Skip to main content

Lawrence Lader papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00704

Scope and Contents

The Lawrence Lader papers document his work as an author and activist for women's reproductive rights, including safe and legal abortion.

The first accession of materials, from 2012, includes articles, manuscripts, published books, correspondence, notebooks, publicity, and radio scripts. Especially well-documented is Lader's effort in the 1990s to make RU 486 available in the US. The papers include examples of Lader's school work from grade school through college, as well as multiple drafts of an unpublished memoir, but otherwise do not include many records of a personal nature.

The additions to the records received in 2018 contain records relating to three significant lawsuits in which Lader was involved: Baker v Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM), relating to the enforcement of the anti-electioneering provisions of IRS Code § 501(c)(3) against the US Catholic Church’s anti-abortion political activities; Benten v Kessler, relating to Lader’s importation of RU-486 into the US to challenge the Federal government’s refusal to approve the drug; and a smaller amount on the ARM v Regan case, which concerns abortion rights and the Constitutional separation of church and state.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1929 - 2006


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Joan Lader has assigned the copyright in Lawrence Lader's works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Lawrence Lader, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical Note

Lawrence Lader (1919-2006) was a birth control and abortion-rights activist and author. Among many other actions, he co-founded NARAL Pro-Choice America with Betty Friedan and others, and was active in the lawsuits that made RU-486 legal in the United States in 2000.

Lawrence Powell Lader was born in Manhattan in 1919; his father was a successful business man whose family owned a food additive company. In 1941 he graduated from Harvard University; while a student there, he co-founded the first student-run radio station as well as worked on the university's newspaper, The Crimson. Before joining the Army in 1942, Lader spent one year as the program director for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, an ABC affiliate. While in the Army (1942-1946), he rose from private to lieutenant and served mostly in the South Pacific and as chief, Troop Information, New York office, Armed Forces Radio. After WWII, Lader began writing for several of the nation's leading publications, publishing hundreds of articles over the next six decades. His work appeared in, among others, The Nation, New Yorker, Look, and the New York Times.

In 1955, Lader published the first of his twelve books, The Margaret Sanger Story. He would later say that he "admired her fiery commitment and said she undoubtedly was the greatest influence on my life"(LA Times, 5/14/06). Lader would devote most of the rest of his life to making birth control accessible and abortion safe and legal. In 1969, he and others, including long-time friend Betty Friedan, founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. By 1976, Lader felt that NARAL was not acting aggressively enough and founded his own organization, Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM) which was especially active in the 1980s, fighting the power of the Catholic Church and in the 1990s, working to make RU-486, the banned abortion pill, available in the US. That goal was achieved in 2000 when the US Food and Drug Administration finally approved the drug, marked under the name of Mifeprex.

The titles of Laders several books reflect his life work and include, in addition to the Sanger biography, Abortion (1966) and Abortion II: Making the Revolution (1973), Politics, Power, and the Church: the Catholic Crisis and the Challenge to American Pluralism (1987), and RU 486: The Pill That Could End the Abortion Wars and Why American Women Dont Have It (1991). Earlier in his career, he wrote about race in New Yorks Bloodiest Week: The Draft Riots of 1863 Turned a Great City into a Living Hell (1959) and The Bold Brahmins: New Englands War Against Slavery, 1831-1863 (1961). Politically, Lawrence Lader was very much on the extreme left--as a young man, he was district leader for Repreresentative Vito Marcantonio,"still considered one of the country's most radical congressmen."(NYT, 5/10/06) At the age of twenty-nine, Lader ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Assembly on Marcantonios American Labor Party ticket. His first marriage (1942-1946) was to Jean MacInnis who was just as progressive. While married to Lader, she kept her own name and a separate bank account.

In 1961, Lader married Joan Summers with whom he had a daughter, Wendy Summers Lader. Lader died of colon cancer at the age of 86. After he died in 2006, his wife of forty-five years told the Los Angeles Times that Lader "kept pressing the cause of abortion rights until his of [his] last acts was to pay for an ad in a Sioux Falls newspaper" in protest over South Dakota's 2006 law banning abortions.


13.23 linear feet (15 containers)

Language of Materials



Lawrence Lader (1919-2006) was a birth control and abortion-rights activist and author. Among many other actions, he co-founded NARAL Pro-Choice America with Betty Friedan and others, and was active in the lawsuits that made RU-486 legal in the United States in 2000. This collection documents his work as an author and activist for women's reproductive rights, including safe and legal abortion.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The first portion of the Lawrence Lader Papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection by his widow Joan Lader in 2012 (accession 12S-71). Later additions were sent by his colleague, Marshall Beil, who was asked by Joan Lader to review the materials before donation (accessions 2018-S-0006 and 2018-S-0013).

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.



Finding aid to the Lawrence Lader papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-09-04: First finding aid published, includes new accessions
  • 2021-07-02: Content description added from accession inventory

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063