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Watch: Women Act to Control Healthcare
by the CWLU Herstory Editorial Committee

In 1972, the Chicago Maternity Center, which had served pregnant women on the impoverished West Side of Chicago since 1895, was under attack. At that time the Maternity Center was the only at-home delivery service available to urban women in the USA and the medical establishment was determined to close it.

Puzzled West Siders wondered why, as the clinic had a long history of excellent patient care. When it was founded, it was one of the first clinics to recognize the importance of antiseptic surroundings for a birthing mother. Later under the direction of Dr. Beatrice Tucker, it was delivering 1200 babies a year in women's homes. The ethnic composition of the West Side changed over the years, but the Chicago Maternity Center never wavered in its commitment to serve the poor. The Center depended upon local hospitals and medical schools to obtain medical students and doctors to assist in its work.

Fearing competition with its planned Prentiss Womens' Hospital, Northwestern University moved to close the Center. There was also a deep seated prejudice against home birthing, partly because it did not rely on profitable hospitalizations and expensive high tech equipment. The Center believed that hospitalization and high tech intervention were only necessary in unusual emergency situations.

When the Women's Union heard about the danger to the Maternity Center's existence, concerned CWLU members organized WATCH and tried to build support for the Center's continued existence. They held demonstrations and meetings and organized negotiations to try to save the Center.

Meanwhile two CWLUers approached Kartemquin Films (best known today for the award winning Hoop Dreams), and suggested that Kartemquin help them do a film on the struggle to save the Maternity Center. The resulting documentary, The Chicago Maternity Center, still remains a classic of radical documentary film making. You may purchase a copy of the video by visiting our Feminist Marketplace.

WATCH did succeed in delaying the closing of the Chicago Maternity Center, but ultimately financial and political clout prevailed and the Center was forced to close its doors.