'Our Bodies, Ourselves' Turns 40

Students gathered in Austin Hall at Harvard Law School yesterday to hear the founding members of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective talk about the history and legacy of their book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Addressing a mostly female audience, authors Judy L. Norsigian ’70, Nancy Miriam Hawley, Joan S. Ditzion, and Wendy C. Sanford spoke about women’s health and sexuality, including how norms and taboos have changed since the first publication of their book 40 years ago.

The authors spoke about the creation of the book—after attending the first Female Liberation Conference together in June of 1969, they regularly met up in each others’ homes and frequented local libraries for information.

“We never wanted to do a book,” Ditzion said. “We just started with a sort of pamphlet and the idea of getting women’s voices together to have an open conversation.”

The first edition of the book was self-published and originally sold for 35 cents. A worn copy was circulated around the room.

“By seeking information for ourselves, we saw the value for all women,” Hawley said. “There are still women who don’t have access to health care and accurate medical information.”

Since its initial publication, 4.5 million copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” have been printed in 25 languages.

Law school students in the audience shared personal experiences and questioned the speakers on current political issues ranging from free speech to the recent passing of health care reform.

“I think it’s lovely to have different generations of activists come together and think creatively about how to bring about change,” said Sarah P. “Poppy” Alexander, a Harvard law student who moderated the discussion and whose mother, Ruth Bell, co-wrote the book.

“It was personally exciting for me,” said Kristi L. Jobson ’06, a second-year law student and proctor in Wigglesworth Hall. “This was a book that my mom gave to me when I was younger.”

Boston Women’s Health Book Collective currently works out of an office in Porter Square with a staff of over 40 people.

The 9th edition of the book will be released in October, tackling both new and old topics including abortion, contraception, menopause, and domestic violence.

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