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MC 667; Vt-134; DVD-67

Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Additional Records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1966-2010: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

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Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College


Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from generous supporters of the Schlesinger Library to the Maximum Access Fund.

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 667; Vt-134; DVD-67
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Title: Additional Records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1966-2010
Date(s): 1966-2010
Quantity: 33.36 linear feet (80 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 4 folio+ folders, 1 card box, 2 video tapes, 1 DVD, 1 object, and electronic records.)
Language of materials: Materials in English. Some materials in Spanish and English.
Abstract: Additional records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, a non-profit women's health education, advocacy and consulting organization, including administrative records; founder's files; engagements and project files; material relating to the publication, revision, and adaptation of several versions of Our Bodies, Ourselves; memorabilia; audiovisual material; and electronic records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 2005-M93, 2006-M51, 2007-M23A, 2007-M2, 2007-M33, 2007-M136, 2007-M219, 2008-M97, 2008-M160, 2008-M167, 2008-M197, 2009-M5, 2009-M207, 2009-M212, 2010-M64, 2010-M140, 2010-M158, 2010-M161, 2010-M230 and items removed from MC 633.
The additional records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective between August 2005 and August 2010.

Processing Information:

Processed: April 2011
By: Mary O. Murphy, with assistance from Su Ciampa

Access Restrictions:

Access. All readers must sign a special form. Access is unrestricted, with the following exceptions: personnel records (#3.1-3.3, 71.2-71.3) are closed for 70 years from the date of creation; correspondence of a personal nature (#2.2, 9.9, 12.1-12.2, 16.1, 42.5, 46.3-46.7) are closed for 70 years from the date of creation, and individual folders or items are closed as noted to protect personal privacy. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the unpublished records created by Boston Women's Health Book Collective is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other records in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Records may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Boston Women's Health Book Collective Additional records, 1966-2010; item description, dates. MC 667, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1905-2003 (inclusive), 1972-1997 (bulk) (MC 503) and the Boston Women's Health Book Collective Audiotape collection, 1973-2000 (T-321).

SEPARATION RECORD

Donors: Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Accession numbers: 2005-M93, 2006-M51, 2007-M23A, 2007-M2, 2007-M33, 2007-M136, 2007-M219, 2008-M97, 2008-M160, 2008-M167, 2008-M197, 2009-M5, 2009-M207, 2009-M212, 2010-M64, 2010-M140, 2010-M158, 2010-M161, 2010-M230 and items removed from MC 633.
Processed by: Mary O. Murphy
The following items have been removed from the collection:

HISTORY

In the spring of 1969, civil rights and anti-war activist and social worker Nancy Miriam Hawley led a workshop on women and their bodies at a Boston-area female liberation conference. The issues raised--particularly abortion (illegal at the time), childbirth, and sexuality--were so provocative to some of the women that they began a discussion that has lasted a lifetime, and spread throughout the world. At first calling themselves the Doctor's Group, the women began meeting to share information about obstetricians and gynecologists. They developed a questionnaire about women's feelings about their bodies and their relationship to doctors. Describing their beginnings in Women and Their Bodies: A Course (1970), the group wrote: "We discovered there were no 'good' doctors and we had to learn for ourselves. We talked about our own experiences and we shared our own knowledge. We went to books and to medically trained people for more information. We decided on the topics collectively....We picked the one or ones we wanted to do and worked individually and in groups to write the papers. The process that developed in the group became as important as the material we were learning. For the first time, we were doing research and writing papers that were about us and for us. We were excited and our excitement was powerful. We wanted to share both the excitement and the material we were learning with our sisters. We saw ourselves differently and our lives began to change."
They met throughout the summer of 1969, shared their research, and rewrote papers in response to each other's comments. In November, they offered a course to other interested women and taught others how to teach the course themselves. The group's description continued: "After the first time around, those of us who had worked out the course originally, plus women who had taken the course, got together in an enlarged group to rewrite the papers so they could be printed and shared, not only with women in Boston, but with women's groups across the country. Other women wanted to learn, other women's health groups wanted to compare and combine our work and theirs." The group spent a year revising the papers before having them issued on newsprint in December 1970 by the New England Free Press. They clearly state, however, that the papers "are not final. They are not static. They are meant to be used by our sisters to increase consciousness about ourselves as women, to build our movement, to begin to struggle collectively for adequate health care, and in many other ways they can be useful to you." They also stressed one of their key tenets: that process was as important as content. "It was exciting to learn new facts about our bodies, but it was even more exciting to talk about how we felt about our bodies, how we felt about ourselves, how we could become more autonomous human beings, how we could act together on our collective knowledge to change the health care system for women and for all people." They concluded that the course was not a finished product, but must continue to be revised and expanded: "The course will be best changed by the corrections and additions sent by those who use it."
During the first year and a half, there was some turnover in the group's composition, as well as in their name. Known variously as the Doctor's Group, Women and Their Bodies Group, Women and Our Bodies Group, Boston Women's Health Collective, Boston Women's Health Course Collective, and Our Bodies Ourselves Group, the final name was chosen when the group incorporated in 1972: the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (Boston Women's Health Book Collective). The Collective lists its founders as Ruth Davidson Bell (later Bell Alexander), Pamela Berger, Vilyuna ("Wilma") Diskin, Joan Sheingold Ditzion, Paula Brown Doress (later Paula Doress-Worters), Nancy Miriam Hawley (later Nancy Press Hawley), Elizabeth MacMahon-Herrera, Pamela Morgan, Judy Norsigian, Jane Pincus, Esther R. Rome, Wendy Coppedge Sanford, Norma Swenson and Sally Whelan. Most of this group remained together for more than twenty years, sharing their personal and professional lives, producing books, pamphlets, and articles; organizing conferences on women's health in the United States and abroad; lecturing in a variety of venues throughout the world; serving on advisory boards for a wide range of organizations, from local women's health centers to national advocacy groups to scientific/medical task forces; providing information on health issues to the general public, the media, and medical personnel; creating international networks to share information; and in numerous other ways shaping and expanding the women's health movement.
The success of the newsprint version of their course (more than 200,000 were sold through counter-culture channels, especially the Whole Earth Catalog) brought commercial publishers to their doorstep in the summer of 1971. Months of discussion ensued. After weighing all the pros and cons of using an established commercial publisher, and detailed examination of several possible publishing firms, the Collective chose Simon and Schuster. In order to sign the contract, they had to incorporate; their first meeting as the Boston Women's Health Book Collective took place January 11, 1972. According to their minutes, Wendy Sanford was designated President "because her address is used [as Boston Women's Health Book Collective address]," Esther Rome as Treasurer "because she will handle $ and sign checks," Nancy Hawley as Clerk "for no reason?" and Paula Doress as Trustee. Their contract with Simon and Schuster had several stipulations, among them that non-profit clinics and other organizations providing health counseling could purchase the books at a 70% discount to give away to low-income clients. Several hundred thousand copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) were distributed in this way.
The first book to provide information about women's health and medical issues in clear, direct language, with contributions from numerous readers about their personal experiences with health issues and the medical care system, Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS) was a commercial success, and has been revised and expanded numerous times (see below). Although it has been as important for raising the consciousness and level of knowledge among medical personnel as among the general public, it has not always been universally embraced. Beginning in the early 1980s, and continuing over the years, the Collective has had to fight back attempts by various conservative groups to ban the book from schools and libraries (see especially #18.20). These battles, in turn, generated further publicity. The Collective used their royalties to support other women's health projects, to eventually rent office space and open the Women's Health Information Center, and to do advocacy work. Included in the supported projects were Health Right, a women's health quarterly published between 1976 and 1981; "Taking Our Bodies Back," a film about the women's health movement; Porcupine Women's Health Collective in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, for women's health workshops and community education; Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas, the U.S. Spanish language edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves; Women's Community Health Center, the only women-controlled health center in the Boston area (1974-1981), for operating support; the 1975 Conference on Women and Health, the first such national meeting; and the National Women's Health Network, towards printing expenses of a newsletter and production costs of nine Health Resource Guides published in 1979.
Members of the Collective have served on numerous boards, and cooperated with other organizations in a variety of outreach and advocacy efforts.
The following brief chronology for 1969-2001 is taken from several Boston Women's Health Book Collective timelines, and highlights some of their major events and accomplishments.

Chronology

Chronology

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged in five series:

SCOPE AND CONTENT

When received by the Schlesinger Library, some records were in folders without headings. Others were loose in boxes. The archivist created the filing system and folder headings for such records. Records received in folders with relevant headings retain their original headings, which are noted in quotation marks.
Members of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and staff frequently circulated documents, including personal letters, amongst the Collective. Those documents have been left where they were found. Personal letters were often addressed to more than one member; folders found with an individual member's papers often include correspondence to and from others. Folders may also include correspondence about, as well as by, a particular correspondent.
The collection is arranged in five series, as outlined below. There is some overlap among series, with similar issues, programs and individuals documented in multiple locations.
Series I, ADMINISTRATIVE, 1972-2008 (#1.1-6.17, FD.1, F+D.1, E.1, Mem.1), contains general information and financial records that document the internal functions of the Collective. Administrative records are also located throughout the files of Collective founders Esther R. Rome, Jane Pincus, and Judy Norsigian in Series II.
Subseries A, General, 1972-2008 (#1.1-3.17, F+D.1, E.1), is arranged alphabetically, then chronologically, and includes annual reports; board of directors records including meeting minutes, reports, and working files; by-laws; histories and descriptions; office-related files and procedural manuals; general meeting minutes; personnel files; staff files regarding daily operatoins; strategic planning material; and the Boston Women's Health Book Collective web site, which is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection (WAX).
Subseries B, Financial, 1977-2007 (#3.18-6.17, FD.1, Mem.1), includes audit material, budgets, fund-raising material; grants, order forms, reports, and financial statements relating to the funding of the Collective. Also included are fund-raising event files such as those documenting the Collective's 10th, 20th, 25th, and 30th Anniversary events, which the collective used to celebrate their work and raise resources for the organization. Grant files are arranged alphabetically by foundation and include correspondence, project proposals and various funding guidelines. Other grant material can be found in Series V., located with the specific projects that the grants supported.
Series II, FOUNDER'S FILES, 1966-2008 (#6.18-22.4, FD.2, Vt-134.2), contains general correspondence, clippings, résumés, etc., created by or about founding members Esther R. Rome, Jane Pincus, and Judy Norsigian. Not all founders are represented. Files are arranged alphabetically by founder's name and within each founder's grouping.
Subseries A, Esther R. Rome, 1970-1998 (#6.8-12.8), includes awards and honors; biographical information; correspondence; columns and other writings submitted to newspapers and periodicals for publication; and reference material documenting Rome's work on such issues as breast implants; menstruation and tampon safety; and women's health generally. In addition to the work documented in this series, Rome helped prepare the bi-monthly health packets sent to women's health groups in the U.S. and abroad, and co-authored pamphlets on sexually transmitted diseases, and on menstruation. Files are arranged alphabetically thence chronologically.
Subseries B, Jane Pincus, 1969-2002 (#12.9-13.9), contains correspondence, conference handouts, printed material, research files, and support material such as drafts, lists, notes, planning files, and "souvenirs" relating to the publication and revision of multiple versions of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Subseries C, Judy Norsigian, 1966-2008 (#13.10-22.4, FD.2, Vt-134.2), contains the records of founding member Judy Norsigian. A co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves; board member of the National Women's Health Network; board member and past president of the Women's State-Wide Legislative Network of Massachusetts; board member and past chair of Community Works (Boston's alternative fund for social change organizations); and member of a variety of scientific committees studying women's health issues, Norsigian has written numerous articles on women's health, and appeared on national television and radio programs.
This series includes conference material, correspondence, information packets, meeting minutes, memoranda, news articles by and about the Collective, other printed materials, and project and research files. Especially well represented is correspondence addressed to Norsigian, other Boston Women's Health Book Collective members, and general correspondence files of the Collective as a whole. Correspondence includes endorsement requests by others; media contacts; and correspondence with U.S. local, state and federal officials and international leaders about legislation, regulations, policies, etc., and with groups working on similar issues. Also included are speaking engagement planning files and research material re: health concerns about the contraceptive Depo-Provera, the environment, midwifery, and genetics and cloning. This series contains one videotaped speech by Norsigian re: The New Our Bodies, Ourselves and women's health issues (Vt-134.2).
Series III, OUR BODIES, OURSELVES REVISIONS, TRANSLATIONS, ADAPTATIONS, AND RELATED, 1973-2005 (#22.5-52.16, F+D.2-F+D.4), contains records relating to the creation, revision, translation, and publication of the Collective's most significant work. In December 1970, Women and Their Bodies: A Course was published in newsprint by the New England Free Press. Renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Course by and for Women, the first of many subsequent reprintings was in 1971. This newsprint New England Free Press edition sold over 200,000 copies. After extensive discussions within the Collective, and consultations with interested persons in the wider community, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective made the difficult decision to contract with Simon and Schuster to publish the first commercial edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973. According to the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, about 3.5 million copies of the various Simon and Schuster editions of this book were sold between 1973 and early 1996. Published versions are available in the Schlesinger Library book collection.
Subseries A, Our Bodies, Ourselves birth control chapter files of Susan Bell, 1973-2005 (#22.5-33.9) includes correspondence, drafts, and extensive subject files that Susan Bell used to research, write, and revise the Our Bodies, Ourselves chapter on birth control. The subseries is arranged alphabetically and the dates span multiple printings and various editions of the book.
Subseries B, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves (1984), 1980-1983 (#33.10-37.23) includes administrative records (before and after publication), correspondence, drafts, editor's reader comments, and memos about all aspects of creating, editing, and publishing the revised version; letters from readers of previous editions; and research on specific topics to be considered for revision in the newly revised and updated edition. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.
Subseries C, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves (1992), 1983-1992 (#38.1-38.17) includes administrative records (before and after publication), correspondence, drafts, editor's reader comments, and memos about all aspects of creating, editing, and publishing the revised version; letters from readers of previous editions; and research on specific topics to be considered for revision in the newly revised and updated edition. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.
Subseries D, Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century (1998), 1986-2000 (#38.18-44.21, F+D.2-F+D.4) includes administrative records (before and after publication), correspondence, drafts, editor's reader comments, and memos about all aspects of creating, editing, and publishing the revised version; letters from readers of previous editions; and research on specific topics to be considered for revision in the newly revised and updated edition. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.
Subseries E, Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era (2005), 1997-2004 (#45.1-48.19) includes administrative records (before and after publication), correspondence, drafts, editor's reader comments, and memos about all aspects of creating, editing, and publishing the revised version; letters from readers of previous editions; and research on specific topics to be considered for revision in the newly revised and updated edition. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.
Subseries F, Nuestras Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas and related, 1978-1999 (#49.1-52.16) contains records pertaining to the Spanish language version of Our Bodies, Ourselves first published in the United States in 1979, and revised for publication in Spain in 1982. Included is correspondence about revisions and translations; drafts; meeting notes; and related documents. Also included is correspondence and proposals about the Brazilian adaptation.
Series IV, ENGAGEMENTS, 1981-2006 (#53.1-56.8, Vt-134.3), includes conference files of various Collective members as well as information relating to foreign travel. Files are arranged chronologically. Items within conference folders include correspondence, programs and registration packets, notes, reports, research material, and travel documentation. Also includes one videotape of the 11th Annual Tillie K. Lubin Symposium re: Our Bodies, Ourselves, Global Feminism, and Women's Health (Vt-134.3).
Series V, PROJECTS AND RELATED, 1976-2010 (#56.9-80.12, 81CB.1, DVD-67.1), contains correspondence and general files documenting Boston Women's Health Book Collective projects, including collaborative efforts with outside and foreign organizations. Files are arranged in two subseries, beginning with correspondence.
Subseries A, Correspondence, 1976-2004 (#56.9-62.5, 81CB.1) includes contacts and international correspondence relating to Boston Women's Health Book Collective programs and projects. Correspondence is often addressed to the Collective in general and frequently includes requests for free copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves; Women and Health Information Packets, which the Collective assembled for women in third world countries; and other information that the Collective worked to supply to women through the Documentation Center Network Project and the Women's Health Information Center. Correspondence also includes personal narratives and experiences of health professionals working abroad. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by country and includes letters in Spanish and French.
Subseries B, General, 1978-2010 (#62.6-80.12, DVD-67.1) includes project files and support material relating to Boston Women's Health Book Collective programs and international collaborations, which focus largely on information exchanges. Most of the projects are international in scope, except for the Collective's Midwifery Initiative, which incudes an information DVD (DVD-67.1); and the Public Voice project, which relates to public relations, outreach, and speaking engagements of various Collective members in the United States. General files are arranged alphabetically, beginning with the project's name.
Larger projects and collaborations include Amigas Latinas en Accion pro Salud, the Documentation Centers Network Project, and the Women's Health Information Center. Amigas Latinas en Accion pro Salud refers to a Boston-based affiliate of Boston Women's Health Book Collective founded in 1980, which gathers and disseminates health information relevant to the specific conditions of Latin women. Included here are grant proposals, correspondence, AIDS educational videos and related material including scripts and mailing lists. Folders are arranged alphabetically.
The Documentation Centers Network Project was largely the product of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grants that funded various international outreach and information exchange efforts. The project referred to as Documentation Center I involved planning for library computerization in collaboration with centers in four developing countries: ISIS in Santiago, Comunicación Intercambio y Desarrollo Humano en América Latina classification in Mexico, SOS CORPO in Brazil, and APDC in Malaysia. The Documentation Center II project had as its goal working with the centers in the four previously identified countries to computerize library files, as well as exchange materials, develop regionally appropriate bibliographies on reproductive rights, and create a base for a larger network of women and health documentation centers. Files include contacts and correspondence, proposals, records of publicatoin purchases, database information, conference files, information re: email, and meeting notes.
The Boston Women's Health Book Collective opened the Women's Health Information Center in1980 to serve Collective members and the general public. By the 1990s, the Women's Health Information Center contained 7,500 books, 200 journals, 75 videos, and files containing over 100,000 articles; the contents were transferred to Harvard University's Countway Library of Medicine in 2001. Women's Health Information Center project files include correspondence; memos; reports; materials on the operations of Women's Health Information Center; collection development files; library procedures and evaluations; literature orders; and files of Women's Health Information Center librarians. Files are arranged alphabetically.
A selection of photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*]. The collection also includes videotapes Vt-134 which are or will be described separately. Additional material received as electronic files will be reformatted at some future date for inclusion in this collection.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

AIDS (Disease)--Prevention
Audiotapes
Breast implants--Complications--United States
Childbirth
Collection development (Libraries)
Communication in organizations
DVD-Video discs
Electronic records
Feminism--International cooperation
Feminists--Massachusetts--Boston
Group decision making
Health education--Africa
Health education--Asia
Health education--Europe
Health education--Great Britain
Health education--Latin America
Health education--North America
Health education--United States
Hispanic Americans
Libraries and women
Medical laws and legislation--United States
Menstruation
Midwives
Minutes
Patient advocacy--United States
Patient education
Pro-choice movement--United States
Reproductive health
Speeches
Tampons--Complications
Videotapes
Web sites
Women--Health and hygiene
Women health reformers--United States
Women--Social networks
Women's health services
Amigas Latinas en Accion Pro-Salud
Asian Pacific Resource Center for Women
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. New Our Bodies, Ourselves
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vida
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era
Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century
Comunicación, Intercambio y Desarrollo Humano en América Latina
Ford Foundation
ISIS International
ISIS (Organization)
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
National Women's Health Network (U.S.)
Norsigian, Judy
Pincus, Jane
Rome, Esther R.
Simon and Schuster, inc.
SOS Corpo--Instituto Feminista para a Democracia
Swenson, Norma
Women's Community Health Center (Cambridge, Mass.)
Women's Health Information Center (Watertown, Mass.)
Yanco, Jennifer J.

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