Sophomore Seminars

A History of Reproductive Rights in the US


Since the late 19th century, a woman’s right to control her intimate reproductive life in the United States emerged as a publicly contested arena. This conflict and the stakes for reproductive rights has never been more fraught than in our present moment.

This course explores the long history of women’s reproductive lives in the US as the context for that struggle. Topics include the history of women’s sexuality, birth control, abortion, childbirth, and motherhood. We will examine women’s personal experience of these processes, and the religious, moral legal, and policy frameworks that sought to regulate them. We also explore the series of feminist movements that emerged to protect women’s reproductive rights, leading to the current legal battles. We will conclude with current court cases challenging abortion laws.

Questions we will grapple with include: what are reproductive rights and how do they fit within the context of overall women’s rights? What historical forces have shaped women’s ability to control their reproductive lives? How has women’s control of their reproductive lives varied by race, ethnicity and class? What factors led to the recent polarization in attitudes towards reproductive rights in the US?

Meet the Instructor(s)

Margo Horn

Margo Horn's teaching and research focuses on U.S. women's history and the history of medicine. She has a longstanding fascination in the history of madness and psychiatry. Her concern about women’s rights and the current debate over abortion led her to develop this course on the history of reproductive rights. The course will provide students with historical grounding to think critically about these important issues. Professor Horn teaches in Stanford’s Programs in American Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of Before It's Too Late: The Child Guidance Movement in the United States, 1922-1945, which examines the development of outpatient child psychiatry. Her current research focuses on women and mental illness in U.S. history, the history of women physicians, and the history of global women leaders. She also taught in Stanford’s Department of History and program in Structured Liberal Education (SLE). Professor Horn spent several summers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, directing a project to help local high school students gain admission to US colleges and universities. In 2018, she was appointed the Silverman Visiting Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science at Tel Aviv University.