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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 935

Additional records of the Society for Humane Abortion, 1961-2016 (inclusive), 1964-1972 (bulk)

Records of the Society of Humane Abortion; its sister organization, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws; and papers of its founders and members, Patricia Maginnis, Lana Clarke Phelan, and Rowena Gurner.

Dates

  • 1961-2016
  • Majority of material found within 1964-1972

Creator

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Society for Humane Abortion, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, Patricia Maginnis, and Lana Clarke Phelan 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.

Extent

3.75 linear feet ((9 file boxes) plus 4 folio folders, 1 oversize folder)

These additional records of the Society for Humane Abortion include fliers, brochures, pamphlets, and other material produced by the Society; correspondence and press clippings about abortion classes taught by the sister organization Association to Repeal Abortion Laws; letters from individuals seeking abortions and the list of abortion providers produced by the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws; and personal papers of founders and members Patricia Maginnis, Lana Clarke Phelan, and Rowena Gurner. Maginnis's personal papers include her political cartoons and a number of interviews and later scholarship by others interested in the history of the Society for Humane Abortion. Phelan's personal papers include fiction and nonfiction writing, some of it about abortion; correspondence; and files on other groups, including NARAL and Los Angeles NOW.

This collection documents national and California state-level activism and organizing around the repeal of abortion laws in the decade before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. Phelan's NARAL board files contain early discussions of that organization's mission. Letters from those seeking abortions describe real life circumstances of women in a number of states who felt they needed to leave the United States to obtain an end to their pregnancy.

Much of this material came from the home of Lana Clarke Phelan's daughter, via Patricia Maginnis. Maginnis added Society for Humane Abortion and other abortion-related material from her own home, and sent all the material to the Schlesinger Library. Maginnis wrote notes on some material at this time, including on material that had been kept by Phelan. Unlike the group of Society for Humane Abortion records donated to the Schlesinger Library in the 1970s (MC 289), little of this material could be considered "office files." Any folder that contained Society for Humane Abortion or Association to Repeal Abortion Laws material has been grouped together; Series I is comprised of folders created by or kept by Phelan, Gurner, and Maginnis. Some of the folders in Series I had typed folder labels, most of those in Series II and III were hand-written by Phelan and Maginnis. Original folder titles are rendered in quotations; in some cases the archivist added explanatory text to original folder titles. The collection is arranged in four series.

Series I, SOCIETY FOR HUMANE ABORTION AND ASSOCIATION TO REPEAL ABORTION LAWS, 1964-1974 (#1.1-3.19), includes fliers, brochures, and pamphlets produced by the Society for Humane Abortion; the list of international abortion providers distributed by the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws; correspondence between Patricia Maginnis, Lana Clarke Phelan, Rowena Gurner, and others; letters from individuals seeking abortions; and press clippings about abortion in general and the Society for Humane Abortion and Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. Also included are files on abortion classes Maginnis and Phelan taught around the United States; completed questionnaires asking attorneys their knowledge of abortion laws; material related to Phelan and Maginnis's The Abortion Handbook; and letters from individuals reporting on self-induced abortions.

Material from the sister organizations Society for Humane Abortion and Association to Repeal Abortion Laws was separated in MC 289, but such a separation was not possible for this group of records. Since Maginnis, Gurner, and Phelan worked for both organizations interchangeably, correspondence about their work often describes activities undertaken for both organizations. In addition, the distinction between the two organizations was not always known or obvious to outside correspondents. Several folders in this series, titled by Phelan "ARAL letters, Pat's distribution results" (#1.15-2.3), contain letters from individuals asking for names of abortion providers. These are primarily addressed to Society for Humane Abortion or Maginnis herself, but the list each writer received in return was produced and sent under the auspices of the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. The series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Series II, LANA CLARKE PHELAN PAPERS, 1962-1998 (#3.20-7.9, FD.1-FD.4), includes correspondence, organizational records, typescript and published writings, conference files, and research and clippings about abortion and women's rights. Also included are Phelan's files on speeches she gave about abortion, including to sociology classes at Long Beach State University. Phelan was an early board member of NARAL, and her files on the organization's early years contain minutes, correspondence about board candidate slates and organizational mission, and mailings from the nascent organization. The series is arranged alphabetically by folder title. Phelan's original titles appear in quotes.

Series III, PATRICIA MAGINNIS PAPERS, 1961-2016 (#7.10-9.11, OD.1), includes correspondence; cartoons drawn by Maginnis; writings about abortion; interviews with Maginnis about the Society for Humane Abortion and other activism; and clippings, primarily related to abortion and Maginnis's activism. Most of the material is related in some way to Maginnis' abortion activism; there are also some fliers from her Oakland peace group, Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace. Maginnis draws one-cell political cartoons; those from the 1960s and early 1970s are often about abortion and lampoon the Catholic Church, Richard Nixon, or other politicians. Later cartoons are about women's rights in general, as well as about George Bush and the 2003 war in Iraq. The series also includes a good deal of material from the 1980s and 1990s that focuses on the history of the Society for Humane Abortion and the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws: clippings, interviews, film transcripts. Much of this material arrived at the Library loose and in no order, and was sorted by archivist. The series is arranged alphabetically by folder title. Maginnis's original folder titles appear in quotes.

Series IV, ROWENA GURNER PAPERS, 1961-1990 (#9.12-9.15), includes a few of Gurner's files with research and writings on abortion, as well as an award she received from the American Humanist Association Women's Caucus. These files appear to have been sent to Maginnis at some point before Gurner's death. the series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY FOR HUMANE ABORTION

In 1962, San Jose State College student Patricia Maginnis founded the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws; Maginnis intended to educate the public about, and lobby elected officials to change, California's restrictive abortion laws. In 1964, the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws became the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA). Maginnis, now living in San Francisco, single-handedly published a newsletter, handed out pamphlets, conducted public opinion polls, and contacted medical professionals and others who were interested in repealing California's abortion laws. Rowena Gurner and Lana Clarke Phelan separately encountered Maginnis distributing Society for Humane Abortion material; the three women became the force behind the work to liberalize, and then to repeal, California's abortion laws.

Maginnis initially ran the Society for Humane Abortion out of her home, and often asked interested individuals if they would come stuff envelopes for the organization should they ever be in town. Rowena Gurner took over the running of the office, and professionalized the operation. She was a talented behind-the-scenes event organizer, which allowed the Society for Humane Abortion to organize and sponsor a Conference on Abortion and Human Rights in January 1966. Lana Clarke Phelan, a writer and effective public speaker, acted as the Society's Southern California representative.

In 1965, the Society for Humane Abortion was incorporated as a non-profit educational enterprise. By the following year, however, Maginnis decided that engaging in more direct political action was necessary to the campaign to abolish abortion laws. Specifically, she wanted to help women who needed to obtain abortions, and did not want to jeopardize the Society's tax-exempt status by using its name for what could be illegal activity. Maginnis, Gurner, and Phelan created a parallel organization, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL), under which name they distributed a list (for a small fee, to those who asked via mail or telephone) of abortion providers outside the United States; they also solicited feedback from women on the providers themselves. Also under ARAL's auspices, Maginnis and Phelan gave presentations and taught day-long classes on how women could perform self-induced abortions. In 1967 and 1968 they held these classes in Cleveland and Oberlin, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Washington, DC; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and throughout California. Phelan, a gifted public speaker, was considered the "public relations" arm of both organizations, and appeared on radio and television shows in the above cities and elsewhere to promote the classes and the message.

In 1969, Maginnis and Phelan published The Abortion Handbook, which included a guide to self-induced abortions. Both women were also involved in the First National Conference on Abortion Law in 1969, at which a new national organization, National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (later NARAL) was formed and took the Association to Repeal Abortion Law's name.

The Society for Humane Abortion continued to act as an education organization, sponsoring conferences and distributing reprints of relevant articles. As abortion laws changed, Society members lent their expertise to United States doctors beginning to practice the procedure. In 1970 and 1971 the Society sponsored several Clinic and Office Abortion Procedures Symposia. The Society for Humane Abortion moved its office to Phelan's home in Southern California in 1972, and officially disbanded in 1975.

Lana Clarke Phelan and Pat Maginnis were both interviewed for the Schlesinger Library's Family Planning Oral History Project (OH-1); both interviews contain further information about the day-to-day operations of the organizations.
BIOGRAPHY OF PATRICIA MAGINNIS Patricia Therese Maginnis was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1928 and spent much of her childhood in Oklahoma, living in poverty with six siblings. In 1951 she joined the United States Women's Army Corps, and was stationed in Panama, working as a maternity ward assistant in a military hospital. Her experiences with the pregnant women there led her to believe abortion and women's control of their reproductive system was critical to women's equality. Maginnis herself obtained an abortion in Mexico in her early 20s, and later was hospitalized and harassed in San Francisco with complications from a self-induced abortion. After leaving the Army, Maginnis moved to California and enrolled in San Jose State College, where she received training as a medical technician.

From the early 1960s to 1970s, Maginnis lived in San Francisco, and was primarily involved in the working of the Society for Humane Abortion and Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. In addition to her abortion activism, Maginnis drew political cartoons, which she printed onto postcards and notepaper. Her illustrative humor is on display in her publications, The Abortees Songbook, published in 1969, and Condom Coloring Book, published in 1996. Maginnis later lived in Marin County and in Oakland, California. She was a member of the Marin and the East Bay chapters of NOW, and continues to be involved in local and international peace activism. Maginnis discusses her early life history in some detail in the interview conducted for the Schlesinger Library's Family Planning Oral History Project (OH-1).
BIOGRAPHY OF LANA CLARKE PHELAN Lana Clarke Phelan (1921-2010) was raised in Lakeland, Florida. She became pregnant as a married teenager, and upon becoming pregnant a second time, tried desperately to secure an abortion. This traumatic experience led to her later activism on behalf of women seeking to end pregnancies. With her second husband, she lived in Hollywood, Florida, where they managed a municipal airport together and she was a city councilwoman. In 1955, they divorced, and Lana Clarke moved to Southern California, where she married Francis B. "Barney" Phelan.

Phelan encountered Patricia Maginnis handing out Society for Humane Abortion material at a population conference in San Francisco in 1964 or 1965, and stayed in close contact with Maginnis for further information and research material; eventually she started acting on behalf of the Society when speakers were needed in Southern California. Even before her association with the Society for Humane Abortion, Phelan wrote articles and gave speeches advocating abortion rights. She was working as a secretary for the City Attorney in Long Beach in 1965, and was fired after making a televised speech in favor of abortion rights.

Phelan was active in other organizations: she served as Western coordinator of NOW and was Vice President of the Los Angeles Chapter. She served as Vice President West and as President of NARAL in the early 1970s. Phelan ran for the California Assembly in 1970, but was defeated. After Barney Phelan's death, Lana married Bernard Kahn. The couple moved to Sonoma County in the late 1980s. Lana Clarke Phelan was interviewed for the Schlesinger Library's Family Planning Oral History Project (OH-1).

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in four series:
  1. Series I. Society for Humane Abortion and Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, 1964-1974 (#1.1-3.19)
  2. Series II. Lana Clarke Phelan Papers, 1962-1998 (#3.20-7.9, FD.1-FD.4)
  3. Series III. Patricia Maginnis Papers, 1961-2016 (#7.10-9.11, OD.1)
  4. Series IV. Rowena Gurner Papers, 1961-1990 (#9.12-9.15)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2017-M45

These records of Society for Humane Abortion were given to the Schlesinger Library in March 2017 by Pat Maginnis, on behalf of Lana Clarke Phelan's daughter Lorraine Bruski.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Society of Humane Abortion Records (MC 289).

Interviews with Lana Clarke Phelan and Pat Maginnis are included in the Schlesinger Library's Family Planning Oral History Project (OH-1).

SEPARATION RECORD

Donors: Patricia Maginnis

Accession number: 2017-M45

Processed by: Jenny Gotwals

The following item has been removed and added to the NOW Chapter Newsletter Collection (Pr-1):
  1. East Bay National Organization for Women [Newsletter] April 1992
Issues of the following periodicals have been removed and added to the Schlesinger Library periodical collection:
  1. California Committee on Therapeutic Abortion. CCTA Newsletter (1967)
  2. Population Bomb News Items (1967)
  3. Society for Humane Abortion. Newsletter (1965-1966)
  4. Population Bulletin(1972)
  5. Zero Population Growth. POP PR (1975)
  6. Abortion Counseling Service. ACS Newsletter (1970)
  7. Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. Options(1976)
  8. Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women. Coalition News (1977)
  9. American Humanist Association. Free Mind (1985)
  10. NARAL. Weekly Legislative Update (1976)
  11. California Abortion Rights Action League. Newsletter (1983)
  12. Association for the Study of Abortion. ASA Newsletter (1966?)
  13. Emko Newsletter (1967)
  14. Workers Vanguard (1995)
  15. Women's History 2015 Gazette
  16. Cornell Law Forum (1969)
The following item has been removed and added to the NARAL state affiliates newsletter collection (Pr-5):
  1. Choice: the Newsletter of Washington State NARAL (1976)

Processing Information

Processed: April 2018

By: Jenny Gotwals, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.
Link to catalog
Title
Society for Humane Abortion. Additional records of the Society for Humane Abortion, 1961-2016 (inclusive), 1964-1972 (bulk)
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Alice Jeannette Ward Fund.
EAD ID
sch01607

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

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