History of Our Bodies Ourselves and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
In 1969, as the women’s movement was gaining momentum and influence in the Boston area and elsewhere around the country, twelve women met during a women’s liberation conference. In a workshop on “women and their bodies,” they talked about their own experiences with doctors and shared their knowledge about their bodies. Eventually they decided to form the Doctor’s Group, the forerunner to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, to research and discuss what they were learning about themselves, their bodies, health, and women.
The fruit of their discussions and research was a course booklet entitled Women and Their Bodies, a stapled newsprint edition published in 1970. The booklet, which put women’s health in a radically new political and social context, becomes an underground success. In 1973 Simon & Schuster published an expanded edition, renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Our Bodies Ourselves Timeline
THE FIRST DECADE
The publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves helps to launch the women’s health movement in the United States.
1969 Twelve women meet during a women’s liberation conference in Boston. At a workshop on “women and their bodies,” they talk about their own experiences with doctors and share their knowledge about their bodies. The discussions at the conference are so provocative and fulfilling that the following summer, each woman researches a health topic close to her heart. They decide to put their knowledge into an accessible form that can be shared with others and that can serve as a model for women who want to learn about themselves, communicate their findings with doctors, and challenge the medical establishment to change and improve the care that women receive.
1970 A 193-page course booklet on stapled newsprint entitled Women and Their Bodies is published by New England Free Press.
1971 The authors change the name of the book to Our Bodies, Ourselves, to emphasize women taking full ownership of our bodies. Republished by New England Free Press, the book puts women’s health in a radically new political and social context and quickly becomes an underground success. It sells 250,000 copies, mainly by word-of-mouth.
1972 The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective formally incorporates.
1973 Simon & Schuster publishes the first commercial edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
1976 A revised and updated version of Our Bodies, Ourselves is published. A national bestseller, it is recognized by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Service Division as one of the best books of the decade.
1977 The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective self-publishes Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas, the Spanish translation of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
1979 An update of Our Bodies, Ourselves is published and becomes a bestseller.
THE SECOND AND THIRD DECADES
The success of Our Bodies, Ourselves necessitates a more formal organizational structure for The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. The group transitions away from a collective to a nonprofit organization with different program areas.
1984 A revised version of the original classic, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, is published.
1992 The New Our Bodies, Ourselves: Updated and Expanded for the 90s is published.
1998 Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century is published.
2000 A revised and culturally adapted edition of Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas is published, produced with input from two dozen Latina organizations in the United States and Latin America.
2001 Judy Norsigian, a founder of the collective, becomes executive director of the nonprofit group, and three foreign language editions of OBOS — Armenian, Bulgarian and Serbian — are published.
2002 Because most people associate the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective with the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, the organization begins to do business under the name Our Bodies Ourselves. The legally incorporated name remains the same. In addition, a Romanian edition of OBOS is published.
2004 A Polish translation of Our Bodies, Ourselves is published, as is an inspired French edition.
2005 Thirty-five years after Women and Their Bodies revolutionized women’s health, a substantially revised Our Bodies, Ourselves is published for a new generation of women. In addition, a women’s group in Korea publishes a Korean print edition, and an organization in India releases a book inspired by OBOS for Tibetan nuns. The Indian group also begins work on a “back translation” of their Tibetan edition into English.
2006 Our Bodies Ourselves produces a brand new book, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause. This title launches a series of books that will provide in-depth information about specific topics in women’s health. The organization also launches Our Bodies, Our Blog, a daily blog on women’s health news and controversies. An Albanian edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves and a reprint of the 2004 French inspired-edition (for French-speaking Africa) are released.
2008 The new book Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth is published, as is the Russian adaptation of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Nepali and Turkish adaptations are forthcoming this year.
WHAT OBOS DOES NOW
Our Bodies Ourselves is a nonprofit, public interest women’s health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. They provide clear, evidence-based information about health, sexuality, and reproduction from a feminist and consumer perspective. OBOS remains one of the few women’s health groups in the U.S. that doesn’t accept funds from pharmaceutical companies.
The organization has four program areas: publications, Latina health initiative, global translationadaptation program (working with women’s groups in East Africa (Kiswahili), India (Bangla), Israel (Hebrew/Arabic), Nepal, Nigeria (local dialects), and Turkey), public voice and action