Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center -- Flim and Theater, Civic Engagement, Women's Health
Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Class of 1899

Katharine Houghton '99 graduated from the College with an A.B. in history and political science and was awarded an M.A. in 1900 after a year of additional study in chemistry and physics. She married Thomas Norval Hepburn, M.D., in 1904 and the couple moved to Hartford, Conn., where her husband was starting his medical career as an intern at Hartford Hospital. They would go on to raise a family of six children.

Hepburn became an activist in the women's right-to-vote campaign after attending a lecture by British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst in 1907. In 1909, she co-founded the Hartford Equal Franchise League, which in 1910 joined with the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. During her presidency, the CWSA eventually grew to include an estimated 30,000 members. Inspired by the arrest of suffragist pickets at the White House, Hepburn resigned from the CWSA in September 1917 and joined the National Woman's Party. Two months later, she was a member of NWP's National Executive Committee.

Hepburn also was an early, vocal advocate of birth control. In 1916, she joined the cause of her friend Margaret Sanger and helped to found the American Birth Control League, serving for many years as its national legislative chair. The league was the forerunner of what would become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Hepburn ridiculed Connecticut's anti-birth-control statute as the "police-under-the-bed law," arguing that it prevented the poor but not the wealthy from receiving information about contraception - "for many poorer women," she said, "bearing children was simply an onerous duty, seriously affecting their health, welfare and psychological development." From the very beginning, Dr. Hepburn supported his wife's work for women's rights and was an early advocate of suffrage and birth control.

While best known for her activism in the suffrage and birth-control movements, Hepburn championed a wide range of women’s issues. They included educational and job opportunities, working conditions, child care, social welfare and women’s health. She and other suffragists fought to secure women’s right to vote so that they could pressure legislators to enact reforms in all these areas at the state and national levels.