By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
5:16 PM EDT, October 24, 2012
Dr. Frances H. Trimble, a gynecologist who had been medical director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland for nearly three decades, died Friday of pneumonia at Roland Park Place. She was 94.
"She took Planned Parenthood from a highly criticized small organization at the time and made it into a force," said Dr. J. Courtland Robinson, who succeeded Dr. Trimble as medical director. "It was about women's rights and contraception, and she gave it the medical leadership to make it go. And it grew into a large, large organization."
The daughter of a master mariner and a nurse, the former Frances Hartley Smith was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, where she graduated in 1935 from Hornsby Girls High School.
She was 17 when she entered the University of Sydney School of Medicine, from which she graduated in 1941.
While training in obstetrics and gynecology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, she met her future husband, Dr. I. Ridgeway Trimble, a Baltimorean who was chief of surgery for the 118th U.S. Army General Hospital.
At the end of the war, the couple married in 1945. She came to New York in 1946 aboard a freighter, where she had been the ship's doctor.
Once in Baltimore, Dr. Trimble obtained a U.S. medical license and began practicing medicine. She became associated with Planned Parenthood, then on Broadway near Hopkins, in 1950, when she started work with the infertility clinic, a service for low-income childless couples.
While working in 1952 with Dr. Edward F. Lewison, a surgeon who became an international authority on breast cancer and founded the Johns Hopkins Hospital Breast Cancer Clinic, Dr. Trimble became more involved with Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Trimble was named medical director of the organization in 1956.
Planned Parenthood later moved to 25th Street, North Charles Street and finally to its present home on Howard Street.
In 1972, when Dr. Trimble was presented the Margaret Sanger Award, she told The Baltimore Sun in an interview that "family planning has only had respectability in the past 10 years."
She explained that due to the controversial nature of family planning and birth control, she had worked tirelessly for the acceptance of Planned Parenthood and its various programs.
"I can remember just five years ago, only two hospitals in Maryland had birth-control services. Before Planned Parenthood, women who couldn't afford birth control from private gynecologists were just having babies," she said.
"The biggest breakthrough came when public health came into the field. That was in 1962. Before that, a woman could call the State Department of Health and ask for birth-control information and they wouldn't even tell her where she could get it.
"Until 10 years ago, we couldn't publicize clinics or activities. People just couldn't get information as to where to get these services," said Dr. Trimble.
In a 1966 interview with The Sun, Dr. Trimble considered overpopulation "the greatest threat facing the community of nations today," and said that population control gave respectability and meaning to Planned Parenthood's mission.
She said the organization's services were geared toward women who couldn't afford private doctors but added that many young women were also drawn to it.
"Young people feel that the attitudes here are more liberal than those of private doctors," she said, explaining that the median age of Planned Parenthood patients was 22 years.
"She provided services to a segment of society that couldn't get it," said Dr. Robinson.
In 1969, Dr. Trimble became an outspoken advocate for contraceptive vending machines, restricted by a 1950 statue, to be expanded from bars and taverns to gas stations and other public locations.
While favoring birth control pills and intrauterine devices, Dr. Trimble did not support abortion as a suitable method of birth control. "But it ought to be available as a back-up when other methods fail," she said in the 1972 article.
She treated patients at Planned Parenthood's downtown clinic and provided services at satellite offices in Brooklyn and at Goucher College Health Center and Catonsville Community College.
Mary Ruth Seidel worked as a Planned Parenthood educator starting in the late 1960s.
"Frances was a very elegant, caring, warm and beautiful person who did her job in the most wonderful way," said Ms. Seidel, who lives in Columbia. "It was not easy being medical director of the organization at such a turbulent time in our world," she said. "The '60s were a time of revolution and change, but she adapted and served her patients well."
She said that Dr. Trimble "never imposed anything she believed in on her patients. They loved her and the staff loved her."
Dr. Trimble retired in 1983.
She had lived on Charlesmeade Road in North Baltimore and Guilford, where she maintained extensive gardens and greenhouses. After moving to Roland Park Place in 1996, she was chairwoman of the grounds committee.
She was an accomplished needleworker and as a member of the Roland Park Place Quilting group, made quilts for the children at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.
Dr. Trimble volunteered with Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland and worked with hospice patients at the Joseph Richey House. She also participated in the program organized by various Mount Vernon churches that prepared breakfast for the homeless.
Since 1946, she had been an active communicant of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, where she had served as a member of its Altar Guild and vestry.
Her husband died in 1979.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.
Surviving are two sons, Edward L. Trimble of Baltimore and Dr. I. Ridgeway Trimble III of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; a daughter, Elizabeth H. Trimble of Baltimore; a brother, Phillip H. Smith of Pittsburgh; and three grandchildren.
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