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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of birth control and abortion on women's lives

Johnson discusses the impact of access to birth control and abortion on women's lives. Johnson recalls that while she was growing up in Texas during the early 1900s, she had a general awareness that women, like her mother, lived in fear of pregnancy. Pregnancy was dangerous and childbearing and childrearing limited what women could do; as a result, Johnson remembers that abortion was not uncommon, though it was kept quiet. While she acknowledges that pregnancy was still dangerous for women (she identifies poor rural women and African American women specifically, here), advances in modern medicine had made it less so for certain groups.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

When you were talking about science and technology and how it has reshaped domestic life, one thing that you mentioned was birth control and the changing sex roles, and the sex roles are really in flux at the moment. That was in '65. Do you have, have you seen any difference in the past ten years? Certainly there has been some change.
GUION JOHNSON:
There has been a tremendous change in woman's attitude toward her role as a housekeeper and mother and sex partner and in the amount of freedom of time which she has to pursue her own interests. Tremendously. I know that my mother, who had five children, was in constant dread that she might have a sixth or a seventh or an eighth. And this was a fear that she carried with her as long as she was in child-bearing age. And it concerned my father, too. He'd say, "I cannot feed another mouth." And you could see what this fear of childbirth, of having a large family, and what it did to a couple. It was not only true of my parents, but everybody that I knew in my small community of Greenville. And I do know that there were a great many abortions performed and that I would hear darkly hinted . . . "You know, Mary Smith went to Dallas and stayed three or four days, and she's all right now." This was saying to me that she went to Dallas to have an abortion. She had three or four children and didn't want any more.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
These were married women who had this.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, married women.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Most of the families were large?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, most of them were large. A few had only two or three, but most fo the families had five, six, seven or eight children.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, women were very tied down and could never get out.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, yes they were.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And pregnancy was so dangerous.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes. Oh yes. This is true. I remember when my youngest sister was born, I was fourteen and Mother said before the baby was to come, "Now, if anything should happen to me, I want you to do so and so, and your sister to do this and that, because you will have to take over my responsibility." She was facing death and making plans for what would happen if she did not come through the ordeal.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Things have changed so much.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, with antibiotics and the knowledge of more skillful child delivery, there is almost no problem. And yet look at the report of the State Department of Health and see that there are still a great many childbirth deaths, but they are blacks, women who die in childbirth. Occasionally there will be rural white women, but for the most part, it's black.