December 2011 Features

Profile: JoAnne Fischer, MSS ’73

By David Volk

For JoAnne Fischer, M.S.S. ’73, it all started with the Girl Scouts.

While most girls enjoy their scouting experience and move on, the lessons Fischer learned in Girl Scouts not only stayed with her, they also are part of what eventually inspired her to become the executive director of the Maternity Care Coalition (MCC) in Philadelphia.

Even now, she still recalls a Girl Scout International Oppor­tunity in Mexico where she learned how different daily life was in other countries. What impressed her the most, though, was the need to improve the status of women.

“I think that I got early on that if I really wanted to make a difference in the world, impacting the lives of women was the key,” she says. “I realized that if girls were educated, that would be an important investment in the family and the world.”

She already considered herself a “very serious feminist” by the time she started at Bryn Mawr. Her internship with Pennsylvania health commissioner Walter Lear eventually led her to establish the women’s health movement in Philadelphia as the director of the Women’s Health Concerns Program in the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Along the way, having two children helped her to find her focus.

“Childbirth is one of the most memorable and cul­turally significant times in a person’s life,” Fischer says. “Unfor­tunately,” she adds, “we as a culture have not adequately supported women during this period.”

That’s where the Maternity Care Coalition comes in. The organization works to improve the health and well-being of mothers, infants and their families on many fronts. In addition to lobbying politicians on topics ranging from breastfeeding to health insurance, the MCC also provides a variety of services including a free, three times a week health text messaging program called Text4Baby.

MCC’s Riverside MOMobile works with expectant mothers at the Philadelphia County Jail. Since MOMobile staffers are trained doulas, they can stay with the women during labor. Before the program started, pregnant women were shackled during childbirth. Her agency also successfully pushed for legislation to end the practice.

“That’s a victory I’m particularly proud of.” She adds, “Every day I wake up and feel like I’m doing something important in the world, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”