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Ruth Proskauer Smith (August 14, 1907 – January 22, 2010) was a pro-choice and reproductive rights advocate.

Ruth P. Smith
Born(1907-08-14)August 14, 1907
DiedJanuary 22, 2010(2010-01-22) (aged 102)
Known forPro-choice activist
Theodore Smith
(m. 1932; div. 1946)
Parent(s)Joseph M. Proskauer and Alice Naumberg

Personal lifeEdit

Smith was born Ruth Proskauer on August 14, 1907, in Deal, New Jersey, to Joseph M. Proskauer and Alice Naumburg. Her father served on the New York Supreme Court, was an adviser to New York governor Alfred E. Smith, and was a partner in the law firm Proskauer Rose. Her mother was one of the founders of the Euthanasia Society of America. Smith grew up in Manhattan.[1]

For her secondary education, she attended Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City.[2] In 1929, Radcliffe College awarded her a bachelor's degree. Two years later, she received a Master of Fine Arts in medieval art from the same educational institution.[3]

On June 11, 1932,[2] she married Theodore Smith. They had a son, Anthony, and a daughter, Gael.[1] The marriage later ended in divorce in 1946.[4]

Early careerEdit

In the 1940s, Smith worked for the Massachusetts chapter of Planned Parenthood.[1] As an executive secretary of the organization, she unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the state's banning of birth control.[3] In 1953, she moved to New York to work at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she managed the family planning service.[3] Two years later, she became the executive director of the Human Betterment Association (later renamed Emergence of the World Population Control Movement), where she worked until 1964.[4]

In 1959, Smith's mother died an agonizing death. Smith became shocked at this occurrence and became one of the foremost leaders of voluntary euthanasia.[3] Even though she was almost ninety years old at the time, Smith donated and strategized for a campaign that culminated in the passing of Oregon's right-to-die law. Historian Ian Dowbiggin said that Smith "played a pivotal role in the struggle for birth control, for euthanasia, and for abortion."[3] Along with eleven other people, she helped establish the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL Pro-Choice America) in the 1960s.[1][3]

In 1962, she moved into a two-bedroom apartment in The Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and she continued to live in this fifth-floor home for the next 50 years.[4][5]

Later careerEdit

Until 2009, she held seminars four times a week for Quest, a program at the City College of New York for retirees, where she taught them about the history of the Supreme Court.

She appeared on Ken Burns' documentary Prohibition, released in 2011 after her death, describing how she and friends tried to make alcohol at home during the Prohibition era, but failed, and her visits to the 21 Club in New York City at the time.[6][7][8]

Death and burialEdit

Smith died on January 22, 2010, in New York at her home[4] in Manhattan's Upper West Side.[5] Her son, Anthony, said that she "died where she wanted to, when she wanted to, and as she wanted to."[3] At the time of her death, she had six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.[1]

In 2016, the New York Times reported that her remains ended up in a mass grave in the potter's field on New York City's Hart Island, three years after her body was donated to New York University School of Medicine for scientific purposes.[9][10]


  1. ^ a b c d e Fox, Margalit (2010-02-20). "Ruth P. Smith, Abortion-Rights Pioneer, Dies at 102". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  2. ^ a b "Smith, Ruth Proskauer, 1907- . Papers, 1959-1975: A Finding Aid". Harvard University Library. Archived from the original on 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Miller, Stephen (2010-01-26). "Smith Was a Crusader on Issues of Cradle and Grave". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  4. ^ a b c d Alandete, David (2010-02-01). "Ruth P. Smith, pionera del derecho al aborto en EE UU". El País (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2010-02-20. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Elizabeth A. "Change Comes to a Dakota Apartment; Homesteading at the Dakota", New York Times, July 27, 2010, p. R-2. Accessed August 10, 2012. "For almost 50 years, she lived at the Dakota on 72nd Street at Central Park West. She died earlier this year at 102, and her estate is now listing her two-bedroom there for $6.95 million."
  6. ^ "Prohibition (2011)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 22, 2014.
  7. ^ Burns, Ken (October 3, 2011). "A Nation of Scofflaws". Prohibition. PBS.
  8. ^ Burns, Ken (October 4, 2011). "A Nation of Hypocrites". Prohibition. PBS.
  9. ^ Bernstein, Nina (May 15, 2016). "Unearthing the Secrets of New York's Mass Graves". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Bernstein, Nina (May 28, 2016). "Bodies Given to N.Y.U. Ended Up in Mass Graves, Despite Donors' Wishes". New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 27 May 2016.

External linksEdit