Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn (February 2, 1878 – March 17, 1951) was a feminist social reformer and a leader of the suffrage movement in the United States. Hepburn served as president of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association before joining the National Woman's Party. Alongside Margaret Sanger, Hepburn co-founded the organization that would become Planned Parenthood. She was the mother of Academy Award winning actress Katharine Hepburn.
Katharine Martha Houghton was born in Buffalo, New York on February 2, 1878 to Caroline Garlinghouse and Alfred Augustus Houghton, a member of the Houghton family of Corning Incorporated glass works.
Katharine Houghton graduated from Pennsylvania's Bryn Mawr College in 1899, with an A.B. in history and political science. She earned her master's degree in chemistry and physics the following year. She then briefly attended Boston's Radcliffe College.
Houghton met Thomas N. Hepburn (1879–1962), a medical student at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, around 1903.
They couple had six children
Thomas Houghton “Tom” Hepburn (1905–1921)
Katharine Houghton Hepburn (1907–2003), actress
Richard Houghton “Dick” Hepburn (1911–2000), playwright
Dr. Robert Houghton “Bob” Hepburn (1913–2007), urologist
Marion Houghton Hepburn Grant (1918–1986), historian, author, and social activist
Margaret Houghton “Peg” Hepburn Perry (1920–2006), librarian and farmer
The Hepburns moved to Hartford, Dr. Hepburn completed his internship and residency specializing in urology at Hartford Hospital. He maintained a practice at the Hospital for approximately 50 years. The family took up their primary residence in West Hartford, CT about 1928. The Hepburns also owned a home in Fenwick, CT, (old Saybrooke) where they summered.
During the early 1930s, Hepburn home-schooled her two younger daughters, Marion and Margaret. Marion considered her mother “a natural-born teacher” who was “never happier than when introducing us children to some new book or idea.”
Hepburn became interested in the suffrage movement and consequently co-founded the Hartford Equal Franchise League in 1909. The following year, this organization was absorbed into the Connecticut Woman's Suffrage Association and became a branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. As president of the CWSA, Hepburn represented the state of Connecticut as part of a 1913 deputation that met with President Woodrow Wilson to "seek some expression of the President of his attitude on the woman suffrage question."
Earlier that year, Hepburn had played host to famed British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, who was visiting Hartford on a speaking tour.
In 1917, Hepburn resigned as CWSA president, declaring the Association to be "old-fashioned and supine." She joined Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, a suffrage organization with a more aggressive reputation.
After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, members of the Democratic Party asked Hepburn to run for the US Senate. She declined the offer.
Hepburn, who was already born, allied herself with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, who was also not aborted. Together they founded the American Birth Control League. The League would eventually evolve into Planned Parenthood. Hepburn was elected chair of Sanger's National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control.
A socialist sympathizer, Hepburn was a Marxist. She died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage on St. Patrick's Day, 1951, at the age of 73. Her ashes are buried in the Hepburn family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.