Martha Stahl '97

Martha Stahl ’97Martha Stahl ’97 is the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Montana.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence?
I chose Sarah Lawrence because it was the one place where I felt I was truly in control of my own education...a place where I would have the freedom to explore the things that were interesting to me.

What was your favorite class?
My first year studies class with Ilja Wachs was, for me, the quintessential Sarah Lawrence experience. I fell in love with Dickens, learned to listen for understanding, and to make intellectual connections. Having Ilja as my don was the biggest gift Sarah Lawrence gave me.

What was your career path like after graduating from Sarah Lawrence?
Right before I graduated, Ilja Wachs told me that I would be an excellent non-profit leader. I must have looked at him like he had two heads; after all, I was planning on getting my Master's and PhD in Latin American history and on becoming an academic. For once, this wise man who had given me wonderful advice over the years had it all wrong. But after I finished my Master's in Austin, I was looking for a way to stay there and so found a job as a fundraiser at an amazing non-profit. From there, I returned to Sarah Lawrence to work in the Alumnae/i office for four years. My first job at Planned Parenthood, in the Adirondacks, was a way to move to North Country to be with my fiancé, now husband. In that job, I was lucky to have an incredible mentor and after a few years, it dawned on me that Ilja was right after all.

How big an adjustment was it for you to move to Montana?
I tell people moving to Montana was culture shock, but in the opposite way they expect. Our town in the Adirondacks had 1,200 people and we moved to Montana's biggest city, with 110,000 people. Having to lock our doors was a trade-off for some of the best beer in the West, lots of family activities, and access to the most beautiful and plentiful public lands in the country. Politically, Montana is not dissimilar from upstate New York. While it might look red on the political map, Montana's voters have a strong independent streak and privacy is valued above all. And I run into lots of Sarah Lawrence alums in my work, which is always a pleasure. The most difficult thing for me has been working to overcome my fear of rattlesnakes and grizzly bears.

How has your job at Planned Parenthood changed since November 2016?
Planned Parenthood, and the patients we serve, has been in the crosshairs more than ever before. My day-to-day work has been focused on making plans to continue to serve our patients in this political climate. Having to switch gears between tactics for surviving potential defunding and strategies to build a stronger safety net for the 15,000 Montanans we serve is both an incredible challenge and an awesome opportunity for innovation. The other inspiring change is feeling the incredible love for Planned Parenthood those independently-thinking Montanans have. People are stepping up across the state to be a part defending their family and friends who need and deserve our services.