Laurie Schwab Zabin

b. 1926

Laurie Schwab Zabin's interest in reproductive health began in a volunteer capacity and led to a distinguished professional career at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Born in 1926 and raised in Manhattan, Laurie obtained a degree in English literature from Vassar and a master's degree from Harvard. After marrying her first husband, Lewis Strauss, in 1948, she came to Baltimore and began studying English literature at Johns Hopkins. A meeting with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1951 prompted a dramatic shift in her professional attention. Beginning as a dedicated volunteer, Laurie became the full-time director of a clinic for reproductive health in downtown Baltimore. She has held various local and national positions with Planned Parenthood and the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Laurie and her husband had three children, Lewis, Jeremy, and Jessica. After their divorce, Laurie married James Zabin in 1963. An accomplished and focused visionary, she obtained her Ph.D. in Population Dynamics from Hopkins in 1979 and gained a position at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 1999, she became Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Laurie stepped down from the Director position in 2002 but continues to serve on the faculty, maintaining an active work and travel schedule. 

Scope and Content Note

Laurie discusses her family background, growing up in New York, her schools, and her siblings. She talks about her educational experiences growing up, attending Vassar University, and earning a graduate degree from Harvard University. Laurie looks back on her experiences during the Great Depression and World War II and their impacts on her and her family. She tells the story of how she met her first husband, Lewis Strauss. After the war, Laurie and her family tracked down and reunited with relatives who remained in Europe and survived the Holocaust. After being initially turned down, Laurie was accepted into a PhD program in the Johns Hopkins English Department. Around this time, she also became pregnant with her first child. She attended a Planned Parenthood meeting, where she became "fascinated by the field of population and family planning" and changed her career trajectory as a result. For many years, Laurie was a full-time mom, volunteered for Planned Parenthood, and gained valuable experience in the organization. She reflects on raising children, their religious traditions, her divorce, and meeting her second husband, James Zabin, in 1963. Laurie also talks about the social and cultural movements of the 1960s, notably the Women's Movement and its influence on her work with Planned Parenthood. In the 1960s and '70s, the birth control pill was introduced, more federal funding was spent on family planning, and Roe v. Wade was decided. Laurie details her career trajectory. She was offered to be director of the Planned Parenthood of Maryland but turned down the position to return to Johns Hopkins, this time earning her PhD in Population Dynamics. After her doctoral defense, Laurie was offered an assistant professor position and taught in the John Hopkins School of Medicine for a few years. Then, she and a colleague, Dr. Janet Hardy, established a clinic across the street from a high school, where they offered reproductive education and family planning counseling. Laurie also had the opportunity to do reproductive health work internationally, traveling to Africa with one of her doctoral students. Laurie explains how she was recruited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute and became the head of the Population and Reproductive Health program at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Finally, Laurie reflects on the lives of her children and grandchildren, Schwab family reunions, her rewarding career, and life after the loss of her husband.


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How to cite this page

Oral History of Laurie Schwab Zabin . Interviewed by Jean Freedman. 29 April 2001. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 20, 2024) <>.

Oral History of Laurie Schwab Zabin by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at