Dr. Frances H. Trimble

Dr. Frances H. Trimble (July 27, 2008)

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.