library and NARAL; #21, 22, 42, 49, and 50, which contain lists of contributors, are closed until January 1, 2028.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Ruth Proskauer Smith is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


2.63 linear feet ((2 cartons, 1+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder)

This collection includes personal and professional correspondence; minutes, bylaws, reports, mailings, and financial records of organizations with which Ruth Proskauer Smith was active; ARANY questionnaires from physicians, hospitals, and clinics reporting on their family planning and abortion services; printed material from pro-choice organizations; and articles, reports, and clippings on the movement to liberalize abortionlegislation, abortion services, and family planning.

The professional correspondence traces Ruth Proskauer Smith's involvement in a number of abortion rights organizations, from the Human Betterment Association for Voluntary Sterilization to the beginnings of what were to become the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Abortion Rights Association. Two folders of correspondence and minutes from NARAL (#7 and 8) are restricted in accordance with the agreement between the Schlesinger Library and NARAL; #21, 22, 42, 49, and 50, which contain lists of contributors, are closed until January 1, 2028. Most extensive is the documentation of the growth of ARANY, which in 1971 and 1972 conducted surveys of abortion services for its "Listing of Selected New York State Abortion Clinics."

Folder headings are the donor's. Information in brackets has been added by the processor.


The daughter of Joseph M. and Alice (Naumburg) Proskauer, Ruth (Proskauer) Smith was born in Deal, New Jersey, on August 14, 1907. She attended the Ethical Culture School in New York City, and Radcliffe College, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1929 and her master's degree in fine arts in 1932. Ruth Proskauer Smith married Theodore Smith on June 11, 1932; the couple had two children and were divorced in 1946.

Ruth Proskauer Smith began her involvement in the family planning and abortion rights movement as a field worker for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (1946-1948). She served there as executive secretary (1949-1953) until she moved to New York and became administrator of the family planning service at Mount Sinai Hospital (1953-1955). She served as executive director of the Human Betterment Association for Voluntary Sterilization (1955-1964) and of the Association for the Study of Abortion (1964-1966). In 1967 she helped organize the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (now the National Abortion Rights Action League or NARAL) and worked for the liberalization of abortion laws in New York State, first with New Yorkers for Abortion Law Repeal and then with the Committee for the Cook-Leichter Bill, a bill that declared abortion a matter to be decided by a woman and her physician and that was enacted in 1970. Later in 1970 the Abortion Rights Association of New York (ARANY) was established to help implement the law by disseminating information about its requirements and the rights and obligations of women and of physicians; Ruth Proskauer Smith served as president and vice-president. Following the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the organization was renamed the Abortion Rights Association.

Ruth Proskauer Smith was also a board member and officer of the Euthanasia Society of America and the Society for the Right to Die. The author of a number of articles on abortion and family planning, she was frequently a representative at conferences in the United States and abroad.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 77-M164, 77-M183

The papers of Ruth Proskauer Smith were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ruth Proskauer Smith in October and November 1977.


  1. Carton 1: 2-45
  2. Carton 2: 46-68
  3. Box 3: 69-78
  4. Box 4: 79-82

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: February 1986

By: Anne Engelhart

Smith, Ruth Proskauer, 1907-2010. Papers of Ruth Proskauer Smith, 1959-1975: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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