By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
For Charlotte Taft, the personal was not only political but professional. As she struggled to transform herself, evolving from feminist to humanist to gay activist to New Ageist, picking and choosing the paradigms that worked for her, she brought the Routh Street Women's Clinic along with her. As a personal memoir of the women's movement, that journey was always controversial--and often dangerous.
When Charlotte Taft recalls her college days at Brown University circa 1970, she remembers arguing with friends that she "didn't need a women's movement." She considered herself an intellectual who could hold her own in a man's world by arming herself with enough facts and figures to convert a Republican into a believer in big government. She was "a man's woman" who marched and protested and went on strike against the Vietnam War. She found women foolish and uninteresting, right up until she took a class entitled "The Politics of Women's Liberation." "It lit a fire in me," says Charlotte. "After that point, I began to see everything in my life in the context of my feminism."
For many "women's libbers," feminism meant hating men--hating their ready resort to violence, their power over women, children, the environment. Charlotte says she realized early on that the movement wasn't about revolution but transformation, not about overpowering men--seizing their jobs, their roles, their institutions--but about empowering women. The first step seemed a logical one; if women could gain control over their bodies, they could gain control over their lives.
Charlotte grew deeply involved in abortion politics. Again, she took to the streets, this time with her sisters. She helped organize the Rhode Island Coalition for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, a group which filed a class-action suit, hoping to become a test case for the Supreme Court to overturn laws which criminalized abortion. Instead the Court chose a case out of Texas, Roe vs. Wade, which in 1973 brought abortions out of back alleys and into medical clinics.
Charlotte spent the next several years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, obtaining a masters degree in feminist studies and debating the great women's issues of the day. At age 25 she fell in love--but not with a man. "The option for being gay or straight is in me," she explains. "But only with women do I find the kind of emotional connection that I want."
In 1975, Charlotte moved to Dallas to be with her lover and got to experience the beginning of the women's movement all over again. Feminist ideology was making its first assault on the macho mindset of Bible-belted Texans. The Equal Rights Amendment was up for grabs, pro-choice groups on the rise. Yet some local activists had difficulty confronting the good-ol'-boy establishment so pervasive within this city. Not Charlotte Taft.
Already an articulate feminist, she arrived in Dallas unemployed, unaligned, and uncompromising. "I got to be famous pretty quickly," says Taft, whose blonde, statuesque presence and grace under fire made her incredibly telegenic. "When someone needed a response from a feminist, they put a microphone in front of me."
While some women picked their fights carefully, choosing to push the issue dearest to their hearts, Charlotte saw each issue as an essential part of a greater feminist whole. She did, however, refuse to champion the cause of gay rights, feeling that she would undermine her effectiveness if she publicly acknowledged her sexual preference.
In late 1975, after being interviewed about abortion politics on a local TV news show, she learned about an opening for an abortion counselor at the Fairmount Center in Dallas and decided to apply. Although she could argue about the right to choose with the fervor of a televangelist, she had never actually witnessed an abortion. "I was totally unprepared for what I saw," she recalls. "I fainted dead away, but they hired me anyway."
Charlotte worked at the Fairmount Center for nearly two years, but it was not an easy time for her. She had too many opinions, wanted to run everything her way. Her supervisor finally told her she was getting too involved in her patients' lives. It would not be the last time Taft would hear such criticism.
After getting demoted, she quit, but not before forging an alliance with two of Fairmount's doctors, Lea Braun and Bob Glick. They agreed to stake Charlotte in managing a new clinic.
Dr. Braun sought the counsel of his divorce lawyer, Scott Hudson, who became the clinic's corporate attorney and board chairman. Hudson recalls his initial lunch meeting with Charlotte and Dr. Braun. "We all agreed that the clinic ought to be an institution run by women for women. The idea wasn't that we were all going to get rich."
Hudson put the corporate structure in place, creating two separate entities, medical and management, with him acting as a buffer between the two. By law, the clinic needed a doctor to be its medical director. Dr. Braun agreed to serve in that capacity. The newly formed corporation leased space in a quaint building on Routh Street in Oak Lawn--enough to house the clinic, Hudson's law office, and Dr. Braun's private ob-gyn practice.
It took nine months to plan, but in April of 1978, the Routh Street Women's Clinic opened its doors to the women of Dallas.