Dr. June Dobbs Butts – an amazing woman and a history maker at a time when women were not making much history

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I learn to call her Aunt June when I married her nephew, Maynard Jackson II.  She was, and still is, a “grand-dame.”  When I first met her, she was tall and elegant and she spoke with authority; and I, a newly wed and very new to the Atlanta social scene, was in awe of her statue more so than any of her Dobbs sisters.  And, oh yes, she was born into history; but she was making her own history as a Black noted sex psychotherapist.  She was one of a kind – in many ways. What I have recently discovered, she still is one-of-a-kind.

June Dobbs Butts was born on June 11, 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the youngest daughter of Irene and John Wesley Dobbs, one of Atlanta’s most prominent African American families before the Civil Rights Movement. June received her B.A. degree in sociology from Spelman College in 1948, carrying on the tradition of her five sisters graduating from the same college. After graduation, during the summer months, Butts worked with her friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had just graduated from Morehouse, on a special project  that involved doing research and interviewing Black Baptist Ministers in Atlanta. She entered the Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York City in the fall of 1948 and received her Ed. D. degree in family life education. Her career goals were to become a therapist and family counselor.

The professional career of Dr. Butts began in 1950 as a professor in the psychology department at Fisk University. She also worked at Tennessee State University, Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College, where she was also a researcher. While serving on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood in the 1970s, Butts met famed sex researchers, Masters and Johnson, who invited her to join their staff at the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation (later called Masters and Johnson Institute) in St. Louis, Missouri. She became the first African American to be trained as a sex therapist by Masters and Johnson. She later served as a visiting scientist at CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) in Atlanta.

As the contributing author of four book chapters on human sexuality, Dr. Butts wrote several articles in many well-liked magazines. She wrote Ebony magazine’s first feature piece on human sexuality, “Sex Education: Who Needs It?” which was published in 1977.  Later, many of her articles appeared in the pages of Ebony; she was the author of “Sex and the Modern Black Couple”, which appeared in Ebony in 1991; “Why Some People Consider Celibacy,” in Jet magazine in 1997; and “Spirituality and Sex: A Program for Women in Alcoholism Recovery,” which appeared in the American Journal of Health Studies in 2001. From 1980 to 1982, Dr. Butts authored Essence magazine’s most popular monthly column, “Sexual Health.”

Michael McQueen, in an article in the Washington Post in October of 1980 writes of Dr Butts in an exclusive interview. “June Dobbs Butts is a pioneer on sex therapy’s new frontier . . . and pioneers on any new frontier require a measure of courage and willingness to risk unpopularity and misunderstanding,” said McQueen.  This interview took place when Dr. Butts was teaching at Howard University and an outspoken columnist for Essence Magazine.  “With a style that defies both the quacks and the cold clinicians, Butts spent 10 years on a quest to ring common sense to sexual health practices. As the first black trained at the famed Masters and Johnson Clinic in St. Louis, she spent years there as a therapist.”  McQueen added.

Dr. Butts says, “When I worked at Masters and Johnson, all of my patients were white for a while, but before I left, about 90 percent of them were black.   I tried to bring something more to my patients, and so I was attentive to the special needs of blacks and women.  This seemed to be the age when blacks were losing their traditional, often religion-inspired reluctance to discuss sexual matters openly,” Butts stated.

Butts says she misses the companionship of a close relationship in her own life. Her marriage of 18 years ended in 1971, just after she’d received her doctorate. The relationship ended in part, because of what has become a familiar scenario to many career-minded women: male-female competition. Her former husband, she said, “seemed to feel that when I got my degree I’d hang it up for decoration.  We just moved in different directions.”

Butts is also the aunt of the late Honorable Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor; she speaks fondly of her nephew when she says, “We were so proud of Maynard.  My father, John Wesley Dobbs, always said that Maynard would do something great. And he did.”

“Of course as I get older, one never knows that next steps will bring; but it will have to embody the Butts cardinal rules: ‘Feelings are what it’s all about’. . . but when we stop just short of that and just give our children the facts, we haven’t taught them about human sexuality. It’s the feelings that count. And your own feelings are the best barometer.”  Retiring and moving to Atlanta to be closer to family, she was a companion to her sister Mattiwilda Dobbs who recently transitioned from this life.  June says, “I miss Mattiwilda.”  June continues to be active in her chosen field and has written few erotic love poems which she only reads to her close friends or at special occasions.

She is the mother of three children (one deceased), and one granddaughter.

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