Margaret “Peggy” Johnson Goldwater (b. 1905, d. 1985)
Peggy Johnson Goldwater became a committed advocate for women’s access to contraception when birth control was barely legal. In 1937, she and others worked with Margaret Sanger, prominent birth control advocate, to organize the first family planning clinic in Phoenix. She aided the organization’s evolution when it became Planned Parenthood of Phoenix in the 1940s and later Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona. She actively supported this cause until her death in 1985.
Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Science, Health and Medicine
Peggy Johnson, the daughter of a wealthy Midwestern industrialist, grew up in Indiana. She attended the Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the Grand Central School of Art in New York to study fashion design. She married Barry Goldwater in 1934 and moved to Phoenix. At that time, Barry was a businessman with the Goldwater Department Stores. The couple had four children together, and Peggy became active in the community, volunteering in St. Luke’s Board of Visitors that provided support for what is now St. Luke’s Medical Center. When she was in her 30s, Peggy met Margaret Sanger and became part of a small group organizing Phoenix’s first birth control clinic, called the Mothers’ Health Clinic, located at Seventh Street and Adams. They publicized the clinic in the newspaper, volunteered, and raised funds for the organization at a time when people seldom discussed birth control publicly. The reversal in 1936 of the federal 1873 Comstock Law that forbade advertising and distributing contraceptives, a year before this clinic’s opening, made birth control legal in the United States. At the time, there were approximately 60 birth control clinics in the nation. Believing that families should be planned and that women needed to be able to control their fertility, Peggy Goldwater developed a very strong commitment to the birth control movement, which continued throughout her life.
At this time, women from the middle and upper classes had access to contraceptives through their doctors, but many women could not afford physicians. The first Mothers’ Health Clinics provided diaphragms and contraceptive spermicide to all women, regardless of their ability to pay. During a time when Arizona was racially segregated, these clinics were open to women of all ethnic and racial groups. They were staffed by volunteer receptionists, record keepers and physicians, and usually included a paid full-time nurse.
Peggy Goldwater filled many roles at the clinics and also raised funds for the organization. Even while in her 70s, she hosted fundraising cocktail parties at her home on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. She influenced her husband, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, to support women’s access to contraceptives and abortion. When she died in 1985, the Planned Parenthood Press (Planned Parenthood Arizona’s newsletter), lauded her for her commitment to contraceptive access and developed an award in her honor.
For more information see the Planned Parenthood Arizona collection at the Arizona Historical Foundation, ASU Libraries.
Photos courtesy of Arizona Historical Foundation, ASU Libraries