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reed magazine logoSummer 2008

Talking About Sex

Marjorie Saltzman 44 teaching sex ed for Planned

DEAR ABBY: I am a Planned Parenthood speaker with a serious problem. I am writing in the hope that you can help me dispel the myth that Mountain Dew soft drinks prevent pregnancy. I have been working to dispel this myth for about two years—and it seems I am paddling upstream.

So begins a letter written by Marjorie Saltzman ’44 in 1999. It was published nationally and around the world in a Dear Abby column. Saltzman’s discovery of this urban myth also made the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

In January this year, after 40 years of service, Saltzman turned in her sex-ed kit to Planned Parenthood of Columbia /Willamette (PPCW). She
is the longest-serving volunteer in the agency’s history. “Marjorie has done more to prevent teen pregnancy in Oregon than anyone else I can think of,” says Dr. David Greenberg, PPCW’s chief executive officer. “She is one of my heroes.”

Saltzman started at the agency in 1968, working
as a pill desk volunteer and pregnancy options counselor. “I worked one night a week, at first,” she says. “I was inspired by my good friend Jean Rustin, who was a dedicated Planned Parenthood volunteer before she passed away.”

In 1980, Saltzman was at the clinic when one of the sex educators canceled on short notice. She was assigned to substitute. “I knew all of the information,” she says, “but here they wanted me to talk to 30 kids all at once.”

She loved it and very quickly became one of PPCW’s most sought-after volunteer sex educators. She was tireless—keeping a full-time schedule of visits to schools, prisons, hospitals, and community groups throughout the state to talk about birth control, abortion rights, and responsible sexuality.

“I would go to one school in the morning,” says Saltzman, “another in the afternoon. I really enjoyed it. The teachers were so glad to have me, the kids were so attentive. They needed this information and they knew it. Once I got started there was no way I would ever have stopped.”

Among the questions submitted in writing by Portland sixth graders during one of Saltzman’s sessions in 1988 were these:

“If a condom broke inside the female during sexual intercourse, if it slipped off the man’s penis, can the lady get pregnant and how will the condom get out?”
“If there was a horror house could a lady have sex with two men at one time?”
“What is doosh?”

No doubt Saltzman answered the questions carefully and straightforwardly. Her speaker evaluation forms describe her as warm, down-to-earth, and, perhaps most importantly for someone talking about intimate matters with children and young adults, unflappable.

Saltzman started donating small amounts of money to PPCW in the 1970s. In 2002 she set up the Marjorie Saltzman Educational Endowment Fund and recently she and her family gave $500,000 toward the construction of a new Regional Service Center. The education wing at PPCW’s new building will be called the Marjorie Saltzman Education Center.

Portland State University’s Walk of the Heroines also honors Saltzman for her lifelong dedication to pregnancy prevention. There will be a bench inscribed with her name along the route.

Born Marjorie Foster in Sandpoint, Idaho, she remembers an idyllic childhood swimming and skating at the lake. “We were the only Jewish family in Sandpoint. We moved to Portland when I was 16.”

She attended Reed for one year—and still remembers a class taught by Frank Munk—before joining her sister at the University of Washington, from which she graduated with a degree in psychology.

She and her husband, Jack Saltzman, had four children: Jeffrey, Barbara, Dan—who is a long-serving Portland city commissioner—and Julie. Jack, who founded Oregon Pacific Investment and Development, died four years ago. Her two abiding passions, she says, are her family and her work for Planned Parenthood, and she remains thankful to her family for their understanding and patience about the time she spent away from home.

After all, she says, she knew that she was doing important work. “Many people still don’t talk to their children about sex. Kids need to know this information. There’s nothing better than feeling that you’re doing something.”

—Rebecca Koffman

reed magazine logoSummer 2008