Distributor:  Icarus Films
Length:  25 minutes
Date:  1998
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 10-12, College, Adult
Color/BW:  Color
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Dear Dr. Spencer

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The story of Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer, who, in addition to providing routine care to his rural Pennsylvania town, also helped women with, what at the time were illegal, abortions.

Dear Dr. Spencer

From the early 1920s until his death in 1969, Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer practiced medicine in a small town in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania. Dr. Spencer treated colds, set fractures, and provided basic medical care. But he was unique. He performed illegal abortions.

Dr. Spencer performed his first abortion, his patient a poor coal miner's wife, in 1923. Soon after, the doctor's reputation spread. He began receiving letters from women across the country, asking, sometimes pleading, for his help. Ashland, Pennsylvania, a town of church-goers, grateful to him for his dedication to the mining community, quietly allowed the doctor to practice. The citizens seemed to ignore the steady stream of young women going to and from his office, the out of state license plates, the ever-increasing number of one-night guests at the town's hotel. They even protected him each time the state police tried to shut his practice down. Dr. Spencer was arrested three times but never convicted. Historians estimated that he performed more than 40,000 safe abortions during the course of his career.

'A model of an illuminating documentary.'-Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

'Powerfully evokes what life without legal abortion would be like.'-Liz Mermin, IndieWIRE

'It is stirring to see the faces of ordinary elderly working men and women as they talk with candor about a community that recognized, respected, and rallied around a principled man who was breaking the law.'-New York Business Women's Calendar

'Perfect for eliciting debate and discussion on abortion rights and related issues.'-Booklist


** Emmy Nomination, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
** Finalist, International Documentary Association
** Best Documentary Short, Nashville Independent Film Festival/Sinking Creek
** Bronze Apple Award. National Educational Media Network
** Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International Film Festival
** Special Achievement Prize, Huntington International Independent Film Festival
** Audience Choice Award, ImageFest 1998
** 1998 Margaret Mead Film Festival
**1998 Human Rights Watch International Traveling Film Festival


Main credits

Taylor, Lili (narrator)
Seltzer, Beth (film director)
Seltzer, Beth (film producer)
Seltzer, Beth (editor of moving image work)
Renfrew, Danielle (film director)
Renfrew, Danielle (film producer)
Renfrew, Danielle (editor of moving image work)
Moore, Michael (screenwriter)

Other credits

Editors: Danielle Renfrew & Beth Seltzer; music composed, performed & recorded by: Mike Marshall; camera: Daniel Meyers [and 5 others].

Distributor credits

A Film by Danielle Renfrew and Beth Seltzer

Docuseek2 subjects

Maternal and Child Health
Public Health
Reproductive Rights
Medical Ethics
Medical Procedures

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Health Issues
History (U.S.)
Life Sciences
Women's Health
Women's Studies


abortion; illegal; performing; doctors; contraceptives; Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer; pre; Roe v Wade; Roe vs Wade; community; healthcare; health; care; film; video; biography; "Dear Dr. Spencer"; Icarus Films

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