First Advisor

Patricia Schechter

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Jessie Laird Brodie (1898-1990), Reproductive rights -- Oregon -- History, Birth control -- Oregon -- History, Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- History



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 165 p.)


This thesis conveys the history of reproductive politics in Oregon through the life of Dr. Jessie Laird Brodie (1898-1990). Brodie was a key figure in this history from the 1930's until the 1970's, mainly through the establishment of family planning programs through social and medical channels in Oregon and throughout Latin America. Oregon's reproductive legislation walked a fine line between conservatism and progressivism, but in general supported reproductive healthcare as a whole in comparison to the rest of the United States and Latin America. The state passed controversial contraceptive legislation in 1935 that benefited public health, but also passed eugenic laws, specifically a 1938 marriage bill, that attempted to limit specific population's reproductive control. By the time family planning was solidly rooted in the national and international sociopolitical discourse in the 1960's, due to the advent of the "pill," population control rhetoric, and the Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) Supreme Court decision, eugenic laws were virtually obsolete. Portland's history suggests that leaders in local reproductive politics sought to appeal to a diverse clientele but were restricted to the confines of federal funding mandates, specifically the war on poverty, that were fueled by postwar liberalism in an increasingly global age. The first chapter concentrates on the history of women's health and reproduction in Oregon prior to the 1960's. Dr. Jessie Laird Brodie's experiences with families in poverty during medical school in the 1920's disheartened her and motivated her to seek ways for these women to efficiently and affordably access birth control information. In response to public health concerns, she helped get positive contraception legislation passed in Oregon in the 1930's that set guidelines and restrictions for manufacture of contraceptives. This law was the first of its kind in the country and set a precedent for other states to follow. Brodie also supported a marriage bill in the 1930's that mandated premarital syphilis and psychological testing, in the hopes that it would lead couples to seek contraceptive, or "hygienic," advice from their physicians as efforts to establish a birth control clinic had failed up to this point. The second chapter focuses on Brodie's continued involvement in Oregon in the 1940's and 1950's, a period marked by a high tide of pronatalism in the U.S., and how she took Oregon's vision for women to a national and international level. Locally, she was involved with the E.C. Brown Trust, an organization dedicated to sex education, and was the President for the Pacific Northwest Conference on Family Relations, a group focused on the postwar family adjustments of higher divorce rates and juvenile delinquency. In 1947, Brodie was one of the founding members of the Pan-American Medical Women's Alliance, an organization created to provide a professional arena for women physicians throughout the Americas to discuss problems specific to women and children. Involvement with these groups helped her gain recognition nationally and in the late 1950's she served as President, and then Executive Director, of the American Medical Women's Association. Lastly, the third chapter looks at the establishment and growth of Planned Parenthood Association of Oregon (PPAO) in the 1960's under Brodie's leadership and her foray into the international establishment of family planning programs through the Boston-based Pathfinder Fund, an organization whose mission involved bringing effective reproductive healthcare to developing countries. Brodie acted as Executive Director for PPAO, where she was able to use her medical expertise and connections to bring the new organization credibility and respect throughout Oregon that they lacked before her involvement because the board was mainly comprised of a younger generation on the brink of second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution. In her career with Pathfinder she assessed the needs for family planning in Latin American and Caribbean countries and facilitated the establishment of programs in the region, largely in cooperation with the U.S. federal government and the Population Council. The conclusion offers a brief history of Dr. Brodie's continued involvement in the local and international communities beyond 1975 and the awards she received highlighting her career in the battle for effective healthcare for all women. In short, this thesis argues that legal and rights-based contestations that were prevalent in other regions of the U.S. and throughout the world were not characteristic of Oregon, allowing Brodie and PPAO to bring birth control to the state with relatively limited opposition.


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