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Columbia City of Women Honoree

Suzan D. Boyd

Image courtesy Suzan D. Boyd and Ed Sellers

"It is important to refrain from romanticizing parenthood, especially for young single teens who may see a child as a source of much-needed love and affection." - Suzan D. Boyd, August 17, 2002, advocating for the Baby Think It Over doll

Suzan D. Boyd was born July 23, 1945. A 1966 graduate of the Barnes Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri, Boyd moved to Boston to pursue additional studies at Boston College, Yale University, and Simmons College. She was a founding provider and later administrator for the Brookside Park Family Life Center in Jamaica Plain, the city’s first public health clinic. Brookside, established in 1970 by the Boston Model Cities Administration, treated families as a singular unit; when one member came to the clinic, the entire family was registered. The clinic grew rapidly, from 5,000 patient visits in 1970 to 45,000 in 1978. Seeing patients struggling to raise children in poverty ultimately informed Boyd’s future work. In 1995, she noted that “teen pregnancy is, tragically, a predictor of future poverty and hardship.” Most of these pregnancies were accidental. Boyd, as the leader of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, would help ensure that teens had the tools to make choices rather than remain uninformed and suffer the consequences alone.

Nursing Class
Barnes Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1966. Image via DigitalCommons@Becker, Washington University School of Medicine

In 1978, Boyd married M. Edward Sellers. The couple moved to Chicago, where she worked as Vice President of Ambulatory Services at St. Joseph Hospital, and had a son. They moved to South Carolina in 1987, when Sellers was hired by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. Boyd used this opportunity to enroll at the University of South Carolina’s School of Public Health, where she taught and completed a doctorate. Simultaneously, she served on the board and as chair of Planned Parenthood of Central South Carolina. As president of that organization in 1995, she lobbied against the “child exclusion” policy in the Family Independence Act, which barred additional benefits to a family for children born 10 or more months after the family began receiving welfare. In a letter to The State, Boyd appealed to readers’ logic, asking, “What can best help women to avoid unintended pregnancy—access to sexuality education and family planning services, or moralistic and financial punishment if they give birth?” At the time, an estimated 70,000 poor women in South Carolina did not have access to family planning services, and this was why so many children were being born to poor mothers, not, as the legislation suggested, because they wanted to use their children to make money. The clause ultimately remained under the “Parental Responsibility” section.

In 2001, Boyd was hired as executive director of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Founded in 1994 as a grassroots organization supported by funds from the March of Dimes, the campaign transformed under Boyd’s leadership. After securing federal funds from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and state line-item funding under the Department of Social Services, Boyd expanded the staff from three to 15 full-time employees, expanded the organization’s reach to all 46 counties, and began deploying research-based policies and practices known to decrease teen pregnancies. As she noted in the campaign’s 2006 annual report, the organization was often asked “What can I do in my community to prevent teen pregnancy?" According to Boyd, findings showed that instruction could emphasize abstinence but needed to be open to educating about safe sex practices:

Some programs do this by delaying the initiation of sexual activity among youth, some aim to decrease the frequency of sexual intercourse, and some aim to increase the use of condoms and contraception among teens who are having sex. There are also programs that have been shown to impact a combination of these behaviors. One thing is clear, no matter the behavioral outcomes: all effective curricula present a strong message that abstinence is the first and best choice for young people combined with information on condoms and contraception.

This comprehensive educational strategy was working, and the campaign could show that it was what the public desired. A poll taken in 2005 showed that 81% of registered voters believed that both abstinence and contraception should be included in sex education in public schools. The campaign achieved this support in part through a broad media advocacy program. In addition to publishing op-eds and distributing press releases, the group paid for statewide billboards, radio public service announcements, a weekly email newsletter received by several hundred providers, and a variety of fact sheets for providers and parents. During the 2003-04 fiscal year, the campaign issued its first series of mini-grants, awarded to programs across the state to implement local awareness campaigns and enact science-based curriculum. The grantees were then invited to speak on their work at the annual Summer Institute. During Boyd’s tenure, this conference grew into a nationally respected gathering of providers, including health care workers, social workers, educators, and other community activists. Boyd’s strategic shift helped lower teen pregnancy by 33% over a 10-year period.

Boyd stepped down from the campaign in 2006. She is currently serving her second stint on Columbia Museum of Art’s board of trustees, a position she has held since 2015. She previously served from 2003-2007, the latter three years as president.

Want to learn more about Suzan D. Boyd? Connect with a historian at Historic Columbia.

Interested in advancing the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina's women, girls, and their families? Check out what's going on at WREN.

1511 Gregg Street
Former South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Office

Built in 1910 as a residence, this building served as the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy office, from its founding in 1994 until 2005. Under the leadership of Suzan D. Boyd in the mid-2000s, the organization tripled its funding, quintupled its staff, and amassed volumes of new analytical data. During its first decade, the campaign helped achieve a 30% decrease in teen pregnancies across the state.

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Celebrating Suzan D. Boyd

In 2002, Boyd became the executive director of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Under her leadership, the campaign expanded to all 46 counties, and began deploying research-based policies and practices known to decrease teen pregnancies. This strategy helped lower teen pregnancy by 33% over a 10-year period.
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