Faye Wattleton

Faye Wattleton, former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood—as well as the first African-American, first female and youngest president in the organization’s history—has been one of the strongest champions of women’s rights and reproductive health for more than four decades.


Faye Wattleton was born on July 8, 1943, in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1970, she became executive director of Planned Parenthood of Miami Valley. In 1978, she was named president and CEO of the the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America—becoming the first African-American, the first female and the youngest president of the reproductive health-care organization. During her 14 years as president, Wattleton helped to significantly expand the organization; when she resigned in 1992, Planned Parenthood encompassed 170 affiliates in 49 states. In 1996, Wattleton helped found the Center for the Advancement of Women.

Early Life and Career

One of the strongest champions of women's rights and reproductive health for more than four decades, Faye Wattleton is best known for her groundbreaking career with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the U.S. affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation: She is the first African American, the first woman and the youngest person to serve as president of the nonprofit reproductive health-care organization.

Born Alyce Faye Wattleton on July 8, 1943, in St. Louis, Missouri, Faye Wattleton is the daughter of mother Ozie Wattleton, who made a living as a Church of God minister and seamstress, and father George Wattleton, a factory worker. Both of her parents were deeply religious, and she "was raised in a very sheltered, sheltered environment. No smoking, drinking, dancing, movies," Wattleton later wrote. Her mother frequently traveled to different parts of the country to preach, accompanied by her father, and the couple often left their daughter in the care of relatives or other members of their faith for periods of time.

An excellent student, Wattleton enrolled at The Ohio State University when she was only 16 years old. In 1964, she graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in nursing. In 1966, Wattleton moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, where she pursued a master's degree in maternal and infant care. But it was also in New York City that, while completing an internship, she witnessed firsthand the suffering—and sometimes fatality—caused by illegal and unsafe abortions during an internship.

Returning to Ohio after finishing her degree, Wattleton encountered more women in need of better reproductive health care as assistant director of the Montgomery County Combined Public Health District in Dayton. She joined the board of directors for Planned Parenthood of Miami Valley and became its executive director in 1970. An activist for reproductive rights, Wattleton supported legalizing abortion. Then, in 1973, the famous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortions legal.

Pioneering Career with Planned Parenthood

Faye Wattleton made history in 1978, when she was named president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America—becoming the first African-American, the first female and the youngest president in the organization's history. During her 14 years as president of the national reproductive health-care organization, which provides medical and educational services, Planned Parenthood saw incredible growth; in addition to becoming the nation's seventh largest nonprofit organization, with an aggregate budget of $500 million, Planned Parenthood had expanded to include 170 affiliates in 49 states and the District of Columbia by the time Wattleton resigned from her post in 1992.

Additionally, during her tenure at Planned Parenthood, Wattleton became one of the most well-known figures in the public debate over abortion. She made countless speeches and gave numerous interviews in her fight to keep abortion legal against strong opposition. Despite receiving several death threats from antiabortion activists, Wattleton continued to be outspoken on the issue.

Later Roles

Following her resignation in 1992, Wattleton turned her attention to creating a new organization: She helped found the Center for the Advancement of Women (CFAW), an independent research, education and public policy advocacy institute, in 1996.

In 1996, Wattleton published Life on the Line, a memoir about her early life and her experiences at Planned Parenthood. Wattleton has garnered numerous accolades for her work, including the Margaret Sanger Award and the Jefferson Public Service Award (both in 1992). More recently, in 2004, she won the Fries Prize for her work in public health.

A skilled manager and administrator, Wattleton has also served on the boards and advisory councils of many nonprofit, corporate and educational organizations over the years, including Savient Pharmaceuticals, Estee Lauder Companies, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, Columbia University, the New York Blood Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2010, she joined Alvarez & Marsal, a global services firm, as a managing director.

Wattleton lives in New York City. Divorced, she has a daughter, Felicia, from her marriage to Franklin Gordon.

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