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Our Bodies Ourselves Celebrates 40 years

Our Bodies Ourselves Founders Celebrate 40 years

Photo credit: © Phyllis Ewen

Original founders of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, photographed in the 1970s: (L-R) standing in back row: Wendy Sanford, Paula Doress-Worters, Joan Ditzion, Judy Norsigian, Jane Pincus, Norma Swenson, Nancy Miriam Hawley; seated in front row: Pamela Berger, Ruth Bell Alexander, Vilunya Diskin, Esther Rome.

Co-founder Judy Norsigian is now executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves. A few of the other founders from 1973 are still involved in the nonprofit organization as contributors to books and other projects.

In 1969, as the women's movement was gaining momentum and influence in the Boston area and elsewhere around the country, twelve women met during a women’s liberation conference.  In a workshop on "women and their bodies,"  they talked about their own experiences with doctors and shared their knowledge about their bodies.  Eventually they decided to form the Doctor’s Group, the forerunner to the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, to research and discuss what they were learning about themselves, their bodies, health, and women.

The fruit of their discussions and research was a course booklet entitled Women and Their Bodies, a stapled newsprint edition published in 1970. The booklet, which put women’s health in a radically new political and social context, become an underground success. In 1973 Simon & Schuster published an expanded edition, renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), also known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (BWHBC), is a nonprofit, public interest women’s health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. Beginning in 1970 with the publication of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, OBOS has inspired the women’s health movement by:

  • Producing books that make accurate health and medical information accessible to a broad audience by weaving women’s stories into a framework of practical, clearly written text
  • Identifying and collaborating with exemplary individuals and organizations that provide services, generate research and policy analysis, and organize for social change
  • Inspiring and empowering women to become engaged in the political aspects of sustaining good health for themselves and their communities

OBOS introduced these key ideas into the public discourse on women’s health:

  • That women, as informed health consumers, are catalysts for social change
  • That women can become their own health experts, particularly through discussing issues of health and sexuality with each other
  • That health consumers have a right to know about controversies surrounding medical practices and about where consensus among medical experts may be forming
  • That women comprise the largest segment of health workers, health consumers, and health decision-makers for their families and communities, but are underrepresented in positions of influence and policy making
  • That a pathology/disease approach to normal life events (birthing, menopause, aging, death) is not an effective way in which to consider health or structure a health system

On October 1, the ninth edition of OBOS was released coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the collective, now known also as Our Bodies Ourselves.  In celebration of the anniversary as well as the new edition of OBOS and more importantly, its impact around the world, a global symposium—Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls—was held in Boston.

In the program notes, OBOS co-founder Sally Whelan wrote, “We’ve come a long way from our origin as a Boston-based collective talking around the kitchen table, to a thriving global presence with a place ‘at the table’—alongside other powerbrokers—in countries around the world.” Others joined with her in proclaiming that OBOS is more than a book; it’s a tool for social change in which human rights is the framework.  Read More from the Women's Media Center

For more information about OBOS the organization go to www.ourbodiesourselves.org  
 

 

Bernell Hooker

Bernell Hooker is the Founder and CEO of Images of Us (IOU) Sports; a non-profit organization that empowers girls and women through education and sports. "Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success." - Mariah Burton Nelson
 

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