Parrish, Margaret

Rose Norman interviewed Margaret Parrish at Parrish’s home in Gainesville, FL, on November 12, 2012. Parrish revised the interview notes as the memoir here. She died on March 6, 2013, after a stroke.

Biographical Information

One year after the landmark decision to legalize abortion in 1973, three women--Judy Levy, Byllye Avery, and Margaret Parrish--opened what was to become the 12th and ultimately the longest, freestanding abortion clinic in the country. From the beginning, the Gainesville Women’s Health Center (GWHC) integrated well woman care, consciousness raising around women’s healthcare needs, as well as abortion services and the hope of eventual midwifery services. This put Gainesville on the map as the home of one of the first feminist healthcare centers, changing thousands of women’s lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Margaret Parrish (1943-2013) was born and raised in Gainesville, and attended the University of Florida there in the 1960's. She worked as an administrator in children’s mental health groups for 20 years, and with incarcerated adults for another 6 years, then in the private sector doing office administration. When she co-founded the GWHC with Byllye Avery and Judy Levy, they were all working for the UF Child Psychiatry department, Byllye and Judy as faculty, Margaret as staff. She also helped start a battered women’s shelter, which grew out of the Gainesville Rape Crisis Center, and later a second staging program. She was interviewed in her Gainesville home in November 2012.

On feminist activism and community in Gainesville

"The late 60's, early 70's were a golden age in Gainesville, and we knew it at the time. By the 1970's, there was a huge feminist community—a call out would bring 100 women, no matter what it was. It was helped along by civil rights activism at the university, which reached out to the community with an organization called Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, which integrated black and white, town and gown. It was founded in 1963 by Judith Brown and Beverly Jones [later to co-author “The Florida Paper”]. Working in movements like that, you eventually come to recognize oppression and discrimination when it happens to you. Also, Judith Brown and Carol Giardina had a connection to the Redstockings in New York City. There wasn't any [women’s liberation activity] in the nation that wasn't going on here."

"In the Child Psychiatry Department at UF, three women were known as the “Feminist Mafia” because they challenged patriarchal notions of child psychology: Judy Levy, Byllye Avery, and me. Judy was assistant professor of Child Psychiatry, and Billye was an instructor in Child Psychiatry, both in the division of Child Psychiatry and Department of Psychiatry, Shands Teaching Hospital, University of Florida. I was head of the business office. We did all sorts of activism: a march on Blue Key that forced Blue Key (the political entrée to state political power) to admit women, a march on Tallahassee to pass the ERA; we gained salary parity for women U of F faculty by going to the National Labor Relations Board, helping the faculty union get started, and participating in many employee grievances; we got marital status included in the anti-discrimination city ordinance. Just to name a few. We did all of this with the support of our boss, Dr. Paul Adams, a Quaker and pacifist."

On the development of the Gainesville Women's Health Center

"The Gainesville Women’s Health Center began because Judy, Byllye, and I had abortions within a year of each other. The clinic grew out of our personal experiences, which left much to be desired. The patriarchal medical system failed us as women. We were treated with attitudes that ranged from punitive actions to pats on the head. We were united in our revulsion of the care and treatment of women."

"We had ambitious goals— birth to death alternative quality health care for women and their families. We did consider hospice in 1979, but decided against it. This was the twelfth freestanding abortion clinic outside of New York [opened May 2, 1974]. Joan Edelson saw to it that protocols established were attentive to educating and counseling women so that they could make an informed decision about their bodies, and that the clinic was homey, warm, and inviting to women. She did many things without telling Judy, Byllye or myself, to complete the clinic’s woman friendly atmosphere, things for which she was castigated, but, of course, she was absolutely correct. We were freaked out by the money it cost, but quickly saw that she was right about everything. Joan was the woman who brought Carol Downer to us, a lay midwife. She briefly established and ran a free-standing birth center in Jacksonville. Joan was our inspiration. We borrowed $12,000 to open the clinic. We paid it off in nine months. We borrowed more for the birth center and paid it back in eighteen months."

On the reactions of other abortion clinics and the University of Florida to the Center's opening

"Judy Levy and I went to New York to see how their abortion clinics worked. We also went to The Ladies Center in Jacksonville. Both were mills. In New York, the mill was by necessity due to the hundreds of women coming in every day for their abortion services. The Ladies Center was a “money maker,” and their mill had a profit motive. The one thing I will never forget there is a poster on the ceiling over a procedure table that read, “To Err is Human.” We did not inform the Ladies Center that we had opened an abortion clinic in Gainesville. She [The director?] offered us the same “finder’s fee” she was giving the Director of a drug program in Gainesville. When we returned, our next stop was to shut down the referrals. The drug program was three blocks from our clinic, and this joker was referring women to Jacksonville for $25 per. He ceased doing that immediately, and did not charge for the referrals that came to us."

"The Alachua County Ob/GYN Association raised hell with us for opening the clinic “without their permission.” Judy underwent a grueling three-hour meeting with them with our director from Jacksonville, Dr. Max Suter. The physicians were hysterical in tone and continued that way until the anti-abortionists began drowning them out in the late 1970’s."

"Judy Levy lost her bid for tenure at the University of Florida because she started the Gainesville Women’s Health Center. They actually said that in a letter. When she protested, they sent her a letter saying the tenure meeting never happened. The Chair of the Department of Psychiatry had hired a horrible guy (we called him the Beast of Buchwald) as head of child psychiatry explicitly to get rid of the Paul Adams people. Our boss, Paul Adams, MD, had left, and Judy and Byllye were the first to go after him. They then went to work at the Gainesville Women’s Health Center in the summer of 1976. The boss couldn't do anything about me because I was civil service and had due process. I left in December of 1976. In 1978, we started the seventh freestanding birth center in the United States. The clinic and the birth center were separate facilities due to a break within the board of directors."

"We were connected to the Boston Women’s Health Collective through Byllye Avery and Betsy David, and to Carol Downer, mother of feminist self-help (vaginal self-exams, etc.) from California, through Joan Edelson. Dr. Charlie Mahan, head of infant and maternal care at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, attended a 1978 United Nations Infant and Maternal Health Care meeting in New York City, and came back saying that nobody was offering the range of services that the Shands MIC, the Gainesville Women’s Health Center, the BirthPlace , and lay midwives were offering— abortion counseling, prenatal care, post-natal care, birth control education, a birth center, lay midwifery, community education on women’s health, including outreach to high schools, and in the late 70's, incest counseling."

"Judy Levy and Byllye Avery were the face of what we were doing in women’s health and domestic violence. They were educators and spoke on these issues at conferences around the nation. In about 1977, Judy Levy spoke at a matriarchy conference in New York that I attended. People like Gloria Steinem, Midge Costanza, Kate Millet, and Robin Morgan were there. After that, a reporter for Off Our Backs said the most important words spoken were by Judy Levy: “Without abortion, women can’t have equal rights.”

"We enjoyed an enormous community of women. We were not separated by sexual orientation or much of anything else. The parties were many, and greater fun no one had!! Byllye and I came out during this period. Like Flo Kennedy said, “Kicking ass is the greatest high.” We did a lot of that!"


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