Taking Health Into Their Own Hands

Our Bodies OurselvesIn 1969, a group of women who were disillusioned with the paternalism of the medical establishment came together as the Boston Women’s Health Collective. They pooled their knowledge in small working groups and produced a series of pamphlets which became Women and Their Bodies in 1971 and then Our Bodies, Ourselves, published in 1973, to inform women about a variety of health-related topics including: female anatomy, abortion, childbirth, masturbation, intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, aging, lesbianism, and racism.

The wide range of topics was intended to encourage women to learn about themselves on their own terms. As part of a larger women’s health movement, the project encouraged women to take control of their reproductive options, demystify women’s bodies, and depathologize women’s bodies. The books were important for helping women understand what was happening to their bodies without fear or judgment. In this way, women could approach health issues as savvy, empowered consumers.

The books also made it clear that health was an important issue that dealt intimately with issues of race, class, and sexuality. A large part of the legacy of this project has been the agitation for better health resources for a people and a demand that women’s demands no longer be second to men’s when it comes to health disparity. The books have been immensely popular and have quickly gone through many editions. They have been translated into thirty different languages and have continually grown in size to include an ever-widening array