Mary Church Terrell’s private reproductive health crises shaped and motivated her public advocacy of racial and gender justice, as she prioritized the creation of infant day nurseries and kindergartens to help wage-earning black women and their babies survive and prosper. Terrell also called for black women to be trained as doctors and nurses, believing intuitively what studies today show, that black health care providers are more invested in the health and wellbeing of their patients and help them thrive.
Throughout American history, prominent black women have confronted the problem of whether to disclose or hide their bodies’ illnesses and pains. For most, the risk of disclosure seemed too great, especially if their physical problems had a sexual or reproductive dimension that could be construed in a racist light by the dominant white American society. This talk confronts the question of how, when, and why prominent black women chose to keep their pain and illness private and explores how their private health experiences directly informed and shaped their activism.