My first impression of Merle Hoffman was that Joan Rivers had become an advocate for women’s rights—they had a lot in common. The times when I had the chance to work with Merle, or interview her, she was so outspoken that I could only nod my head from time to time, and take copious notes.
Her life took her from classical piano prodigy at Carnegie Hall to the forefront (and front lines) of women’s rights, here and abroad.
“My early years and adolescence were spent preparing to become a concert pianist. When I finally decided to go to college at the age of 22, I needed three part time jobs to pay for tuition—and one was with an internist, Dr. Martin Gold, for whom I worked as a medical assistant.” (Intimate Wars)
The year was 1970, and abortion had recently been decriminalized in the state of New York. Roe v. Wade was still 3 years away.
Merle told me that on one of her first days at the clinic, Dr. Gold told her to help a new patient who had come in for an abortion. Merle came from a very private life, filled mostly with piano lessons and performances. What could she possibly do that would be of any use? Here’s how Merle remembers that day:
“She came from New Jersey because abortion was still illegal in that state. She was white and married with a 7 year old. She was terrified, but she knew she just could not afford another child. I had to ‘counsel’ her (at that time there was absolutely no concept of this—everything was being done for the first time). I stayed with her and held her hand throughout her abortion—I don’t remember her name or her face but I remember her hand, and the thousands who have come after, forming an alliance of absolute faith and trust.”
You can read more about Merle in this review of her outstanding book, Intimate Wars.