feminist movement in US 1960s

"the personal is political"

1969 Boston feminist conference "women and their bodies." "frustration and anger toward... the medical maze," especially toward "doctors who were condescending, paternalist, judgmental, and non-informative."

reviewing medical info themselves, "exhilarated and energized" them. "[S]tarting to take control over that area of our life... has released for us... a life-changing effect." Women had lived with "ignorance, uncertainty - even, at worst, shame - about our physical selves" for too long. "[B]ody education has been liberating for us and may be a starting point for the liberation of many other women.... Learning to understand, accept, and be responsible for our physical selves, we... can start to use our untapped energies," becoming "more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger, and more whole."


mid1960s all but roughly 7% of US physicians male.

Medical texts instructing gynecologists to measure patients' "femininity quotient."

Activists: "Remember:... the doctor is no longer a god...."

women as health consumers who "feel entitled to more information [and]... demand better."

birth control - "moralistic and punitive" gynecologists.




Doctors concentrated narrowly "on treatment of the symptom, isolated both from the rest of the mind and body and from the social context of the illness." "[W]e feel that a very different model of disease causation should be developed...."

"The societal expectation that a woman above all else will have babies does not die easily.  When we first started talking to each other about this, we found that old expectation had nudged most of us into a fairly rigid role of wife & motherhood from the moment we were born female, still getting pregnant when we didn't want to.  It was not until we researched carefully and learned more about birth control and abortion & put all this info together with what it meant to us to be female, that we began to feel we could truly set out to control whether & when we would have babies.  This knowledge has freed us, made our pregnancies better because we actively choose them & enthusiastically participate in them.  It has given us a sense of a larger life space to work in, to discover our energies & talents & to do the work we want to do.  Our bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world - picture a woman trying to do work & to enter into equal & satisfying relationships with other people when she feels physically weak & confused about her body.  Learning to understand, accept & be responsible for our physical selves, we can be better people, more self-confident, more autonomous, stronger & more whole."

the Boston Women's Health Collective

1973 Our Bodies, Ourselves

"Know Your Body" women's self-education courses

within a decade more than two million copies nationwide.

med info & women talking about own experiences.

sexually transmitted diseases & abortion

1975 attack a medical establishment fragmented into minute specialties, "arrested for too long at the level of symptoms and mechanisms and chemical tinkering." "Health is more than just the absence of disease."

"grass-roots community clinics formed by local women... fed up with the lack of helpful health services for women, and who became radicalized by the hostility of local male doctors."

"[T]he women's health movement... [is] deeply conscious of linking up with our lost identity as healers in the distant past...."

attacks on modern hyper-medicalized, assembly-line childbirth.


FDA approved manufacture & sale of birth-control pills 1960. controversy - high-dosage side effects - nausea, breakthrough bleeding, water retention, weight gain. uncertainty about long-term risks - breast cancer.

"natural" methods, - "astrological birth control": "another level of fertility awareness which might be added to the tools of natural family planning. This method has not been widely tested or proved, but it is a subject of... interest to many." 1970s Berkeley's Holistic Health Handbook, Merilee Kernis: pill and IUD "are only primitive jabbings in the dark, and... interfere with the delicate balance of the body..., reflecting the social and political statements of the times: imbalance, obstruction, and eradication.... No wonder there are so many angry and disillusioned women...."

"powerful" non-Western techniques allowed women to "prevent unwanted pregnancies without relying on potentially dangerous chemical and mechanical devices..., [by] living in harmony with natural laws which support mindful celebration of sexuality and conscious choices about contraception."

1992, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves astrological birth control: "This doesn't work."


Diethylstilbestrol: more than five million pregnant women from late 1940s through 1960s to prevent miscarriage, improve babies' health.

1971, young women with vaginal cancer normally rare;

Daughters and granddaughters increased risk of infertility, ectopic pregnancies, and certain types of cancer; male descendants heightened health risks.

1974 Berkeley, Calif "DES Action".

1987, over 60 DES Action groups

Congressional hearings.

1975 National Women's Health Network.


Dalkon Shield - IUD 1967 Dr. Hugh Davis, prof Johns Hopkins Med Sch.

A.H. Robins promised almost 100% effective & safe. 

1970, Robins put Shield on market - loophole in FDA rules. 

several hundred salesmen, heavy advertising called Shield "highly sophisticated". 

Distributed 4.5 million 80 countries. 

1971, "I have just inserted my tenth Dalkon Shield and found the procedure to be the most traumatic manipulation ever perpetrated on womanhood - I have ordered all Shields out of my office."  Penn woman OB/GYN, "It's a gruesome-looking little device that I would not allow to be installed in myself - those vicious spikes would present a serious problem for removal." 

multifilament string with open ends,

8 times more likely to have pelvic infections than women using other IUDs.

severe pain and pelvic inflammatory disease, sometimes infertility or hysterectomies.

infected miscarriages - at least 6 deaths.

twice as likely as all other IUDs to cause medical problems. Late 1974 Robins halted distribution Shield in US.

1985, over 14,000 lawsuits - Robins bankruptcy.


women with AIDS:

vaginal yeast infections & cervical cancer -

1993, 35,000 American women diagnosed.


Funding for medical research on women's problems.

Aspirin study - 22,000 doctors in seven-year study all men;

med texts norm as "70-kilogram man";

pregnancy as disease. 

Biology as gendered,

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) "too much extrapolation from data on middle-aged white men."

Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues - Representative Patricia Schroeder blamed policy-makers for leaving women's health "at risk."

1990, NIH Office of Research on Women's Health.

Women's Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM!) - systematic inequity in federal health funding.

1991, first female director of the NIH Bernadine Healy - $600 million, fifteen-year Women's Health Initiative (WHI). 160,000 largest single clinical trial in NIH history.


breast cancer activism 1980s & 1990s

National Breast Cancer Coalition

cover stories Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Ms.

pink ribbons

1995 federal appropriations for breast cancer study rose to $465 million, up from $90 million five years earlier.

environmental contamination and nutrition.

surgery, radiation and chemotherapy stressful, painful, and not even guaranteed to succeed. 1996 Atlantic Monthly today "breast cancer is every bit as incurable as" in late 1800s. Susan Love blamed heroic-medicine - "we [doctors] radiated, we slashed, burned, and poisoned.... I think we'll look back on this era and think we were totally crazy that we did these barbaric things."


more women dying from lung cancer each year than breast cancer."

Lung cancer leading cause of cancer death in women since 1987, 20.7 % of all US women smoke (26% men).

25-26% women in West Virginia & KY smoke during pregnancy.



Heart disease:

less than 10% of women thought heart disease was greatest threat to their health, 62% named cancer.

Cardiovascular disease, leading cause of death among women,

killing more than a half million a year. Total nearly twice the number of cancer deaths in women, more than 10 times the deaths from breast cancer.

more than half women who die suddenly of coronary disease had no previous symptoms.

Women more likely than men to die within a year of having a heart attack, or to have a second heart attack within six years. women do not fare as well as men after bypass surgery.

delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Stress tests need to be interpreted differently;

women having heart attacks tend to delay going to the hospital; once there, less likely than men to be given prompt treatment including aspirin, other blood thinners and beta blocker drugs.  New "red dress" women's heart-disease awareness campaign.