Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

In 1971, a dozen Boston feminists published a groundbreaking book on women’s health and sexuality, originally called Women and Their Bodies. The book, first available in alternative bookshops in a stapled, newsprint edition of 193 pages, became so hugely popular – largely by word-of-mouth, that it went on to be republished in nine revised editions in more than twenty foreign-language translations.

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The idea for the book was formed in 1969, when the twelve women met during a women’s liberation conference in Boston. At a workshop on “women and their bodies,” they talked about their own experiences and decided to collaborate on a resource to make uncensored information about women’s bodies and health available to everyone.

In 1971 the authors changed the name of the book to Our Bodies, Ourselves and it was republished by the New England Free Press. The first commercial edition was published by Simon & Schuster in 1973.

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In 1976, the book was recognized by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Service Division as one of the Best Books of the Decade.

In 1979, Our Bodies, Ourselves was recognized by “Time Magazine” as one of the Best 100 Nonfiction Books (in English) since 1923, when the magazine started.

In 2012, Our Bodies, Ourselves was chosen as one of 88 books included in the 2012 Library of Congress exhibition “Books that Shaped America,” a list of important works “intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives.”

In this day and age, when no subject is taboo and detailed explanations of every facet of existence are freely available online, it is hard to imagine a time when women could not find out reliable information about what was going on with their bodies, and what options were available to help them manage their lives as women. This book totally changed the social and political landscape for women.

11 of the 12 original members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

11 of the 12 original members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

The founders did not stop their activism with this book, but each of them has gone on to work for women and for social justice, as is clear from their biographies on the Our Bodies, Ourselves website, here. (The group now calls itself Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), and operates as a nonprofit, public interest organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As they explain on the website, they develop and promote evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality.)

You can access much of the book’s information online at the website, here. In addition, there is also a blog with regular health and political updates, here.

The founders of Our Bodies Ourselves, marching at the Women's March in Boston, 1.21.17

The founders of Our Bodies Ourselves, marching at the Women’s March in Boston, 1.21.17

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About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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4 Responses to Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I guess I’m showing my age here, but I remember that book very well.

  2. How interesting! It is a new title to me, but as mush as it was mentioned through the years I should have heard of it. Now I am going to look for it!

  3. Oh, I bet they all have some very interesting stories to tell. I would love to find out if they have written memoirs. I’m off to check out the biographies page.

  4. Julia R. says:

    I read this book when I was in high school in the late 1970’s. It changed my life.

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