Lena Levine was a pioneer in the birth control movement and marriage counseling. She worked very closely with Margaret Sanger and traveled with her to many world conferences.
She was born on May 17, 1903, in Brooklyn, New York, to Sophie and Morris H. Levine, a successful clothing manufacturer. Her parents were Russian Jews from Lithuania, who immigrated to the United States in the 1890's. Levine went through the public educational system, graduating from Hunter College in 1923 with an A.B. Degree. She received her medical degree from Bellevue College, in 1927. Levine married Louis Ferber, a fellow student and they both did their residencies at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital.
She became a gynecologist and an obstetrician and her husband was a general practitioner. She retained her maiden name in her professional life. They had two children: Ellen Louise (1939) and Michael Allen (1942). Unfortunately, Michael, as an infant, became retarded from an illness and later in life was institutionalized.
Tragedy confronted her again, when in 1942 Louis Ferber died of a heart attack. She was deeply affected and decided to give up obstetrics. She became very close with her daughter and with her housekeeper, Pearl Harrison, who remained with the family until Levine died.
Levine met Margaret Sanger and became involved with birth control and planned parenthood. Planned parenthood and marriage counseling became the focus of her life. She became the medical secretary of the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation.
She was active in marriage counseling in New York with Hannah and Abraham Stone. When Hannah died in 1941, she and Abraham Stone organized a group counseling program on sex and contraception under the sponsorship of Planned Parenthood. This was the first program of its kind in the United States.
Levine offered group therapy for sexual problems and she ran a special consultant bureau for pregnant women. As a physician and psychiatrist, she helped women with their physical and emotional problems and counseled them on the use of contraceptives.
Levine was the author and co-author of five books on marriage and sex problems. She also wrote many pamphlets and papers on women's medical and psychological problems for the lay readers and professionals. She lectured widely in America and abroad on sex education, planned parenthood and marriage. She frequently appeared on national television and radio discussing the topics that she wrote about.
She was a supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and other social reform and legislation that affected women. In 1964, she was invited by Sargeant Shriver, Director of the Peace Corps to meet with 100 other women in Washington, D.C. for a conference on the anti-poverty program.
Levine believed that women's sexual enjoyment, free access to birth control and frankness about sexual techniques contributed to stronger marriages and psychologically healthier children. She advocated "an annual checkup on marriage," like a medical checkup, declaring that an annual re-evaluation was beneficial to new and old marriages. Premarital training was another important step to a successful marriage.
Lena Levine died of a stroke on January 9, 1965. Her pioneer work in planned parenthood, sex education and marriage counseling was the precursor of the expanded educational programs that are available today from puberty to old age.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour “Sy” Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.