Bessie Moses, M.D.

(1893 - 1965)


Dr. Bessie L. Moses was a Johns Hopkins University obstetrician and gynecologist, and a pioneer in the birth control movement form 1926 till her death in 1965.

Dr. Moses was born in Baltimore in 1893 into what was considered one of Baltimore's most prominent German-Jewish families. She graduated from Goucher College and John Hopkins University, and taught biology and zoology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts before entering Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Although her parents opposed her desire to become a physician, Dr. Moses became the first woman obstetrical intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

After consulting with Margaret Sanger, noted reproductive rights activist and founder of the first birth control clinic in New York City, Dr. Moses organized the first contraceptive clinic in Maryland in 1927, called the Planned Parenthood Clinic. Upon the opening of the new clinic, Dr. Moses explained, "The present industrial depression has as never before made people of all classes question the advisability of bringing yet more children into an already over-crowed world, a world with millions of families . . . with just enough food to keep them from starvation and not enough clothes to cover them decently." 

Nearly forty years later, shortly after Dr. Moses died in 1965, she was remembered for her foresight and understanding of the world population crisis with these words from a Baltimore Sun editorialist: "The day that Dr. Bessie Moses died the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health announced receipt of a grant of $700,000 from the Federal Government for studies in birth control. Four decades ago, when Dr. Moses opened her clinic on Broadway, her medical specialty was fenced about with restrictions and almost forced underground. Today, it is still the subject of controversy but the battle is being fought in the open, on grounds of reason and not of fantasy or taboo . . . With world population increasing even faster than demographers of the 1930's thought possible, the problem has assumed crisis proportions which have led governments, among them that of the United States, to act. Research and education may be able to prevent chaos in the world's underdeveloped countries, but they would not have had the chance without the pioneering work of scientists and humanitarians like Bessie Moses."

Dr. Moses' work was groundbreaking indeed, and accomplished with a kind sensitivity to her patients' needs and experiences that is rare even today. In 1950, Dr. Moses and Margaret Sanger were the first women honored with the Lasker Award of Planned Parenthood World Population. The award recognized Dr. Moses'  brilliant career as a gynecologist. Upon receipt of the award, it was written of Dr. Moses that, "To be a woman first and a doctor afterward is the prime tenet of Dr. Bessie L. Moses' life." At the same time, she said of herself, "In treating patients, especially young women with whom I come into contact a great deal, you must have as full a life as possible outside of medicine, so as to impress yourself upon them as a woman like themselves and not as a gowned medic."

An extraordinary scientist, medical practitioner and humanitarian, Dr. Moses remained  medical director of her Planned Parenthood Clinic in Baltimore until she retired in 1956.


© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001