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Past & Present: 'Our Bodies, Ourselves' at 45


On September 8th, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves. The book originated from pamphlets put together for a women’s health seminar taught by Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston’s Emmanuel College in 1969. While the course started small it grew quickly in popularity through word of mouth. The classes became consciousness-raising events, providing women with the necessary tools, ideas, and resources that formed the nexus of the book produced by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

The Boston Collective argued that reproductive justice was at the forefront of women’s liberation. By combining personal stories with medical information, they wanted to make women more capable of evaluating and questioning medical institutions and acting as equal partners in their own healthcare decisions. A first of its kind, Our Bodies, Ourselves contained information on women’s health and sexuality, including sexual orientation, birth control, abortion, childbirth, domestic violence, and menopause. At the time, this information was readily available to physicians, but remained difficult to access in a healthcare system that didn’t expect or want women to challenge experts by asking questions.

Our Bodies, Ourselves, encouraged women to take control of their own healthcare by learning medically accurate information, and understanding their bodies in terms that avoided describing the female reproductive system as passive and powerless. The Boston Collective argued that, by asking informed questions, women would have a greater ability to make proactive decisions and take more control over their own health and healthcare choices, affecting not only their lives, but also those of their families.

Revised as late as 2011, Our Bodies, Ourselves remains an important source in providing medically accurate, full-spectrum healthcare information, for women and men of all ages and at all stages of life.

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th- and early 20th-century United States.