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MC 453

Kushner, Rose. Papers of Rose Kushner, 1953-1990: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.
July 1999

© 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 453
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Rose Kushner, 1929-1990
Title: Papers of Rose Kushner, 1953-1990
Quantity: 8.76 linear feet (21 file boxes) plus 1 folio folders, 2 photograph folders and 2 audio tapes
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Writings, correspondence, and professional papers of Rose Kushner, journalist and breast cancer expert.

Processing Information:

Processed: August 1998
By: Jane S. Knowles

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 83-M222, 95-M26, 95-M44
Audiotapes and a transcript of an interview with Kushner were given to the Library by Anne Kasper in October 1983. The papers of Rose Kushner were given to the Schlesinger Library by her husband Harvey Kushner in March and April 1995.


Access. Unrestricted except for folder #269 containing original letters describing personal histories of DES patients which is closed until January 1, 2016. Copies with identifying information removed are available. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Use Restrictions:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Rose Kushner is held by Harvey Kushner. At the donor's death, copyright will pass to Gantt, Todd, and Lesley Kushner, Harvey and Rose Kushner's children as stipulated in the donor's will. At the death of the last of these children, copyright will be transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred citation for publication:

Rose Kushnre Papers, 1953-1990; item description, dates. MC 453, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Rose Kushner, journalist, breast cancer expert, and patient advocate was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 22, 1929, the fourth child of Israel and Fannie (Gravitz) Rehert. After graduating from high school she worked for animal behaviorist Dr. Horsley Gantt at the Pavlovian Laboratory of Johns Hopkins Medical School (1947-1951). She married Harvey Kushner in January 1951 and they had three children: Gantt, (born 1952), Todd (1956), and Lesley (1958). As she had always wanted to be a physician, Kushner took pre-med courses at Baltimore Junior College (1949) and Montgomery Junior College (1963), but switched to journalism and received her A.B. summa cum laude from the University of Maryland in 1972. She freelanced as a journalist in Bolivia and Vietnam (1967), wrote articles and an unpublished book, "The Peacehawks," covered the Yom Kippur war (1973), and did some medical writing.
The discovery of a breast lump which proved to be cancerous in June 1974, changed her life. Finding that there was little information available, she researched the topic in medical and technical publications and kept notes as she underwent lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery. An article based on her own experience appeared in the Washington Post and was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. Her book Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report (1975) was revised and reprinted twice, as Why Me? (1977) and Alternatives (1984). For her books and numerous articles about breast cancer she received awards from the American Medical Writers Association (1980, 1985). She was awarded the Medal of Honor (1987) and the Courage Award (1988) by the American Cancer Society. She founded the Breast Cancer Advisory Center (1975) to provide information and support for breast cancer patients and was frequently called before Congress to testify on health and cancer topics. In June 1977, she was the only non-physician chosen to be on an National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel, which adopted a two-stage procedure instead of the Halsted radical mastectomy as the standard treatment for women suspected of having breast cancer. As a result, a biopsy that located a breast lump was no longer automatically followed by a mastectomy.
President Carter appointed Kushner to the National Cancer Advisory Board (1980-1986), where she brought to medical policy-making and task forces her skills as an investigative reporter and patient advocate. She was a founder of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations and served on its board from 1986 to 1989. This umbrella organization linked many local groups, published a newsletter, and lobbied for policy reform. Her report on her trip to China (1984) drew attention to the spiraling increase in the incidence of breast cancer there and the need for self-examination as a means of prevention.
In June 1982 Rose Kushner developed a second cancer when her implant ruptured and had to be reinserted. She refused aggressive chemotherapy and was treated with tamoxifen. She campaigned against aggressive adjuvant chemotherapy in 1984. She was also involved in an United States Food and Drug Administration study of silicone breast implants and a DES (diethylstilbestrol) task force to track down the health histories of women like herself who had taken DES during pregnancy.
Rose Kushner died of cancer on January 7, 1990.


The collection is arranged in four series:


Series I, Personal and family (#1-18), includes clippings about Rose Kushner, the audio tapes and partial transcript of an oral history interview, the first chapters of a memoir, and genealogical and other family data.
Series II, Writings (#19-104), includes drafts of articles, book outlines, forewords, and related correspondence on breast cancer. There are papers on experimental psychology, articles and an outline for a novel on Vietnam, and articles about Kushner's Jewish heritage. Her conference papers and talks, 1976-89 (#82-85, 87), draw on her own experience as a cancer patient, describe the psychological and emotional aspects of the disease, emphasize the importance of the support of nurses and social workers, condemn unnecessary radical mastectomy, and testify that even radical mastectomy need not be mutilating. The expert testimony (#89-104) given by Kushner to federal agencies, congressional and other committees, and in legal depositions illustrates her campaign to have annual mammography covered by health insurance, and her concern for patients' bills of rights.
Series III, Correspondence (#105-155), includes the Breast Cancer Advisory Center and other organizations; there is no personal correspondence. Also interfiled is professional correspondence with physicians, breast cancer patients, members of Congress, and others: e.g., William E. Colby (#109) about rates of cancer in the Soviet Union and Armand Hammer about her trip to China (#146, 167-168). Her correspondence with Representative Mary Rose Oakar (#126-128, 271) documents Kushner's role in developing cancer legislation.
Series IV, Organizations (#156-278), includes information sheets of the Breast Cancer Advisory Center and her study of state laws on informed consent (#156-165). Correspondence with Chinese physicians, and her diary of and report on a trip to China in 1984 document an epidemic of breast cancer in that country (#166-176). Minutes and correspondence with the Mammatech Co., the maker of a breast self-examination kit, illustrate her view that self-examination and early detection were key to prevention (#182-189). Additionally there are incorporation documents and other papers of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, which Kushner helped to found in 1986 (#190-202). Minutes, correspondence, and reports document her service on the National Cancer Advisory Board, 1980-86. Reports and correspondence of many National Cancer Institute task forces and projects of which she was a member are arranged chronologically and include the Office of Cancer Communications (#231-233), the Organ System Program (OSP) (#235-240), the Protocol Data Query (#241-244), Low Fat Cancer Trials (#245-251), and Women's Health Trials (#252-258). Other task force papers include a study of silicone breast implants (#99, 177-181), and of DES (Diethylstilbestrol #269-273). Original letters (#269) containing the life histories of women who responded to a questionnaire about their use of the drug are closed until January 1, 2016. Copies without identifying information are available.



Additional catalog entries.

The following catalog entries represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. An entry for each appears in the Harvard On Line Library Information System (HOLLIS) and other automated bibliographic databases. THIS IS NOT AN INDEX.
Breast Cancer Advisory Center (Kensington, Md.)
Breast--Cancer--Patients--United States--Biography
Breast implants--Complications--United States
Cancer--Patients--United States
Colby, William Egan, 1920-1996
Gantt, W. Horsely (William Horsley), 1892-1980
Hammer, Armand, 1898-1990
Jewish women--United States--Biography
Journalists--United States
Kasper, Anne
National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations
National Cancer Institute (U.S.)
Oakar, Mary Rose
Oral histories
Patient advocacy--United States
Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994
Pilpel, Harriet F.
University of Maryland--Alumni and alumnae
Women--Health and hygiene--United States
Women health reformers--United States
Women journalists--United States--Biography