To hear philanthropist Cecilia Guthrie Boone tell it, she was primed early to work on gender equality and women’s health issues.
While Boone was a toddler in Kentucky, her mother, Marie Keene Guthrie, was widowed and had to make her own way with three small children. Years later, she recalled her watching how her mother was treated when she became the first woman elected to countywide office in an office full of men: like their secretary.
“I noticed,” said Dallas resident Boone, 70.
That small-town upbringing has informed a life’s work as a volunteer and fund-raiser for causes that benefit women and girls. It crystallized in the years she worked at IBM, where, she said, there were “jobs for men and jobs for women.”
We’d be hard-pressed to find a Texan who’s worked more tirelessly on grassroots boards and commissions over the years that try to improve the lives of women, particularly poor women. For her remarkable grace and courage in the face of unwavering opposition from far-right conservatives, Boone is a worthy finalist for Texan of the Year.
Her list of leadership roles is long. She’s the former chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she led the girls empowerment organization Girls Inc, she chaired the Dallas Women’s Foundation and Annie’s List, a Texas political action committee that recruits and finances Democratic female candidates.
But it’s her work this year through the Boone Family Foundation, which she started with her husband, Garrett Boone, co-founder of The Container Store, that may be the biggest game-changer for women’s health in a while.
Boone partnered with the Harold Simmons Foundation to provide $2 million for long-acting reversible contraception, or LARCs, such as IUDs, for low-income women. The program is expected to serve 1,000 women each year at some Planned Parenthood health centers throughout North Texas.
The up-front cost of these safe and reliable forms of contraception have been out of reach for many young and low-income women.
“This is really a no-brainer. It’s an answer to the conundrum we face” of the strident debate over abortion rights, she said.
Signs say she’s on to something. In a six-year study in Colorado, teenagers and poor women were offered free LARCs, such as IUDs, and birthrates among teenagers plunged by 40 percent. Further, the rate of abortions fell by 42 percent.
Those are startling results that could make North Texas women’s lives better.
“For gender equality to be a reality, women have to be able to control their reproductive systems – to decide when they will have children,” she said. “That’s especially true for poor women.”
Boone has more than done her part to help. Dallas and Texas women are all the better for it.