March is Women’s History Month! We're celebrating some of our favorite champions, from Maine and away.
Today, we’d like to highlight the work of local reproductive rights heroine, Mabel Sine Wadsworth. Does this name sound familiar? It should. The Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor is named after this pioneering woman. The Center, open since the early 1980s, is
committed to carrying out Mabel's vision of reproductive justice through education, advocacy, and reproductive health services.
In 1946, after receiving her nursing degree from the University of Rochester, Mabel moved to Bangor and quickly became active in volunteer organizations. She joined the Maternal Health League, an organization working on contraceptive education. She volunteered with the League of Women Voters and the Hospital Auxiliary. She helped found the Abnaki Girl Scout Council and served as the first president of the Bangor Counseling Center’s Board of Directors. She was also deeply involved in the development of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Maine.
In the 1960s, Mabel channeled her investment in women’s reproductive health into organizing and directing the first family planning program in Maine – a program that offered comprehensive contraceptive services. In the 1970s, Mabel worked to modify Maine's abortion laws in order to grant adolescents confidential access to contraceptives and STI testing. She also played an integral role (along with other advocates) in the founding of the Family Planning Association of Maine in 1971. Mabel strongly believed that educating women about their reproductive health would empower them to make the best decisions for their lives and the lives of their families. In her tenure as the director of the family planning program, Mabel recruited like-minded women to do grassroots organizing in rural areas in order to educate women about birth control. She also hired women whose experiences reflected the lives of the women they served. For Mabel and her co-activists/advocates it “wasn’t about feminism back in those days…[.]It was simply educating women that you really and truly could take a pill and not have any more babies.” For these early reproductive health workers, it was about giving women the power to control their own bodies.
In 1984, when the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center opened, Mabel lent her support (and her name) as one of the founding mothers of the center. The Mabel Wadsworth Center continues to be the only private, non-profit feminist health center in the state of Maine. The Center works tirelessly to carry out Mabel’s vision of reproductive justice for all women. The Center is a full-service women’s reproductive health center. Services provided at the center include: prenatal care, annual exams and pap smears, colposcopies, adoption referrals, and, of course, abortion care. You can read more about the center here.
Mabel's work was recognized in the late 1980s when she was awarded the Maryann Hartman Award from the University of Maine. She was inducted into the Maine Women's Hall of Fame in 1989. Mabel Wadsworth died in her Bangor home on January 11, 2006 at age 95. While she was alive, Mabel championed for women of all ages, at all stages in their lives. She fostered intergenerational relationships, both in her personal and professional life. She was deeply commented to the idea of mentorship and community between women. Her contributions to reproductive rights in Maine are widespread and long-lasting.