Barbara Seaman, z"l
I first "met" Barbara Seamen through my dissertation research. Reading her books about women’s health and her personal archives, I encountered a woman who was prescient, outspoken, and brave. At a time when most feminists celebrated the wonders of the Pill, which freed sex from reproduction, Seaman investigated its costs to women’s health, publishing her first book, The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, in 1969. Her book launched Congressional hearings about the safety of the birth control pill in 1970, ultimately resulting in an FDA warning to users of the Pill -- the first warning label for any prescription drug.
Seaman followed this success with continued activism for women’s health, co-founding the National Women’s Health Network. Through her writing, she encouraged women (and their doctors) to trust the authority of their own experiences and challenged medical journalism to shift its perspective from the pharmaceutical industry to the patient.
This was not without costs – she was blacklisted from several publications (including, she told me, Hadassah Magazine) when pharmaceutical companies threatened to pull their advertisements if she was allowed to publish her challenging reports. But she was not someone to be easily intimidated. At the time of her death, she was finishing two new books.
I met Seaman in person when I included her in the online exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution. The same passion that I had encountered through her writing was still a palpable force, as she described her sustained investigation of the dangers of synthetic hormones. Her personal warmth and interest were equally striking – she wanted to know about me and my research, my thoughts on feminism and women’s health. She shared pre-publication articles with me and asked for advice. She was the rare person who is driven for her cause and truly open to the perspectives of others.
Barbara died yesterday, at age 72. I did not have a chance to say goodbye to her, and to let her know how much her work and her friendship meant to me. I hope I can honor Barbara now by sharing her story and encouraging others (and myself) to carry on her legacy of honesty, perseverance, generosity, and regard for women’s lives. May her memory be a blessing.