How many people have been honored as one of the most influential people in America, one of the 100 most fascinating black women in the 20th century, one of the most beautiful people in America and the world, one of the best managers of non-profit organizations in America, and a recipient of 13 honorary doctorates? Arguably very few; but one thing is for sure, Faye Wattleton’s no-nonsense approach and commitment to her convictions have gained her tremendous recognition throughout her career.
Born Alyce Faye Wattleton in then segregated St. Louis, Missouri, Faye was the only child to her mother, Ozie, and her father, George. Faye entered school at the tender age of four and advanced straight to second grade given her intelligence at such an early age. While Faye was growing up, Ozie, a seamstress and evangelical minister, became a pastor of a church that required her and George to travel quite a bit. Over the course of eight years during Faye’s childhood, her parents traveled leaving Faye with church members and family friends. Though Faye’s parents instilled values of ethics, spirituality and independent thinking, her experience staying with other families was very different. In her book, Life on the Line, she describes the families she stayed with had “impermanent ‘homes’ [that] were governed by strict rules enforced mostly without the love and tolerance of my family. I was left to my own devices, to adapt to every circumstance. It was a lonely, guarded existence.”
At 16 years old, Faye went to college, attending Ohio State University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, fulfilling a dream she had since four years old to become a nurse. But it was while attending Columbia University on a full scholarship where she first began to understand the impact of unsafe abortions. While working at Harlem Hospital she cared for numerous women who had suffered from complications from illegal abortions. The images of these women never left her. After she received a Master of Science degree in maternal and infant care and a certification in midwifery, she returned to Ohio where she not only was an assistant director of the Montgomery County Combined Public Health District, but she also joined the local Planned Parenthood board. A little more than a decade later Faye was named president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This post would make her the first black, youngest, and only second female to hold this position since the organization’s inception.
Throughout nearly 15 years as president of Planned Parenthood, Faye tirelessly fought for women’s rights and specifically reproductive rights, enduring ridicule, opposition and even death threats. Despite these negative forces, she continued to raise the important issues and ultimately became one of the most prominent voices for women’s reproductive rights. In 1995 Faye co-founded the Center for the Advancement of Women (CFAW) and is currently the president of the organization. Through the CFAW she has continued her crusade for fighting for women’s rights and has ultimately been able to bring to light many women’s issues and necessary policy changes.
As if that is not enough, Faye has a daughter and over the years has been on the board of numerous organizations including Estee Lauder, Columbia University, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the United Nations Association of the USA, and the New York Blood Center. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Faye’s stance on certain issues, no one can argue her commitment and impact on women’s rights in this country. Not only are her accomplishments inspiring, but she also shows us how fabulous you can be at 66 years old.
Check out Faye in her own words on The Black List Volume 1