Wendy Kline, Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine at Purdue University, is internationally recognized for her scholarship in the history of medicine, history of women's health and the history of childbirth. She is the author of three major books: Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth (Oxford University Press, 2019); Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave (U. of Chicago Press 2010); and Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (U. of California Press, 2001). Her current project, “Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry,” has been funded by a six-month research fellowship from the British Academy. She served as historical Consultant and speaker featured in “The Eugenics Crusade,” 2-hour documentary, PBS American Experience series, which premiered October 16, 2018.
This talk focuses on the readers—several hundred ordinary women who responded to editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves in the 1970s and 1980s—to illustrate how readers played a crucial role in the development and articulation of health feminism. By analyzing the exchange between writers and readers of the most popular and influential women’s health text of this era, it reveals the process by which feminists translated and interpreted medical information on women’s bodies. To understand the nature and impact of the women’s health movement, scholars need to look beyond the feminist literature and feminist organizations of the 1970s. Everyday women readers, whose voices inform this study, actively redefined women’s health from a feminist perspective.