Biographical notes:

Mary Steichen Calderone, crusader and pioneer in the field of sex education, was born on July 1, 1904. She is the daughter of the eminent photographer, Edward Steichen, and the niece of poet Carl Sandburg. Dr. Calderone graduated from Vassar College in 1925 with a B. A. in chemistry. After an interval of several years during which she studied dramatics, married and divorced, she turned to the study of medicine for the career that has made her a leader in public health, birth control and sex education.

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. She 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. 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 Dr. Calderone 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 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 the years with SIECUS, Dr. Calderone has traveled thousands of miles, addressing high school and college students, parents, educators, religious leaders and professional groups. A compelling speaker, she is especially popular with youthful audiences who appreciate her candid nononsense factual replies to their questions.

Dr. Calderone has spearheaded a virtual revolution in liberalizing U. S. attitudes toward sex education and as a result, has become the target of extremist groups. In 1969 right-wing organizations spent an estimated $40,000,000 on a virulent "hate" campaign which reached its highest intensity in the Spring of 1969. Several hundred newspaper clippings for the period February-June 1969 are included in the collection and are a valuable source of background material on the resurgence of conservatism in the United States.

Attacked, vilified, tagged a Communist and an "aging libertine," Dr. Calderone has continued her work with equanimity. Describing SIECUS and her role as executive director, she says: "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."

From the guide to the Papers, 1904-1971, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)


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