Mary Steichen Calderone (1904-1998), a pioneering leader in the fields of human sexuality, sex education, and contraception, died October 24, 1998. Her persistent efforts as the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (1953-1964) led to the acceptance of responsible family planning as a health practice by the American Public Health Association in 1959 and by the American Medical Association in 1964. In 1964 Calderone cofounded SIECUS, the Sex and Information Education Council of the United States, to assist teachers, therapists, and other professionals in the integration of information about human sexuality into health care and public health education.
Calderone was born in New York City on July 1, 1904. Her father, Edward Steichen, was a painter and a master photographer. He was very close to and supportive of Calderone, and together they published two picture books for children; The First Picture Book: Everyday Things for Babies (1930), and The Second Picture Book (1958). After spending her early childhood years in France, Calderone and her family returned to the United States shortly after the beginning of World War I. Calderone attended school in Connecticut and New York City, and in 1921 entered Vassar. She chose to enroll in the premedical curriculum but found the classes to be uninteresting, and consequently changed her course of study to theatre, music, and English. After graduating in 1925, Calderone studied acting at the American Laboratory Theater; however, after three years she abandoned all hopes of an acting career upon realizing that she would never be "the tops."
In 1933 Calderone met with further disappointment and tragedy when her marriage to actor Lon Martin, with whom she had two daughters, ended. Shortly thereafter her eldest daughter died of pneumonia at the age of eight. Finding herself adrift, Calderone underwent psychoanalysis and a series of tests, the results of which indicated a strong aptitude for science. This stimulated her to resume her medical education, this time at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, at the age of 30. She graduated with an M.D. in 1939 and went on to a pediatric internship with Children's Medical Service at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Following the internship, Calderone undertook further graduate work at Columbia University's School of Public Health, obtaining a Master's of Public Health in 1942. While at Columbia, Calderone met and married her second husband, Frank Calderone, a district health officer, and together they had two children. During the early years of her second marriage, Calderone worked part-time as a physician in the public schools in their hometown of Great Neck, New York.
In 1953 Calderone became the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). During her eleven years in this position, Calderone was instrumental in ushering contraception away from its stigma as a societal and medical taboo, and toward its integration into mainstream medicine. When Calderone began her tenure at the PPFA the agency had been distributing a pamphlet discussing ineffective methods of contraception, including vaginal douches containing vinegar, lemon juice, or salt. The pamphlet failed to mention diaphragms and condoms, the most medically effective birth control methods available at the time. Calderone's goals for the PPFA were to ensure both the provision and the acceptance of medically sound contraceptive information. To achieve these ends she established the PPFA as a clearinghouse for ongoing clinical testing of novel birth control techniques. Under Calderone's administration several Planned Parenthood affiliates across the United States served as the testing grounds for Emko Foam, the IUD, and the Pill. The data collected from the PPFA's clinical trials led the medical establishment to finally accept, and endorse as common medical practice, the dissemination of …