Dr. Mary S. Calderone, a leading sexual education advocate, would often challenge students with a question: “What four- letter word is a synonym for sexual intercourse?” Because she was president and co-founder of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and medical director of Planned Parenthood, you might be surprised to find out that the answer was, “talk.”
A graduate of Vassar College, Calderone received a medical degree from the University of Rochester and completed the Master of Public Health degree at Columbia University’s School of Public Health before joining Planned Parenthood as its medical director in 1953. In that role, she received letters daily about not just sex, but sexuality.
Concerned that Planned Parenthood was not educating the public about anything other than contraceptives, Calderone left the organization to establish SIECUS, which was instrumental in bringing sex education into the classroom.
In addition to her roles with SIECUS, she wrote several books on sex education including “Talking with Your Child About Sex” and “Release from Sexual Tensions.” She was the editor of “Sexuality and Human Values,” “Manual of Family Planning” and “Contraceptive Practice and Abortion in the United States.”
The recipient of more than 12 honorary degrees, Calderone was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Schlesinger Library, the Browning Award for Prevention of Diseases and the Margaret Sanger Award. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Calderone died in 1998.