ACOG Mourns the Passing of Former Leader Dr. Luella Klein

A trailblazer, leader, teacher, mentor, and pioneer. That is how the ACOG family will remember Dr. Luella Klein. As a clinician, professor, department chair, first woman president of ACOG, and ACOG staff vice president, her influence and contributions to our specialty and organization continue to shape ACOG and affect women’s health today.

Born in Walker, Iowa, during the Great Depression, Dr. Klein enrolled in the University of Iowa, received her medical degree in 1949, and completed her specialty training in obstetrics and gynecology at Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. 

Dr. Klein devoted her career to the advancement of women’s health. Over the course of her 60-year career, Dr. Klein championed equality in health care for adolescents and women from many underserved populations, among them women of color, women who were low-income, women who were incarcerated, LBTQI+ women, women with disabilities, and women with HIV. She spearheaded policy and practice improvement in many arenas and organizations in medicine and public health to improve women’s health and well-being. As vice president of the former division of women’s health issues at ACOG from 1979 to 1986, she also championed ACOG’s 20-year federal partnership for infant mortality review and ACOG’s substance abuse initiative and oversaw the nearly 50-year collaboration with the Indian Health Service through ACOG’s Committee on American Indian/Alaska Native Women’s Health. 

During her term as ACOG president in 1984, Dr. Klein focused on topics to which she was most dedicated: domestic violence, family planning, and teen pregnancy. Dr. Klein spurred the house of medicine to respond to the epidemic of violence against women with ACOG’s model domestic violence intervention program. In 1986, after her term as president, she led sessions on spousal abuse at the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health, and in 1989 she joined former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop in announcing a campaign to encourage ob-gyns and other health care providers to screen for domestic violence and provide empathic support and resources to patients. 

Dr. Klein’s impact in the area of family planning cannot be emphasized enough. Some of her first work with ACOG was done as a member of a task force addressing teen pregnancy: She believed that communicating with teenage patients about contraceptive options was crucial and advocated for adolescents’ right to access to confidential care and comprehensive sex education. She raised awareness of family planning issues by authoring a number of pieces on family planning and teen pregnancy for various publications and working with the media to have public service announcements and programs aired that focused on sexual responsibility and pregnancy prevention. After her term as ACOG president, she went on to serve as vice chair of the board at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization focused on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights across the globe.

Her work was widely recognized for its effectiveness and long-lasting impact. In 1984, former Rep. J. Roy Rowland (D-GA) included To Have or Not to Have a Pregnancy, Dr. Klein’s article that discussed the prevalence of unintended pregnancies, the importance of family planning in securing women’s independence, and the need to communicate more honestly and effectively about methods of contraception, in the Congressional record. In 1985, former Georgia Gov. Joe F. Harris recognized Dr. Klein not only for her work as a physician but also for bringing attention to and informing the national conversation about family planning and unintended pregnancy in the United States. 

Outside of the realm of women’s health care and reproductive rights, Dr. Klein made a tremendous difference in resident and medical student education. She is credited with bringing maternal-fetal medicine to Emory University School of Medicine and Grady Memorial Hospital and was the director of the Maternal and Infant Care Project. She was the Charles Howard Chandler professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory, serving on the faculty from 1965 to 2013, and was the first woman to be appointed chair, serving in that role from 1986 to 1993. She championed excellence in education and believed in the responsibility that today’s clinicians have to teach and support the clinicians and leaders of tomorrow.  

Dr. Klein was a Fulbright Fellow and received numerous honors for her work, including the Atlanta Woman History Maker Award; the Emory Medal; and ACOG’s Luella Klein Lifetime Achievement Award, which was named after her. And while her awards may tell the world about her accomplishments, we at ACOG will miss her wisdom and humor and share her story and honor her memory by remembering her as an incredibly talented, kind, and passionate physician who was devoted to creating a better future for all. 


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