Nancy Miriam Hawley
There was a larger social context for the formation of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which created Our Bodies, Ourselves. Many of us were involved in other movements for liberation – the New Left or civil rights or the antiwar movement. When the women’s movement came along, it hit home, because it was addressing our oppression as women, which we hadn’t identified before.
My involvement in the women’s movement began in 1968, when some of the women I knew from Students for a Democratic Society and I began meeting to talk about what it was like to be a woman within the Left. Out of these monthly meetings several of us decided to put on a conference at Emmanuel College in Boston, on May 4, 1969, that would offer different approaches to many issues of concern to women.
It was at this conference that I led the first workshop on “women and their bodies.” A number of us were particularly concerned about health issues because as young women, we were having our first babies, and birth control and childbirth were prominent issues for us. After the workshop, people wanted to continue the conversation. We began talking about creating a list of good doctors. We felt that we couldn’t fully evaluate the doctors because we were not health professionals, but we could talk about how we experienced doctors treating us. We began to research health issues, and ultimately developed our research into a course on women and their bodies. We wrote up our findings, which became the first edition, printed by the New England Free Press in 1970 on stapled newsprint. It sold 200,000 copies by word-of-mouth alone.
At some point in these early printings, we realized that the title “Women and Their Bodies” was itself a sign of our alienation from our bodies. We changed the title to “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” because that was what we were really talking about.
About a year later, we began to be courted by publishers. We realized that we had to let go of our reservations about a capitalist publisher in order to get the information out to as many women as possible. So we chose Simon and Schuster, and incorporated our collective.
The chapter on sexuality was the first chapter ever written by women for women about what it was like to be a sexual being. And of course that honest conversation threatened some people, and there were efforts to ban the book. Here we were, putting information out in the world, and people wanted to hide it away. But there was a groundswell of support for us, and we continued our work.
We began with mimeographed copies, and have since published eight editions and 19 translations and/or adaptations. Members of the Collective have also written other books including Changing Bodies, Changing Lives (for teens); Ourselves, Growing Older; and Sacrificing Ourselves for Love.
The women of the Collective are my family. We’ve been connected, some of us, since 1969. We’ve been together through marriages, divorces, coming out, and births of children and grandchildren. Some of us many years ago created a seder, and we celebrate Passover together, Jews and non-Jews alike. We’ve supported each other through illnesses, the death of one of our members (Esther Rome), and the deaths of three husbands. It’s been a lifetime of work and a lifetime of relationships.
Nancy Miriam Hawley is a founder of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Inc., the organization responsible for writing the best seller Our Bodies, Ourselves (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972; translated into 18 languages), a book that shifted the national and international dialogue about women's health, sexuality, and power. She also co-authored Ourselves and Our Children (New York: Random House, 1978), a book about families and parenting. She is a speaker and facilitator of dialogues focusing on women's partnership and family concerns. Hawley is a clinical social worker, group therapist, and organizational consultant. She graduated from the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor with a Bachelor's degree in History and Psychology and a Master's degree in Social Work with a specialty in working with groups and organizations. Hawley is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, the Northeast Society of Group Psychotherapy, Women in Business Connection, and The Family Firm Institute. She served for many years on the Board of The Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Inc.
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