Peg Yorkin, feminist leader and philanthropist, dies at 96

Jun 26, 2023, 6:25 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Peg Yorkin, who donated $10 million to a feminist foundation she co-founded and pushed to bring the most common method of abortion to the United States, died Sunday night.

Yorkin died at age 96 after a long illness, her daughter Nicole Yorkin said.

Peg Yorkin was chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national organization she co-founded in 1987 that is dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence.

“Above all, Peg was a feminist philanthropist, leader and activist, who also was a truth teller,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms., told the magazine.

Yorkin, along with other feminist leaders from the foundation as well as prominent scientists, in 1990 traveled to Europe to present petitions to pharmaceutical companies demanding the release of mifepristone to the U.S., where anti-abortion groups were working to stop that from happening, according to the organization.

In 1991, Yorkin announced she was giving $10 million to the foundation, with half the gift to go toward bringing the abortion pill to the country.

“I, for one, am putting my money where my mouth is,” Yorkin said at a 1991 news conference. “I am calling on women who are as angry as I am … to join me in using our money to empower ourselves.”

Mifepristone was approved for use in the U.S. in 2000, and more than 5 million people have used it to safely end their pregnancies. The drug has been targeted by abortion foes, including Christian conservatives whose lawsuit currently in the courts seeks to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval.

Yorkin was also involved in efforts to increase the number of women in political office. The Feminization of Power campaign ‘s goal was to recruit potential female candidates to run and win seats in state legislatures and Congress through a multi-state tour produced by Yorkin.

Before Yorkin became involved in women’s rights, she produced live theatre in Los Angeles, according to the Feminist Majority website. In 1986, Yorkin worked with Smeal, then-president of the National Organization for Women, to produce the organization’s 20th anniversary event with television and film celebrities, which chronicled the feminist movement in advancing women’s rights. Yorkin also produced a video of the show, which is used in women’s studies and is available in libraries.

Yorkin was born in New York City on April 16, 1927, to Dora and Frank Diem. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers in 1943 and at age 16 was accepted by Barnard College on scholarship. She left Barnard after two years to attend the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she received dance instruction from Martha Graham.

At an audition in Los Angeles, she met Bud Yorkin, a fledgling director who would later become known for television shows “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” The two married in 1954 and had two children, Nicole and David. The couple divorced in 1986.

Nicole and David are television writers. Yorkin is also survived by four grandchildren.

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Peg Yorkin, feminist leader and philanthropist, dies at 96